Activision Guitar Hero: On Tour

Guitar Hero power slides onto the Nintendo DS

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Activision Guitar Hero: On Tour
  • Activision Guitar Hero: On Tour
  • Activision Guitar Hero: On Tour
  • Activision Guitar Hero: On Tour

Pros

  • Fun multiplayer mode, solid track list, works with both DS consoles (original and Lite), it's Guitar Hero!

Cons

  • Control scheme induces hand cramps, only 25 songs, too easy for experienced players

Bottom Line

Vicarious Visions has managed to do what many thought impossible — translate the fun of Guitar Hero to the Nintendo DS. It wont let you live out your axeman fantasies, and the control scheme can be downright painful, but nevertheless, Guitar Hero: On Tour is better than it has any right to be. Highly recommended.

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When Activision announced plans to convert Guitar Hero to the Nintendo DS, many gamers raised a cynical eyebrow. Combining the world's bestselling console with the world's bestselling game franchise might make perfect business sense, but from a practical viewpoint it seemed dubious to say the least. How could you possibly recreate the indelible 'rock god' experience on a tiny, handheld console? The answer is simple: you can't. Instead, Guitar Hero: On Tour relies on DS-flavoured gimmicks and catchy tunes to win over its audience. The amount of enjoyment you get from the game will largely depend on your ability to get over your 'guitar envy', as well as your tolerance for cramp-inducing controls.

The road from conception to finished product has been a long and arduous one for Guitar Hero: On Tour. Perhaps fearing the design nightmare that would follow, Activision and Red Octane passed development duties on to Vicarious Visions, a New York-based outfit specialising in handheld conversions. After countless failed experiments and dodgy prototypes, the team finally came up with the Guitar Grip: a peripheral that captures the basic mechanics, if not the essence, of the Guitar Hero experience.

So, how does it work exactly? The Guitar Grip consists of four multi-coloured buttons and a hand strap that can be adjusted to fit a variety of hands. The device slots into the DS's GBA slot, with the four buttons running down the side of the console. To play the game, you slip your hand through the hand strap and place your fingers on each button, while holding the DS in a horizontal 'book' fashion similar to the game Brain Training. Rather sportingly, Activision has bundled an additional adaptor in the sales package for original DS consoles (i.e. the chunky, ugly version). However, you'll need to remove the DS Lite adaptor with a screwdriver first, which is a bit of a pain (especially if you're a little kid).

Like previous Guitar Hero games, the aim of On Tour is to 'strum' along to legendary rock hits via colour-coordinated prompts on screen. On the DS, this is achieved by tapping the touchscreen with the included plectrum (alternatively you can also use your finger or the DS stylus, which work just as well). To activate the series' signature point-booster, dubbed Star Power, you need to yell into the DS microphone. No really. Without a hint of irony, the manual recommends the phrase "Rock out!" which is clearly unacceptable. If you'd prefer not to look like a complete moron, you can opt to use one of the DS face buttons instead, although this usually results in a few bum notes as you blindly lunge for a button. Finally, there's the whammy bar, which is activated by waggling the pick over your onscreen guitar.

All up, the control scheme isn't perfect, but it does get the job done about as well as can be expected. Using the plectrum and Guitar Grip interface swiftly becomes second nature, although we did experience severe cramps during prolonged play. Basically, you can expect to be in genuine pain after two or three songs, which limits your playtime to quick, isolated bursts. This is perhaps just as well, as the game's track list comprises just 25 songs (cheekily, a few of the included songs are 'repeats' from previous GH games, including Kiss' Rock and Roll All Nite and Santana's Black Magic Woman).

At first, the track-list appears to be skewered towards early naughties frat-house rock (e.g., Smash Mouth, No Doubt), but this gradually opens up to include an eclectic range of styles and eras. In terms of audio, the songs sound a little tinny coming out of the DS's modest speakers, which are more suited to the cheery beeps of Mario games. Headphones are therefore essential.

When compared to a fully-fledged Guitar Hero game, On Tour acquits itself pretty well. The most notable difference is the omission of a fifth fret bar, which is bound to grate with experienced players. In an attempt to compensate, the game has implemented a slightly tougher scoring system — to nail a five star rating, you need to hit nearly every note and use your Star Power at the best moments. Nevertheless, if you're a GH veteran with lightning-fast fingers, there's very little in this game that will pose a challenge.

Perhaps the best feature in this game is the fun multiplayer mode, which incorporates DS-specific moves and attacks. Examples include setting guitars on fire (you need to blow on the DS microphone to extinguish it), obscuring the screen with fan T-shirt (you need to scribble an autograph to make it disappear) and reversing the dual screen so that you can no longer strum. It's all silly nonsense of course, but in a good way.

Guitar Hero: On Tour hits stores today (25/06/08) for a retail price of $89.95. When you consider most 'Triple A' DS games cost $70 and over, 90 bucks is a pretty reasonable price to pay.

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