The ability to rock out has now gone portable.
I have to admit, I swore it couldn’t be done. When Activision first announced that it was bringing the Guitar Hero franchise to Nintendo’s handheld I got a good laugh out of it. First off it could never work; the idea behind the series is precision and the touch screen generation is no place for that. Secondly the sound quality would be terrible coming from that tiny cartridge so licensed tracks would be ruined in the process. Here I sit now ready to eat crow as not only did Activision pull it off, they have created yet another reason to kill time on Nintendo’s infinitely popular handheld. I have to give credit where it is due and commend developer Vicarious Visions who took this project very seriously and created a portable version to what is slowly becoming everyone’s favorite past time.
Guitar Hero On Tour works much like it’s big brother. Notes slide vertically down the screen disguised as colored jewels that represent each note on the guitar. With this bite-sized version the developers have made the wise decision to eliminate the orange note bringing the count down to four. Replacing the popular plastic guitar peripheral is a hand grip that slides into the GBA port of the DS giving you the four fret buttons. The strap is adjustable for those of you with big hands, and once you get accustomed to the angle in which you have to hold it, it becomes second nature.
While playing On Tour you hold the DS much like a book (similar to games like Brain Age) and the touch screen becomes your strumming area. One might think that random slashes across the screen with the included pick stylus would be highly inaccurate, but the developers have done an amazing job programming the game to recognize strums from just about every direction. You can also use the whammy bar by simply tapping it and holding on the touch screen, plus you can now activate star power by simply screaming into the microphone, which is much more realistic than tilting your guitar. Overall the changes that the team has made to bring this franchise to the portable arena all work surprisingly well and now you can rock out while on the go.
Of course the biggest question any fan of the series has now is about the track listing. On Tour sports a surprisingly ample number of tracks (25 in total) and ranges from pop favorites to some classic tunes. All of the songs sound great coming from the system’s tiny speaker system, but if you want to truly immerse yourself headphones are required. The track listing, as always, is up for debate; while some songs such as Rock and Roll All Nite by KISS have been featured in previous games, newcomers like Nirvana’s Breed do give veteran fans a chance to check out some new note charts. For the most part the charts are surprisingly fun to play. I found myself enjoying songs that I had either never heard of or simply did not like because Vicarious did an excellent job of creating fun lines to play.
The quality of the audio in the songs is actually decent. Granted you are not going to obtain the same eminence as the console versions what is here is presented in stereo and sounds great blasting through your headphones. Combine this with the idea that the devs manages to squeeze 25 songs onto the tiny cartridge along with everything else and you begin to appreciate just how much work went into making this franchise work in the portable market.
Long-time fans of the series know that since Activision took the reigns the difficulty has been ramped up significantly. Guitar Hero III is still nigh impossible on the expert difficulty unless you are a robot. Thankfully with On Tour and the other recently released console iteration GH: Aerosmith it feels like the teams are finally starting to get a grip on the series’ nuances. Note charts in On Tour are much more rational and much more fun to play. With the exclusion of one of the fret buttons the jump between hard and expert becomes less noticeable in the handheld version, but still challenging none-the-less. Veteran players will find a nice challenge on hard and expert can still be rough in certain spots, but certainly not to the same degree of insane difficulty found in GHIII.
Career mode will feel familiar to anyone who has played the game before. There are a total of five tiers and each one contains five songs. Thankfully Vicarious Visions has opted to remove the much maligned boss battles found in the previous game. Outside of the single player game there is also a co-op and battle mode that can be played wirelessly with friends. Much like the console versions of the game these are the heart and soul of the series and definitely worth checking out if you have friends who also own the game. It really is impressive how much was squeezed into this portable version of the game which makes it all that much easier to recommend to fans of the series.
Guitar Hero On Tour is just about the perfect interpretation of the series in handheld form. I cannot imagine a better way to do it and I would love to see them continue to expand on the idea. While it may not be as fun or immersive as the console versions, you have to commend what the team did to bring the series to the DS. There are some issues such as the grip slipping out of the unit at times and of course a lack of downloadable content for the future, but as it stands On Tour is exactly what it needs to be. If you are a fan you will certainly enjoy rocking out on this version, but if you want the full experience the console iterations are still king.