‘Guitar Hero’ phenomenon keeps rockin’ with ‘On Tour’ for the DS

Owen Sound Sun Times (On)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

“Guitar Hero really caught on because Harmonix hit the sweet spot between feeling like you were playing guitar in a rock band, but not having to actually practice real guitar to do it.
Since Harmonix and Red Octane released “Guitar Hero” in November 2005 the series has become a phenomenon, and a standard party game.
The special controller, designed by Red Octane, makes the game work. It looks and feels like a little plastic guitar. The mechanics of the game are simple, coloured dots travel down a virtual fretboard, with the rhythm of the song, and the player holds down the coloured button and hits the strum bar, resulting in a “guitar-like” simulation/ rhythm game.
“Guitar Hero” has spawned three sequels, two expansions, inspired “Rock Band”, and spawned a DS spinoff, “Guitar Hero: On Tour”, released June 22. I bought it.
When “On Tour” was announced I was very skeptical for two reasons; “Guitar Hero’s” main draw of is the controller, which the DS does not have, and the song list looked a bit weak. I was very wrong. “On Tour” does an excellent job of turning “Guitar Hero” into a portable game, though it does have some weaknesses.
“On Tour” comes with its own special controller called the “Guitar Grip,” It features four buttons, rather than the console version’s five. The grip plugs into the DS’ GBA slot so the four buttons sit at the bottom of the DS. You put your hand through a wrist strap allowing you to hold the DS and press the buttons simultaneously. Housed within the grip is a removable pick shaped stylus. The whole unit is very solid and feels very well designed and built.
While playing the DS is held sideways, as with “Brain Age”. The touch screen shows your guitar, and the other screen shows the fretboard down which the gems travel, and a 3D stage with your band. Gameplay consists of “strumming” the pick stylus on the screen while pressing the appropriate buttons. The experience is very similar to the console versions, and works very well as a portable game.
The actual song selection is very good. There are quite a few songs I really like, and even the songs I’m less fond of were chosen for some great guitar licks and are fun. I particularly like No Doubt’s “Spiderwebs”, Nirvana’s “Breed” and Santana’s “Black Magic Woman”.
The majority of the track list, about 80 per cent, is from original masters of the songs rather than covers and they actually sound pretty good on the DS. The audio is compressed and you can tell, but with a half decent pair of headphones the songs all rock, and hard. The song list is a bit short but overall I like it better than “Guitar Hero III’s” (although it’s missing Knights of Cydonia).
“On Tour” plays just like it should, it’s very responsive and feels like “Guitar Hero”. As you progress new guitars and outfits are unlocked. The touch screen display shows the guitar you’ve chosen and the 3D rendering of the band is very good considering the DS is a bit weak on 3D.
Despite the game having only four buttons the harder difficulty modes are very hard, with the loss of the last button they throw way more notes at you. It’s very challenging and fun, but can hurt your wrist.
The Guitar Grip can be a bit awkward, there is a tendency towards holding your wrist at angles that cause cramps over long play sessions, but I’ve pondered the Grip design extensively and cannot think of a better way it could have been designed. It allows you to hold the DS, press the buttons, strum and see both screens; all at the same time. The fifth fret button had to go because there is no way to move your hand around while strapped into the grip.
I also cannot recommend “On Tour” as your first Guitar Hero game, unless you only have a DS. Guitar Hero does a great job of recreating the feeling of playing guitar, while the DS version recreates the feeling of playing “Guitar Hero”. The experience is twice removed from actual guitar playing, so I recommend you start with one of the console “Guitar Heroes” first, then “On Tour”.
That being said, I give “Guitar Hero: On Tour” a strong recommendation. Despite its flaws it almost perfectly captures and shrinks the “Guitar Hero” experience to fit on the DS. I’m sold on it.
Calen Henry is a graduate of Japanese Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University. He grew up in Owen Sound, has been a gamer since childhood and is also interested in music and film.

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