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Guitar Hero: On Tour: Take the Show on the Road

Company: Activision

Guitar Hero has become a cultural phenomenon and other than some sort of merging with World of Warcraft, there was only one way for it to become even bigger - take the game to the DS. Earlier this week, Activision gave me the chance to go hands-on with a nearly complete version of Guitar Hero: On Tour and it looks like they've nailed it.

While common sense would suggest that the DS version would employ some sort of touch-screen mashing mechanic, On Tour makes use of a completely new accessory - the Guitar Grip. Every copy of the game will ship with the attachment, which plugs directly into the GBA slot on the bottom of the DS. Well, "bottom" probably wouldn't be the best way to say it since the game is actually played with the DS on its side. According to the developers staffing the event, they worked with both RedOctane and Nintendo in order to make the grip as comfortable and functional as possible.

The grip has a comfortable, contoured design that fits perfectly in your hand. It also comes with a strap that makes sure the grip, or DS, don't get away from you during gameplay. Unlike the guitar controller used for the console games, On Tour features four slightly smaller buttons that run alongside the DS. Once the grip is strapped into place, each of your four fingers fall perfectly on each of the buttons, which helps make the game easier to play since you aren't sliding all over the place. In addition to being incredibly comfortable to hold, the grip also comes with a certain degree of customization. The clear bottom panel detaches, allowing you to place your own personal touch of artwork to the device.

The grip also features a slot containing a special guitar pick shaped stylus that is used to strum the guitar strings displayed on the touch screen. The screen is incredibly responsive and allows you to strum in nearly any direction. It takes a little practice to get it right (in a sense, you have to relearn how to play the game) though once you break the habit of "flicking" the screen, removing the tip of the stylus from the screen, it works incredibly well. The touch screen is also used as a whammy bar by quickly scribbling on the screen.

As far as gameplay is concerned, Guitar Hero: On Tour is nearly identical to the console versions. The game is broken up into single-player Career and Quick Play modes as well as a two-player Duel mode. The version on display was missing a number of songs, though the selection was rather expansive and included songs like "China Grove" (The Doobie Brothers), "All the Small Things" (Blink 182) and "Rock and Roll All Night" (KISS). The final version will, of course, include a larger number of songs (around 25) and include tracks exclusive to the DS version as well as a few favorites from Guitar Hero III. The final list will include songs like "Spiderwebs" (No Doubt), "Jessie's Girl" (Rick Springfield), "This Love" (Maroon 5) and "What I Want" (Daughtry).

As far as the sound quality is concerned, the game sounds much better than I was expecting. In order to get the best audio experience possible, it is probably best to play with a set of headphones, but when heard it through the DS's speakers, the music was much better than the tracks found in other games (Elite Beat Agents, for example).

Guitar Hero: On Tour also features a robust and incredibly fun two-player mode. The Co-op options allow you to play with a friend, one playing lead and the other playing bass, though the real fun is found in Guitar Duel. Similar to the duel mode featured in Guitar Hero III, On Tour's competitive mode features a number of power-ups meant to really trip up your opponent. These include things like speeding up the notes or increasing the difficulty as well as blown amps (cutting out the music) or a flash bulb that temporarily whites out the screen, making it hard to see the notes.

Some of the more creative ones involve the DS's touch screen and microphone. One power-up produces an overzealous fan that jumps in your way until you autograph their shirt or one that flips the screens, requiring the affected player to tap the notes rather than strum. One of the more popular power-ups was the pyrotechnics mishap that sets your guitar on fire, forcing you to blow into the microphone before you can start playing again. Along with having to yell "Rock Out" to activate Star Power (you can also do the boring thing and just tap the Star Power meter), the pyro power-up brought up a number of interesting conversations, the least of which was, "What do you do if you're playing on an airplane?"

While I'm sure visions of "Guitar Hero of Warcraft" are dancing around some executive's head, Vicarious Visions has done a great job at bringing the Guitar Hero experience to the DS.

Guitar Hero: On Tour hits store shelves at the end of June with a retail price around $50.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Related Links:

Sony PlayStation 3 Enemy Territory: Quake Wars Sony PlayStation 3 Guitar Hero: Aerosmith

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