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Guitar Hero: On Tour

Score: 75%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Rhythm

Graphics & Sound:

Guitar Hero: On Tour does some really impressive things in terms of presentation. Like Nintendo's other machine, the DS isn't the most powerful thing on the market, but Vicarious Visions has managed to pull together a pretty complete visual and audio experience on the handheld.

The visuals are a pretty close match to the console versions. Nearly all of the characters from the series are around, as well as one or two new faces. All have multiple costumes and feature smooth, complete animations during gameplay. There are also an impressive number of fairly detailed stages, including a Subway, Float and Rooftop. Of course, you probably won't notice them, but it's good to know that something is happening on the other screen.

Audio is about as good as you could expect from the DS's sound chip. It isn't high-fidelity, 5.1 Surround Sound, but it's a little above low-fidelity mono. After all, you can't butcher a goat and expect prime rib. While things sound good, the song list is borderline at best. There are a few good ones, I especially liked "Breed" (Nirvana), "China Grove" (The Doobie Brothers) and "What I Want" (Daughtry), though a majority of the pop-heavy songs just don't work. "All the Small Things" (Blink 182) and "Spiderwebs" (No Doubt) would be great for something like Rock Band or Guitar Hero World Tour, but not for Guitar Hero. Also, I'd like to request that "All-Star" (or, if possible, Smash Mouth) be permanently banned from everything. I can, however, see some songs being picked because they fit some of the gameplay mechanics a little better, so there's room for a little slack.

Most of the songs are master recordings and the drop in quality doesn't really seem to hurt any of the songs. They're all audible and sound good - especially when using headphones. The only song that really seems to have suffered any sort of degradation in quality is KISS's "Rock and Roll All Night".


Gameplay:

Even though it's a handheld, Guitar Hero: On Tour is the complete Guitar Hero experience. The core gameplay mode is Career. After choosing a character, you follow their career as they go from small-time subway act to the top of the charts. Each section takes place on a different stage with a selection of songs to choose from. As you play through songs, you are scored on your performance and earn money that can later be spent on purchasing new outfits and guitars for your character.

Compared to other games, the unlock system is a little different. Nearly everything is locked away at the start of the game and in order to gain access, you must complete certain songs on certain difficulty levels. I didn't mind having to unlock things, though having to both unlock and then purchase things is a little too much. In all likelihood, you'll have the money available, but it takes a little bit away from the entire experience.

Besides Career and Quickplay, On Tour also features a Battle mode, which is similar to the duels in Guitar Hero III. Gameplay works the same way, though instead of earning Star Power for hitting specially-marked notes, you earn attacks that can be launched at your opponent. A few of the attacks, like Difficulty Up and Speed Up, come over from Guitar Hero III though a majority are brand new and make use of the DS's special functions. For example, one catches your guitar on fire and requires you to blow into the microphone before you can play another note. Some of the attacks are good, though only a few are effective. Things like blowing out the speakers and the flash bulb are really just annoyances, while the autograph hound can really throw you off. Perhaps the most effective of the group is just activating the moves; picking an icon draws your attention away from the note screen and sometimes certain moves wouldn't work.

Battle Mode can also be played with a friend via WiFi. You can also challenge friends to a straight-up score competition or play co-op. The inclusion of multiplayer options is a good one, though On Tour has a more solitary feel than the console games. As a result, it lacks a certain social aspect and takes away from the game's "party game" appeal that helped to make it such a fun experience.


Difficulty:

Even though you need to pay attention to both screens, inevitably you'll spend most of your time staring at the scrolling note bar. At worst, this can cause you to accidentally take the stylus off the touch screen or touch an area of the screen you didn't mean to, so it isn't a big deal. However, during a multiplayer review session, we found that one of the attacks, which placed the scrolling note bar on the touch screen, made the game easier to play.

The lack of a fifth button doesn't seem to have too much of an impact on the overall game. Players who routinely play on Expert will likely still find the game a little on the easy side, though as far as general feel goes, the note layouts are well done and make sense. The strumming mechanic does throw a bit of a wrench into things. As you play notes using the grip, the touch screen is used to strum. The system works okay, except during a few "note intensive" songs where it is really hard to hit everything - even with practice. There are also a few issues with the whammy bar, which is also activated by running the stylus on the screen. I sometimes got a little too close to the bar and ended up whammying (is that even a word??) when I wanted to strum fast or wasn't paying attention to where I was strumming.


Game Mechanics:

The big hook to Guitar Hero: On Tour is the Guitar Grip accessory that ships with every copy (after all, it would be pretty difficult to play without it). The peripheral is sturdy and generally well-made and slips right into the GBA cartridge slot on the bottom of the system (a special adapter is included for older DSs). The grip tends to stay in the slot during gameplay, though it can slip out when you strap it onto your hand and will sometimes slide a little in one corner based on how you're holding it. Again, I never had it affect gameplay, though a little extra support would have been nice.

Another big factor is comfort, which is an area where the Guitar Grip has a few issues. The support strap is comfortable and can be adjusted to fit as loose or tight as you want; however, it takes a lot of finagling to get your fingers in a position that is comfortable and playable. A quick Google search brings up a few different ways to adjust things for comfort, though in the end it's a personal call. Regardless of the grip you use, your wrists will probably begin to hurt after a few songs. Taking a break is always a good thing, but knowing that I'll experience a little pain after playing a game does dampen my desire to play it.

Guitar Hero: On Tour sometimes feels more like an experiment than a complete game, leading to an awkward experience and not the best of debuts. At the same time, it is still fun in short bursts and is a well-polished game that's worth your time if you're a mobile Guitar Hero nut with an itch that needs scratching.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Sony PlayStation 3 Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Macintosh Build in Time

 
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