Subway Riding Air Guitarists Rejoice - Guitar Hero Moves to the DS

July 3, 2008


From favorites like Elite Beat Agents to overseas mavericks like Ouendan, Daigasso, Band Brothers, and Taiko Drum Master, music and rhythm games have proven that the world’s most popular system also has a captivated audience.

Not one to pass up an opportunity for an encore, Activision and Red Octane have teamed up with Vicarious Visions to bring their flagship franchise to the the DS with Guitar Hero: On Tour. Down a button--and down several notches--in the peripheral department, On Tour seemingly puts on an impressive show, but is this curtain call worthy of applause?

The Guitar Hero franchise may have taken on another life on the DS but the list of modes present in On Tour are just what you’d expect from any other entry in the series.

Headlining the list of features in On Tour is the expected career mode; a single-player stroll through the game’s set lists tiered by venue. Earning the big bucks here allows you to unlock new character outfits and guitar finishes to pimp out thumb-sized troubadours like newcomers Gunner Jackson and Memphis Belle along with plenty of recognizable faces.

If you suddenly find your licks aren’t quite up to snuff, then you can also pay a visit to the practice and tutorial modes where you can brush up on On Tour’s new play mechanics. Just like before, practice mode allows you to sort and play through the various parts of a song, but you’ll have to deal with playing on 100 percent speed.

Once you’re ready to take to the stage with another rocker, On Tour’s multiplayer modes offer a familiar course of options including face-off, pro face-off, and co-op play. There’s no online play, and obviously, no chance for downloadable content, either. The main multiplayer mode of note is guitar duel, but more on that later.

On Tour’s
musical catalog keeps things relatively light with a 26-song catalog of pop and rock staples including a handful of returning tracks from Guitar Hero 3. Compared to its forbears, On Tour’s set list is nowhere near as beefy as the rest nor is it as heavily populated by guitar-driven selections. If you were hoping to sell out auditoriums with an extensive and eclectic set, this isn’t your gig.

Where Guitar Hero: On Tour does manage to come through is with its unique implementation of the brand’s signature guitar peripheral. Stripped of the ominous orange key and snapped into the DS’ GBA cartridge slot, On Tour keeps relatively true to the traditional play style of Guitar Hero all while shrinking it down.

The peripheral and stylus pick do about as good as could be expected. Strumming on the touch screen is easy, but having to manipulate the whammy bar with the stylus takes some getting used to. Sustaining notes feels good, and pulling off hammer-ons and offs is rock solid. But after playing a few rounds you may find yourself coming down with a severe case of guitar wrist due to how it must be held. You also can’t play it like a real guitar at your hip unless you memorize a song, as you’re tethered to the screen. Aside from the occasional peripheral slip-out and the fact that the mini fret board is about as nerdy as it gets, we have to commend the attempt.

Guitar Duels make good use of the DS’ other capabilities. Similar to Guitar Hero 3’s boss battles, players engaged in a shred to the death can hurl a number of Wario Ware-inspired attacks at their opposition. Cutting someone’s guitar string requires a player to manually restring it before resuming. When your guitar inexplicably bursts into flames, blowing into the mic port will snuff out the fire. Playing across a bomb-laced fret board can definitely be a challenge.

The gimmicks that On Tour’s guitar duels employ can be pretty enjoyable in the thick of battle, but at some points the screen can get a little too busy. Overall, though, the game provides an excellent concession between the level of play and technique expected of the Guitar Hero games while managing system capability. Some of the hard and expert level songs hold their own to past games, and it’s surprising how much the challenge has been maintained minus a fret button.

Graphics aren’t exactly essential for games like Guitar Hero. It’s more about staring at the endless assault of notes piling on the fret board. For what it’s worth, On Tour sports some pretty impressive visuals for a DS game. The instruments, artists, and stages could use some more polygons, but compared to a lot of software for the system it makes pretty good use of the hardware capabilities.

In terms of audio, On Tour consists mostly of master tracks, but the compression used to fit all the songs on the card takes a lot of fidelity out of them. The audio output level is also entirely too low for a game like this—even with headphones on. The audio also has a tendency to dip in and out. Despite this list of quibbles, it looks and sounds like a mini Guitar Hero.

Skeptical music and rhythm fans need not fret: On Tour delivers a genuine Guitar Hero experience. The implementation of the system and peripheral is inventive, but its somewhat lackluster set list and poor audio quality strike at the core of the experience. Still, if you’re the person that imported Ouendan (when-dan) from Japan or just can’t get enough of the series, hop on the tour bus.