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Guitar Hero: On Tour

You better hurry up. They’re not going to stay forever, no matter how much you pay them. Put down the beer, get your jeans on and go to the tour bus. You’re a superstar; thousands of people have paid to see you perform your gut-wrenching solos on stage. Yes, I know it’s difficult, but the venues are booked and the dates are set. There’s nothing we can do now, you’ve made your name; it’s time to live up to it. It’s time to go on tour.

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For such a successful series, some may be surprised that the Guitar Hero franchise hasn’t made the transition to portable gaming sooner. Of course, it’s fair to say that the series has been usurped from it’s musical throne by the younger, cooler, and slicker kid on the block; Rock Band. It makes perfect sense for Activision to try and reinvent the genre at this point in time, just as Harmonix’s superb creation has recently, in order to show they can still compete with the best.

In the Nintendo DS, developers have an extremely versatile and adaptable machine to express their ideas on. When creating the “Guitar Grip” for this title, I’m sure developers Vicarious Visions had many different ideas in mind. They needed something comfortable, light and ultimately fun to play with. It’s fair to state that the final design is a decent innovation for the console, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its fair share of problems. For instance, problems occur not long after the grip is set up. After you have inserted it into the DS’s Game Pak slot, it is time to put your hand through the adjustable strap. This is fine if you have average sized hands, but for players of the larger ilk this may be a tight squeeze for their oversized rock mittens. Once in, the grip also has a tendency to wobble slightly, causing you to lose your full clasp on the DS itself. These are only small gripes in the beginning, but once play begins it seems that this beautifully stylish piece of kit renders itself largely superficial and hints that it may not be the best design for the job in hand.

“this beautifully stylish piece of kit renders itself largely superficial”If you have played previous incarnations of Guitar Hero on the home consoles, you should feel right at home here. Everything from menus to sound effects follow the trend of its older and more accomplished brothers, making this easily accessible for veterans of the series. Newcomers shouldn’t worry either, there isn’t much here to give you stage fright before starting the ever-present career mode. If by any chance you do feel you need some guitar enlightenment, the well-constructed tutorial is the place to begin. This will teach you everything you need to know in minutes, meaning you can begin to nurture your skills straight away. Technique is crucial here, as this version constricts hand movement way too much to make it completely comfortable.

Playing your guitar is simple. As you are already holding the DS in your preferred hand, the other is left to pick up your plectrum (in place of the stylus) and get ready for the onslaught of approaching notes. If you are left handed, the usual “lefty flip” option is available, meaning you can feel just as comfortable as your right-handed counterparts. In practice, what this actually does is flips the screens around and reverses the notes that are coming towards you; easing any needless difficulties that may have reared their outrageously opposite head in a split second. From then on it’s standard Guitar Hero gameplay all the way; as you hold down the corresponding notes and pluck the on screen guitar at the correct time. “Star Power” is received from doing so, although this time you will need to shout “Rock On!” or blow into the microphone in order to utilise it. It’s a classic formula, and one that has served the series tremendously well so far. Unfortunately, it’s fair to agree that this adaptation for the portable console renders this outing the least natural, least comfortable and damn right least fun of the entire franchise to date.

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“If you are left handed, the usual “lefty flip” option is available, meaning you can feel just as comfortable as your right-handed counterparts”With only twenty-five songs in the offering, On Tour isn’t a particularly substantial journey. A huge disappointment comes in the fact that many of the songs appear on previous GH games, and many more are not recorded by the original artist. Having Carlos Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” re-recorded by Line 6 totally defies the point of including such a classic by the much-admired guitarist. As mentioned before, many of the songs have been used before and definitely play better with the “proper” guitar controller in hand rather than the irritating grip needed here. It’s vital that you use headphones during this game, as without them even Ozzy Osbourne is confined to a whispering, mumbling pile of confusion. Oh wait.

A hugely disappointing factor in this title is just how poor the sound is; even with headphones. More often than not you will find yourself thinking, “That would be great on a real Guitar Hero game”, as the quality of each song leaves a lot to be desired. The selection begins pretty slowly, but once into your last venue the final tracks are great fun to play. Regrettably, as songs begin to test how nimble your fingers are on tougher difficulties, a major problem begins to show itself. Often, pressing individual buttons becomes needlessly harder than it should be just because they are all so small. Keeping your unused fingers off each note often ends in frustration; especially when you are trying to play different chords at high velocity.

Luckily, there is enough quality here to get hardcore fans interested. Guitar Duels have been included once more, and provide the most thrilling experience of the whole game. First used in Legends of Rock, this mode was often slated by critics as pointless or a needless addition. Funnily enough, it seems that the premise works a whole lot better on the DS, as the entire capability of the machine can be used. Players will face off by trying to hit as many correct notes as possible; thus gaining the highest amount of points. The real fun begins when each player accumulates special power-ups to launch at their rival, causing an unwanted increase in the difficulty of the song. This time round sees some new attacks that are definitely worthy of mentioning as well. Players may have to blow out a fire on their guitar (by blowing into the microphone), put up with the ever wanting flashing lights of the paparazzi, or may even have to sign autographs from crazed fans. Throw these into the mix with the previously used power-ups (including the snapping of an opponents’ string), and you have yourself a fast-paced and excellently appropriate multi-player game. The entire single player career can also be played through using Guitar Duels, making it the most entertaining mode available.

“Luckily, there is enough quality here to get hardcore fans interested”DS owners should be pretty satisfied with the amount of multi-player content they receive from games these days, and On Tour isn’t any different. Alongside the aforementioned Guitar Duel mode are others of decent quality. Both “Face Off” and “Pro Face Off” offer the chance to pit your string-plucking skills against each other, with the former offering both players the chance to play on separate difficulties in order to counter balance various abilities. Of course, the obligatory co-op mode is waiting for you as well, as one player takes lead guitar and the other bass. These are welcome additions to the title, but ones that certainly do not match the entertainment value seen in previous Guitar Hero games where the experience is that step closer to reality.

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Fans of the series will be pleased to see a number of returning characters, and a handful of new hopefuls on board. There are also a number of unlockable guitars and costumes that may make the enthusiastic return to make more money in career mode. A few nice touches have been thrown in for good measure, such as quotations from reviews of each of your CD’s (often littered with satirical humour), the delay of notes after you have paused the game, and some fine graphical elements. Only minor on the surface, but it highlights how this series is now trying to improve and evolve across the entire spectrum, no matter how insubstantial it may seem at first.

All in all, Guitar Hero: On Tour amounts to a valid effort from the developers. It certainly pinpoints that the series is trying to innovate by any means possible, even if the results aren’t totally conclusive. In the Guitar Grip, the series has a new direction that is sure to be refined, re-designed and built on by the next team who take up the challenge. If the peripheral wasn’t plagued with pestering annoyances and the ability to induce cramp after half an hours play, this may have been more of a success. With a lack of original or even quality track listing, this game begins to wear thin after only one play through. Add to this a failing sound system, and it’s clear to see that On Tour isn’t ready for the big time, currently only playing as a warm up act for it’s super successful older brethren.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2007.

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