The Guitar Hero series has been a huge success for Activision. The game has re-ignited the music rhythm genre and appeared on several platforms to continuous great success. At just about any time there are often several Guitar Hero games in the pipeline and it is clear that the franchise is going to be with us for awhile. On the consoles, Guitar Hero just works. Due to the nature of the game we weren't expecting a handheld version, but Vicarious Visions and Activision has tried to find a way to get the series on the Nintendo DS with Guitar Hero: On Tour - but have they succeeded or should the series have stayed on the consoles?
On the consoles Guitar Hero comes with a bundled guitar which features five coloured fret buttons. In-game, the player is presented with a vertically scrolling bar with five grooves, featuring coloured markers which move down the screen as the music plays. Each of these coloured markers represents one of the different coloured fret buttons on the guitar peripheral. By holding the appropriate coloured fret button and hammering the strummer at the right time, you strum a note. Single notes are shown with just a solitary marker, while long notes have a trail behind them, indicating that the appropriate fret button must be held for that length of time. However, on the Nintendo DS things are a little bit different.
The core aim for the game remains the same though. You'll need to push the correctly coloured fret button and 'strum' on the guitar with your stylus (or with the included pick stylus) to score points. Activating star power is done by yelling out into the microphone and it works surprisingly well. On the whole On Tour is a big success, we must admit that we were rather skeptical when the game was first announced, but after fifteen minutes with the game we were hooked, the game quickly becomes second nature. We're not entirely sure whether expert console Guitar Hero gamers will see their skills transfer to the handheld version though.
The game comes bundled with a peripheral and is available at the modest pricepoint of $89.95 RRP. The peripheral is called the Guitar Grip and it plugs into the Gameboy Advance's slot. Those who own an original Nintendo DS are also catered for, as the game features another adaptor to plug into the Gameboy Advance adaptor. It's remarkably simple to setup and the Guitar Grip features four coloured fret buttons, rather than five. While On Tour comes with a cardboard box which houses the included peripherals, game cart and bonus stickers there is no actual DS plastic case included, the game just comes with a little plastic case which holds the game.
The most important thing about On Tour is that the game retains that feel of the Guitar Hero franchise, those who have played previous games in the series will adapt to the new control system almost immediately and those who are new to the franchise can take the tutorial and be up to speed in about ten minutes. With the stylus control and the voice activated star power the game really does take full advantage of the Nintendo DS.
On Tour actually includes a decent single player career option as well. You'll start off performing in the subway and only have access to a few songs, but as you perform you'll unlock more songs and venues to perform in. The career mode is rather lengthy and while it isn't anything new for the franchise, it's still a decent inclusion. Aside from the career mode there is also a quickplay option, a practice mode and a multiplayer option called guitar duel.
In the guitar duel mode players are awarded 'battle items' for stringing together combos. These battle items are actually rather clever, such as breaking the string on your opponent's guitar and combatting them often requires the player to do something with the stylus, such as dragging the stylus from one end of the guitar to the other. One of the other battle items will send a fan your way and you'll need to sign an autograph to get them out of the way. None of these battle items last for more than a few seconds but so they won't destroy the multiplayer. The game does unfortunately not include online support at all, which is a disappointment, it would have been good if we could upload our top scores to an online leaderboard at least.
While On Tour's guitar grip is pretty solid we did encounter a few problems. While the peripheral itself is good quality and fits seamlessly into the Nintendo DS, it sometimes has some trouble staying there. Accidentally removing the guitar grip is a possibility, so players will have to be careful. Being a left handed player is also a bit more of a disadvantage and we had a little more trouble playing the game because of this. The song list is also a little bit smaller than in previous Guitar Hero games and certainly isn't as "rock filled" as previous soundtracks in the series. Sure, Blink 182 and Twisted Sister feature in the game, but so do Maroon 5 and No Doubt. We think this is primarily due to the fact that Activision are purposely creating a more mainstream tracklist and in that sense they have succeeded: we recognised most of the songs immediately.
On Tour is never going to replace the other Guitar Hero games and nor do we think Activision is trying to get it to do so. With a decent tracklist, a very reasonable pricepoint and that awesome Guitar Hero gameplay, anyone who wants to take their RAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWKING OUT into the streets and on the train should have no hesitation in picking up Guitar Hero: On Tour, just don't rawk out too hard or the guitar grip will come out.