Guitar Hero: On TourESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Developer - Vicarious Visions
Publisher - Activision / Red Octane
Guitar Grip (compatible with Original DS and DS Lite)
The Guitar Hero franchise has become a household name and a mega-hit for Activision and Red Octane. I was a little late to the party as I never caught Guitar Hero mania until I played the third instalment of the franchise. I had my doubts at first, but after a few songs and a bit of a learning curve I too was addicted. In fact I went back and picked up Guitar Hero II, just so I could play the set list. Recently, my doubts crept back in when Activision announced that Guitar Hero was being released on the Nintendo DS. My first thought: “Hey, how are they going to plug in a guitar into the Nintendo’s dual-screened handheld machine?” But then soon after the initial announcement pictures of the game were released capturing not only my curiosity but my excitement as well. Guitar Hero: On Tour has finally been released and having played the game over the past few days I am simply impressed with the innovation and the overall enjoyment of the game. That being said, I did have some concerns and I am hoping some improvements can be made for the next instalment of the franchise on the DS which I think really does deserve to be released.
Overall, Guitar Hero: On Tour looks solid, but it obviously does look as good as it does on any of the bigger and more powerful home consoles. But hey, that is to be expected given the hardware limitations of the DS. What really jumped out at me when I look back at the visuals in Guitar Hero: On Tour is the colors and how bright and vibrant they look. Guitar Hero is known for its rich colors and the DS version of the franchise is no different. The look and feel to the game keeps that authentic Guitar Hero feeling. In other words, there is no mistaking you are playing a Guitar Hero but in portable form.
When you first fire up the game the menus look very sharp and as I suggest above keep to that authentic Guitar Hero look. When you jump into a song, you will notice the scrolling notes look clean and crisp. Above all, they run quite smoothly which is critical in the game where timing is essential to how well you perform. Located just behind, or rather above, the scrolling notes is your band. The characters are easily recognizable too. Axel Steel, Judy Nails, and Johnny Napalm are present from past Guitar Hero games. Overall, the characters look decent considering the DS is not a graphical powerhouse. On the downside there are some evident ‘jaggies,’ however it doesn’t hurt the game though, it just is somewhat noticeable. But as with all games of this nature, your focus is primarily on the falling notes and you will not have much of a chance to watch the goings on around you anyhow. As far as the visuals are concerned, the game makes a nice transition from console to handheld.
Unlike the visuals, the sound is a bit of a ‘mixed bag’. On one hand, the game features a stellar set list with 25 songs included in the game. On the other hand, they do not sound so great coming out of those tiny DS speakers. Simply put, I expected the sound quality to be a little better. Perhaps my expectations were a little too high but the songs sounded like they were coming out of a tin can or AM radio. It doesn’t get much better with the headphones either. I expected a drastic improvement with Guitar Hero when using my headphones, unfortunately this is not case. Yes, with the headphones you can listen to the tunes louder but the quality is not nearly as good as I hoped. This is certainly an area I hope is improved for the next instalment but I am not keeping my hopes up as I suspect the poor audio may be due to the limitations of the DS.
As I suggest above, the set list in Guitar Hero: On Tour is a good one. The game features a diverse selection of songs targeting the young and the old. Out of the 25 songs, approximately 20 of them are master tracks. It would be nice to see all of them as master tracks however 20/25 is not too shabby. For those wondering what songs they get to play I thought it would be prudent to make a list of some of the songs available. You will find yourself rocking to such tunes as:
Ok Go - "Do What You Want"
No Doubt - "Spiderwebs"
Jet - "Are You Gonna Be my Girl"
Blink 182 - "All the Small Things"
Twisted Sister - "We're Not Gonna Take it"
Nirvana - "Breed"
Smash Mouth - "All Star"
Rick Springfield - "Jessie's Girl"
Pat Benatar - "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"
Maroon 5 - "This Love"
Los Lonely Boys - "Heaven"
Bloc Party - "Helicopter"
The Doobie Brothers - "China Grove"
KISS (cover by Line 6) - "Rock and Roll All Nite"
Daughtry - "What I Want"
Steve Miller Band (cover by Wavegroup) - "Jet Airliner"
Santana (cover by Line 6) - "Black Magic Woman"
Stray Cats - "Stray Cat Strut"
ZZ Top (cover by Line 6) - "La Grange"
Skid Row (cover by Wavegroup) - "Youth Gone Wild"
Ozzy Osbourne - "I Don't Want to Stop"
Incubus - "Anna Molly"
Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Knock me Down"
Stevie Ray Vaughan - "Pride And Joy"
Lynyrd Skynyrd (cover by Wavegroup) - "I Know A Little"
Overall, not a bad set list at all and you can certainly tell the developers were trying to reach a wide range by including some oldies like Kiss and Lynyrd Skynyrd and some newer bands such as Daughtry and Maroon 5. It was pleasant surprise to play some of my favourite bands songs such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Incubus. To the hardcore Guitar Hero fan who has become accustomed to 40 plus songs, 25 may seem skimpy. I can’t speak for others but by the time I was done the last song, my hand was so sore, 25 seemed more than enough.
The core of the gameplay in Guitar Hero: On Tour remains unchanged from the console games in the franchise. For those who don’t know what this game offers, it is a rhythm based game where you hit falling notes that are represented on-screen as coloured discs. While these notes scroll down the screen you hold down the corresponding coloured fret buttons and strum to the beat. As you manage to hit notes in a row you increase you bonus multiplier and rack up your score. That is the essence of Guitar Hero in nutshell.
To adapt the gameplay to the DS, Guitar Hero: On Tour comes with a special peripheral known as the ‘Guitar Grip’. It is specifically designed for the DS and actually comes with an adapter that can be used for older Nintendo DS models. The Guitar Grip comes equipped with four fret buttons as opposed to the Guitar Controllers which usually come equipped with five buttons. The four fret buttons are located on the side of the DS near the cartridge slot. A slick wrist strap is attached to the underside of the DS to provide you with some support while playing. You hold the DS vertically and use a special guitar pick-shaped stylus to strum on the touchscreen of the DS with your free hand. The notes and the band playing are located on the left screen. Overall it is truly an innovative piece of gaming equipment but not without its share of issues.
For starters, holding the Guitar Grip is awkward and ultimately makes the DS heavier than it should be. To this day I still haven't found a comfortable position where I can play the game longer than 10 minutes without getting sore. I tried lying down, sitting up, and even standing; but for the life of me I could not get comfortable with the unit. Generally I am fine for a couple of songs but then my hand starts to cramp. Needless to say, you need to take a lot of breaks in Guitar Hero: On Tour. Part of the problem is the wrist strap which prevents you from moving your hand. You inevitably start getting a cramp as you hammer away at those tiny fret buttons. The touch-screen strumming with the stylus pick does not help much either. Often I found myself all over the map and often unintentionally hitting the star power icon. So you often have to glance over at the touch screen to get your positioning right. Despite all my gripes though it is a neat little device, but I hope the developers tinker with it a bit more in an effort to make the thing a little more comfy.
As with all Guitar Hero games, Guitar Hero: On Tour also features a career mode which is generally where I spent the bulk of my time. Before you jump into a tune you select from six different characters, four that return from other Guitar Hero games in the series and two that are unique to the DS game. As you progress through the 25 songs listed earlier on, you unlock various venues and other assorted items such as options your character's appearance. Guitar Hero: On Tour also keeps the tradition of giving you simple songs to start with, but the game gets increasingly more difficult the more you play and the deeper into the set list you get. By the time I hit Stevie Ray Vaughan's "pride and joy” my fingers were getting a good workout. You would think with only four fret buttons the game would be easier, but this is not the case at all. Guitar Hero: On Tour still presents a great challenge and for those that are finding it a little too easy there are a total of four difficulty levels to amp up the challenge.
Guitar Hero: On Tour utilizes the local wireless abilities of the DS to support both 2-player co-operative play and competitive play. To my surprise, this is one of the games strongest areas. The competitive play introduces concepts found in Guitar Hero III's "Battle Mode" which is called "Guitar Duel". In this mode you use Battle Notes as opposed to Star Power. Hit all the cords in a section of the song and you get a Battle Note. These Battle Notes create a temporary distraction for the opposing players and they will have to use features of the DS to remove the distraction. For instance, at one point I had to blow out a fire by blowing into the built in DS microphone. Once again, the developers get full points for originality and innovation.
Continue to Page 2