Guitar Hero has been a popular series since its release many years ago, allowing anyone to fulfill their fantasy of becoming a Rock God by strumming their way through a variety of popular music. For the first time, it has now hit the portable market in the form of Guitar Hero: On Tour for the Nintendo DS (not to be confused with World Tour, its next-gen console sibling). Rather than have you carry around a guitar through public areas, which would have been just a little awkward, it comes with a mini-rocking peripheral, an odd device that allows you to play imaginary frets, portable-style.
Guitar Hero for the DS is pretty much everything you'd expect from the series: a bunch of new songs to play through, some things to buy, and a host of wacky characters to play through a variety of difficulties that range from Nearly Sleeping to You Must Be Joking (these are not the actual difficulties). Due to the limitations of the DS, don't expect anything revolutionary. That said, however, it's impressive the quality that can be wrung forth from the small device, allowing for some pretty good quality sound, though clearly not up to par with what's being produced from the plugged-into-the-television versions.
The Guitar Hero developers were able to bring forth the quality of this sound through a wide variety of music. There are only twenty-five tracks to play through, with no additional tunes available for purchase, which is something of a shame, but understandable. There are tunes from blink 182, to yet another Ozzy Osbourne track, to Ok Go and even ZZ Top. There's music for everybody, and even folk who shake their fist at the new fangled music of kids nowadays (like yours truly) will find something they can appreciate.
Of course, you need new hardware to play this on the go, and that's where the new device comes in: an odd peripheral ships with the game that you plug into the Game Boy slot of the Nintendo DS. It's hard to explain if you haven't seen it, but essentially it allows you to play four frets with your fingers while holding your DS sideways, 'strumming' with your stylus. As the notes run down the top screen, your guitar and various gauges (like your star power, points, multiplier, and crowd level). It's here you can tap your star power gauge to activate it, or just scream into your mic (which is just that much more fun). The little plug-in is an innovative device, and I hope it gets used more in the future, however it is not without its flaws.
For one, it takes a lot of time to find a position that's comfortable for you. My hands are a little larger than average, and I found it hard to get in a good position that didn't cramp me up after ten minutes of gameplay. Additionally, there's a fairly big flaw, but not with the design: whenever you press a fret, the DS moves. This is typical, because, well, you're probably pressing them quickly. With some of the harder songs, as you're furiously strumming and fretting away, the screen gets hard to focus on and you're liable to miss notes. To add to this, the peripheral doesn't lock into the GBA slot well enough, and it tends to pop out too easily. When this happens, you're forced to restart the DS, possibly losing that perfect song you just played.
To it's benefit though, if the game gets a little to much at a time, you can pause. May not sound like much, but this is actually the first music-based game I've seen where coming out a pause has the song rewind just a few seconds, giving you a couple moments of time to get your fingers into position before the notes come falling down again. Why hasn't this been done before, it seems so obvious!
It's Career Mode where you'll be naming your band and bringing them through each song to stardom, but there's also Guitar Duels. This is likely the elicit a groan from many who've played Guitar Hero 3, where guitar duels (called Battle Mode back then) were quite the nuisance. It's different in On Tour, however. For those who aren't in the know, guitar duels mean facing off against an opponent while you play a song. Instead of star power notes to play, however, you get a string of notes that, if completed, grant you a weapon to use against your competitor. There are the typical double speed, increased difficulty level, those kinds of things, but On Tour does take advantage of the hardware it is on.
For instance, the broken string attack means you have to draw a line between to points on your guitar in order to connect the string again. Another attack forces you to sign a piece of clothing for an endearing fan before they'll get out of your face (and your guitar). It's an interesting use of the touchscreen, and it definitely makes it feel different. In previous guitar duels, you had to get your opponent to lose by attacking him relentlessly while keeping your score high enough; if you didn't beat him quickly enough, however, he went into an unstoppable rift that just drained and defeated you immediately. Not cool.
On Tour, however, has Guitar Duel mode function more like Career Mode in that you've got to play through the songs, set by set, to progress to the next bunch. In each song, you don't need to actually defeat your opponent before the song ends, but you do need to get a higher score. This is a lot more fun, and while it may not be as good as the normal mode, it's 100 percent optional, and be played at your leisure. Now that's some crunk rocking, or whatever the kids say. You can also do it in wireless multiplayer mode to see which of you and your friends is the best rocker of all. Or you could play cooperatively too, if that's your thing.
On Tour is sort of a mixed bag. On one hand, hey, portable Guitar Hero. But does it really need to be portable at all? The peripheral comes with a bevy of problems that can affect gameplay and enjoyment, and that's the center of the entire gaming experience. That's not to mention that its extra bulk means it's not pocket-friendly. And the social aspect of previous titles, having your friends come over to play through a set, rocking out together, is completely void here. In the end, Guitar Hero: On Tour captures the spirit of Guitar Hero, but the full, enjoyable experience has slipped from its grasp.