Review: Guitar Hero On Tour
Posted 17 Aug 2008 at 17:38 by Franklin Hughes
|"Needless to say the game is best played with headphones but even then those with finely tuned musical ears will spot the lower quality, but it's not so much as to ruin the game."|
When you have a highly successful franchise like Guitar Hero and a money printing handheld like the DS it would probably be a safe bet to assume that Activision shareholders were among the first to wonder if the axe shredding phenomenon could be downsized for Nintendo's touch screen wonder. But when the main selling point for a game is that you play it with a guitar shaped controller providing the illusion of actually playing a guitar, how can you emulate this on a handheld and still keep it "portable". Solving this issue we are presented with the "Guitar Grip", a piece of hardware that connects to the DS via the Gameboy Advance slot and contains the familiar guitar fret buttons (lacking one button for a total of 4 rather than the regular 5). Word of advice; try finding a comfortable playing position first, like sitting down and resting the hardware on your lap or table, trying to hold the DS in the air will tire out your arm pretty quickly. The Grip can also fit into an old DS "Phat" with help from an included adaptor.
A few problems with the Grip however. It does seem to slide out of the GBA slot, especially during Hard and Expert modes when things really start to pick up. If it comes out too far it will freeze the game and you will have to turn the DS off and on again to continue playing. Now while this has only happened to me once, I have noticed the Grip sliding out slightly every time I play but thankfully just short of the point of freezing the game. You will also certainly encounter an issue with hand cramping, how long this takes to take effect will depend on you position as you play so once again find a comfortable one. Also try taking your hand out of the strap every two songs to give it a small rest before moving on.
Guitar Grip, Plec Stylus and some stickers all in the box
To play Guitar Hero On Tour you will need to turn the DS sideways, ala Brain Training, slide your fretting hand into the Guitar Grips adjustable strap and place each of your fingers on one of the coloured fret buttons. Strumming makes use of the touch screen and the included plec shaped stylus, the touch screen will display an image of a guitar and you just swipe (anywhere actually) on screen to strum. The whammy bar is still present, albeit not physically, but again on the touch screen, when you are playing a long note so long as you keep holding down the correct fret button just "scratch" back and forth on the screen to wrap the notes sound. And of course Star Power is also present and accounted for, like in previous versions by playing highlighted sections of notes without missing one earns you star power, unlike previous version you don't activate it by titling the hardware, but by using the DS microphone. Shout out something (the game suggests "Rock Out") or just blow into it and star power will activate.
So we've established that On Tour can mechanically do everything it's console brothers can but how does it play? Like on the consoles you'll have "Career Mode" with four difficulty settings (Easy, Normal, Hard, Expert) where on each level/gig you play four songs in any order you choose followed by an encore. The familiar fret board display is on the left screen with the coloured gems scrolling down and your goal is to press the corresponding button on the Guitar Grip and strum on the touch screen at the right time. Miss too many notes and you fail the song. On Easy and Normal settings this all works fine, and while the lack of a physical strum bar is odd at first, getting used strumming on the screen shouldn't take too long. However once you move up to Hard and Expert things start to get a bit iffy.
One problem is if your stroke is too long the DS might register it as two strokes, especially if there is a slight change in direction of your stroke. So when you reach a section when same notes come in quick succession, you can just keep the stylus pressed to screen and "scratch" back and forth (simulating strumming up and down quickly on a strum bar). But any slight "over stroke" or movement up or down (if you are "scratching" left to right) could easily result in an extra strum registered when not needed and destroying your note streak, which makes aiming to beat high scores highly frustrating if you are missing notes not by a lack of skill but due to hardware issues.
If playing in a crowded area you are also faced with the problem of your surrounding sound accidentally activating your star power. But you do have the option to lower the mics sensitivity or turn it off. Activating star power in this case requires either pressing a button on the DS (except shoulders and start) or tapping the star power meter on the touch screen.
The difficulty curve is well balanced, even with the lacking orange button Hard and Expert mode can still get a bit tricky. However GH veterans shouldn't find too much difficulty. I myself didn't fail a song on Expert until the final gig, but beat it on the second attempt. A huge difference compared to my experience with Guitar Hero III on the Wii where I am still unable to finish any song on the final gig on Expert.
The career mode in On Tour also lacks any boss battles which is a slight let down, however making up for this is the new Guitar Duel mode. This is like a mix of Pro-Face and the Battle Mode from Guitar Hero III. You can play this mode against the CPU or with a friend via local Wi-Fi if they have a copy of the game also. Sadly no online multiplayer option was included. The goal in Guitar Duel is to play a song and score more points than your opponent. But this time successfully completing a star power sequence earns you a battle item instead, which you can use to distract your opponent and make them miss notes. You can hold up to three items at once and use them by tapping their icon on the touch screen. New items in addition to those from GH3 include setting your guitar on fire which requires you to blow into the mic to put out the flames before you can play again. And new twists on old items like Broken String which has you reconnect a broken string on your guitar on the touch screen. Other multiplayer options include Co-Op (one person plays lead guitar, the other bass), Face-Off (players play alternating sections of a song) and Pro-Face (both players play the full song). There is also a Practice mode like in previous versions which allows to play specific sections of a song, however you are unable to alter the speed of the songs which does seem to make this mode a bit redundant.
Blow into the DS mic to put out the flames.
Song wise as always the track listings will be subjective to each individual person but with only 25 songs in career mode and just the one hidden bonus song ("I am not your Gameboy" by Freezepop) things are more limited than the console versions. Of course this is due to the sizable difference in memory capacity of a DS cart as apposed a disc based medium and 26 songs squeezed into one is impressive. However the highly compressed files do suffer from some slight audio quality issues. Needless to say the game is best played with headphones but even then those with finely tuned musical ears will spot the lower quality, but it's not so much as to ruin the game.
With the exception of six songs they are all master tracks and a few songs from Guitar Hero III make a reappearance with one surprise. Stevie Vaughan's "Pride and Joy" was a cover version in GH3 but appears as a master track in On Tour. Some choices like Smash Mouth and Maroon 5 will likely not sit well with those looking to rock out as these are more pop than rock. While things get back on track with appearances from RHCP, Ozzy, Incubus, Santana and Skid Row (although a cover) the lack of some proper metal bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica is a big disappointment (for this reviewer at least).
Dueling for the highest score, get items to make them miss.
The visuals are solid for the DS, with a virtual concert unfolding on the left screen behind the fret display. With a three member band rocking out on one of the five available stages. But since the player will hardly notice this due to concentrating on the fret bar itself and chances are you'll be using headphones so the visuals alone won't be enough to have anyone looking over your shoulder for too long, I wonder if they might have been better off the leave this out. This would after all free up loads more memory on the cart to allow for increased audio quality and maybe even a few extra songs too.
While Guitar Hero On Tour does manage to successfully recreate Guitar Hero on the DS it does however come up short in trying to replicate the same experience as the console versions. While it does feel like playing Guitar Hero is does not feel like playing a guitar. And while multiplayer can be fun it doesn't capture the same social experience as its bigger brothers. With the DS the two players are kept entertained but on consoles one or two players can entertain a full room of people.
Maybe a good introduction for newcomers who want to get a taste before taking on the full on experience on a console. But more of a travel buddy for seasoned Guitar Heroes
N-Europe Final Verdict
Guitar Hero On Tour is a good conversion of the console facemelter, but will not become your main source for rocking out. Best saved for when your travelling/on holiday and just can't go without a Guitar Hero fix.
Play Guitar Hero when your not at home.
Smash Mouth and Maroon 5
Not a full guitar playing illusion like on console