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Guitar Hero: On Tour (DS) artwork

Guitar Hero: On Tour (DS) review

"At its best moments, this mini edition will still fly you through hand-wrenching solos. For a franchise that pulls a lot of its thrills from shredding with a plastic axe, though, On Tour doesn't have the setup to be at its best enough."

I miss the orange button. In the full-fledged versions of Guitar Hero, this fifth fret on the guitar's neck placed considerable stress on your four available fingers. But On Tour's special four-button controller doesn't mean the game's difficulty suddenly falls to easy, easier and easiest. At its best moments, this mini edition will still fly you through hand-wrenching solos. For a franchise that pulls a lot of its thrills from shredding with a plastic axe, though, On Tour doesn't have the setup to be at its best enough.

The guitar peripheral is really the specter that cannot be vanquished. To approximate it here, On Tour introduces the Guitar Grip. The fret buttons line up with the GBA slot while an extension wraps around the bottom of the DS. Holding the machine sideways, you strap your hand into the grip so your fingers can manipulate the buttons. (Naturally, it's configurable to accommodate righties and lefties.) The top screen shows the fret board where the notes scroll towards you – with your little rocker avatars in the background. Meanwhile, the touch screen displays your guitar. Strum across the strings in the right rhythm while holding down the correct button combinations, and you'll make beautiful music. Actually, you can slide the stylus anywhere on the screen, in any direction, and the action will still register.

The game even comes with a special pick-shaped stylus, which is preferable to the flipper bar on the traditional controller. That nice touch can't replicate the visceral authenticity of the original console versions, nor can the mini produce the same reliability. The touch screen needs to stay as stationary as possible to avoid any errant strumming motions. However, shifting fingers and punching the fret buttons naturally jostles the unit around. Also, the grip for the pick stylus consists of slick indentations on each side. Without adequate traction, it tends to slowly slide out of the best position. Working through the intricacies of Stevie Ray Vaughn's Pride and Joy or ZZ Top's La Grange, you don't want to be distracted by that inherent instability.

If those titles sound familiar, it could be because they also appeared in GHIII. Only four of the twenty-five songs in Career Mode are lifted from this previous version of the franchise, but look at it from this perspective: with the set list evenly divided over five stages, almost all will contain a rerun. That's at least a small blemish.

On Tour does stick to the tradition of featuring bands spanning several different eras. It reproduces oldies, from Jet Airliner by the Steve Miller Band to the complex stylings of Santana on Black Magic Woman. There are bands of the moment like OK Go and Maroon 5, and bands of long expired moments like Smash Mouth performing All-Star. Of course, there's nothing that can push your limits like the mile-a-millisecond insanity of Dragonforce -- found in GHIII -- but the music selection isn't really the problem. This game just can't handle anything more.

This portable version does borrow one other thing from GHIII: the Guitar Duel. The idea behind a duel is not really to play well; it's to collect enough powerups to frequently mess up your opponent. One attack cuts the strings on a guitar, and you can't proceed until you restring it with the stylus. Another sets the guitar on fire with pyrotechnics, and the blaze must be blown out through the microphone. Rowdy fans will pop up and insist that you autograph their t-shirts, purses, or fish carcasses. There's a lot of wild attacks, but this mode is actually more relaxing because it doesn't demand perfection. Unlike with GHIII, though, these workouts don't intermittently appear as a final test to proceed to the next stage. It's an entirely separate mode, covering the same set list and four difficulty levels as a career. Taking on a computer controlled character and playing through all these songs again is a bit bothersome, but doing so nets the game's only bonus song: I Am Not Your Gameboy by Freezepop, an indie band that's gained special recognition by appearing in the lineup for several video games.

Of course, a duel is most fun against another living person, but On Tour only includes the option to battle locally. Other mulitplayer modes include co-op performances and straight-up score comparisons, although the maximum number of competitors is two. Along with the requirement that the other player needs both their own game cartridge and their own Guitar Grip, that limits its appeal as a real party experience.

On Tour captures the spirit of Guitar Hero minus the spectacle, but I feel like things are missing besides just the orange button. There are fewer songs. Fewer crazy characters. Fewer weird venues. Fewer unlockable guitars. Fewer chances to be blown away by impossibly difficult passages. Those lacking qualities give it less personality -- and make it less fun -- than a lot of rhythm games on the DS.


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Freelance review by Benjamin Woodhouse (August 06, 2008)

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