Guitar Hero: On Tour review
Available for
Nintendo DS
Publisher
Activision
Guitar Hero: On Tour

Reviewed by Jason Zingale

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uitar Hero: On Tour” is a video game anomaly. For all intents and purposes, it shouldn’t exist. In fact, when rumors that a handheld version of the popular music game was in the works, most discounted it as just that, a rumor. After all, “Guitar Hero” was meant to be played with a plastic toy guitar, in a room, with a group of friends, and a DS version would drain all the fun that the console version had to offer. Or so we thought. “Guitar Hero: On Tour” may not feel like the real deal, but it doesn’t feel like a cheap cash-in either, and though the game has its share of flaws, they rarely get in the way of the overall experience.

Basic gameplay is a lot like “Guitar Hero III,” but instead of a guitar, you have a four-button fret peripheral that docks in the GBA game slot on your DS Lite. Those with an original DS can also use the peripheral via an extension included in the package. Holding the DS open like a book, notes stroll down the left screen, while an animated guitar sits on the right. When you want to play a note, you simply hold down the specific fret button and strum the guitar using a stylus-tipped pick. You can also use the whammy bar as well, but instead of having to physically maneuver it on a real guitar, all you have to do here is scribble on the screen while holding down the fret. Star Power is also activated differently – just yell “Rock Out” into the microphone, or, if you’re in public, press any one of the face buttons on the unit. The fine folks over at Activision have even produced an amusing instructional video, so if you’re more of a visual learner, be sure to check it out before reading on.

The single player tour mode contains all of the difficulty levels you’d expect to find in a regular “Guitar Hero” game, but the actual tour itself is about half as long. With only 25 songs to be played in the whole game, “On Tour” is guilty of being a little on the short side. It’s a bit of a relief, then, to see that Activision has included an additional game mode as well. Guitar Duels is a lot like Boss Battles on the console version. Instead of collecting Star Power, you pick up weapons that can be used against your opponent. These are activated by tapping the corresponding icon on the right screen, and they’re a lot more fun than the weapons featured in the console version. Broken String makes the player drag the broken ends of a string together before a note can be played; Signature shoves an item in your face that must be signed before you can continue; and the greatest one of them all, Pyrotechnics, forces the player to blow into the DS’ mic to put out the flames.

It’s not all fun and games, however. The setlist is skewed to a much younger audience, which means you’ll be playing stuff like Daughtry, Smash Mouth and Maroon 5, and the music sounds like crap coming out of the speakers. The latter can be solved quite easily by plugging in a pair of headphones (which, no joke, makes everything sound ten times better), while the former is something that you’ll just have to embrace. There are some good songs in the bunch (like No Doubt’s “Spiderwebs” and Bloc Party’s “Helicopter”), but for the most part, the music doesn’t mirror past installments. These aren’t great guitar songs, but at least they’re catchy.

The biggest problem with the game is the peripheral itself. It might be intuitive in design, but it’s the most awkward piece of hardware ever invented. Forget about the fact that it’s hard to move your fingers as quickly as you would on a normal guitar – this thing just plain hurts. Most players won’t be able to get through more than a few songs without feeling like they’ve had carpal tunnel all their life, and it really puts a damper on extended play sessions. If the original game made you feel like you were playing guitar, “On Tour” will quickly remind you that you aren’t. Still, if you don’t mind writhing in pain as you strum away, you’ll probably have just as much fun.

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