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Monday, June 23, 2008

Nintendo DS: Guitar Hero On Tour Review

The Guitar Hero series has been selling in mass quantities for years now, captivating gamers and non-gamers alike. It's intuitive and addictive gameplay has always been its stongest feature. Who hasn't spent at least some part of their lives wishing they were a rock star? Guitar Hero gives everyone the opportunity to live out their rock 'n' roll fantasies in the comfort of their own living rooms. With Guitar Hero On Tour, Activision is branching out into the handheld market with a unique experience that still maintains the look and feel of the console versions of the series. The result is something that has a few quirks and inconveniences, but still manages to please even the most die hard Guitar Hero fan.

Of course, the most intriguing part of Guitar Hero On Tour is the newly-designed guitar grip, a clever peripheral that recreates the feel of the Guitar Hero fret buttons in a relatively compact package. The peripheral plugs into the GBA slot of your Nintendo DS and has a strap that allows you to strap in while playing. The fret buttons themselves are about half the size of your standard Guitar Hero controller, and Red Octane and Vicarious Visions have smartly chosen to shrink the number of buttons down from 5 to 4. Because of the relatively small size of the bottons, it can be tough to get your fingers to hit the buttons that you want them to sometimes. My fingers are in no way fat, yet I still find that I could hit two buttons with one finger easily. A lot of missed notes ensue if I don't stay on my game.


In addition to this complaint, I've also had a tough time getting used to the grip. My hands are slighly larger than normal and try as I might, I just can't find a "normal" way to hold the grip that doesn't result in a painful hand cramp. Personally, I've started playing with a 1-inch rubber ball in my palm to complement the natural curviture of my hand. I've also learned that if I don't have the bottom of the DS pressed up against my abdomen, that my accuracy drops due to furious shaking of the DS that can occur when tackling a particularly rockin' part of a song. It's definitely not the most convenient way to play a video game, but I've learned to make it work. On a positive note, Guitar Hero On Tour also comes with a special pick-shaped stylus that works perfectly. I literally could not imagine playing this game with a regular DS stylus.

The song list on the game is not my favorite collection of tunes, but for the casual crowd that the Ninendo DS seems to attract, I can see how it would be a smart move for the developers. The better tracks on the game include "Anna Molly" by Incubus, "Helicopter" by Bloc Party, and Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Pride and Joy." The balance things out (or cater to the casual folks), there's also Smash Mouth's "Rock Star" and Blink 182's "All the Small Things." It's not a terrible collection of songs by any means, but not nearly as challenging as its console brethren. Of course, this is also probably related to the guitar grip, which limits your ability to "rock out" as fluidly as you would normally. In addition, the songs have been compressed to fit them all on the DS cartridge. That results in less than stellar sound quality obviously, and headphones don't really fix the problem at all. Still, with 25 songs (most of them master tracks, most of them unique to this version of Guitar Hero), there's not a whole lot to complain about with the songs.

Looking at Vicarious Visions' past games, I was a little skeptical of how the development team could do with the Guitar Hero franchise on a handheld. But they have far surpassed my expectations with this game! Over a year of development, testing, and tweaking have resulted in a handheld game that truly does feel like Guitar Hero! All the staple features of the game are there: career mode, the shop, quickplay, and co-op multiplayer via local wireless. This version also introduces the guitar duel feature which is similar to battle mode on Guitar Hero 3. Players can play in this mode against the CPU or against other players using local wireless connection. Unfortunately, there is no option for online play, but that's not entirely surprising considering the lag problems with Nintendo's Wif-Fi Connect service.

The strumming motion that players are required to make over the DS touch screen feels entirely natural, and really adds a new level of excitement to the franchise. To whammy, players simply hold out the note with the fret keys and move the pick back and forth over the screen. I've run into the problem a few times where the note will end in mid-whammy, which then turns my fast whammy into a frantic strum and a whole lot of missed notes. A small oversight, but players should be able to adapt and correct themselves in no time! I was also a bit disappointed that the game doesn't come with its own standard-sized DS box, only a small case about the size of the cartridge itself. Considering how often I lose things, and how small the cartridge is, this can't bode well.

But for the most part, Guitar Hero On Tour is still a fun handheld version of an incredibly addictive game. The console versions of Guitar Hero focus on recreating the feel of playing a guitar. This version focuses more on recreating the feel of playing Guitar Hero, rather than the guitar. There is a bit of a learning curve, even for seasoned Gutar Heroes. Personally, I hopped right into Expert and was able to get 4 or 5 star scores by the the 5th song or so. There are a few hurdles to jump over, and a few quirks to deal with, but Guitar Hero On Tour is a great way to get your Guitar Hero fix no matter where you are! For me, it was totally worth the purchase!

7 out of 10 Stars

1 comment:

monster paperbag said...

"Pride and Joy" is rather tricky..