Following the same successful formula as previous Guitar Hero titles, Guitar Hero: On Tour puts you in the role of an ambitious guitarist touring with a little known covers band trying to rock their way from musical insignificance to superstardom.
Essentially a rhythm action game, players are required to follow a sequence of coloured notes scrolling down the screen by strumming on a stylised guitar with one hand, whilst holding down corresponding coloured ‘fret buttons’ with the other. Concertgoers respond to your efforts in real time by either cheering or jeering, with the worst case scenario being booed off the stage before your performance is complete.
As you might imagine, the key to nailing the songs and wowing the crowd lies in good timing and co-ordination, which most gamers should posses to some degree.
Each successful gig leads to greater things, such as bigger and better venues, money to buy new gear, and of course the right to call yourself a Guitar Hero.
The Guitar Grip peripheral comes with adapters for both the original DS and DS lite, but minus the orange fret button found on the larger guitar controllers. It is robustly built and extremely responsive during play, but there are two drawbacks: smaller fingers will have a tough time reaching the fret buttons – particularly the blue one (or green, if you are using the Lefty Flip option); and despite written and visual warnings to limit play and to hold the DS correctly, i.e. with a straight wrist, the grip is not what we'd describe as ‘ergonomically designed’. If you play more than a few songs at a time your wrist and forearm muscles will feel the burn. If this were fitness training we’d say “no pain, no gain”, but in this case we can’t stress enough the importance of stopping the instant you feel discomfort, however minor.
The touch screen plays a starring role in On Tour’s operation, with a special pick-shaped stylus used to ‘strum’ strings, operate the whammy bar, activate Star Power (one of several methods of doing so), and causing or counteracting player-induced mayhem during the guitar duels. The microphone is also utilised to good effect, although this seems more for novelty purposes rather than good gameplay.
Content-wise, On Tour is very much like its larger counterparts, with a career mode, guitar duels, quickplay and practice options for single player; co-op or competitive modes for multiplayer, plus loads of unlockable material. If you’ve played GH before you’ll have no trouble diving into the mosh pit. Having said that, the onboard tutorials are beneficial to newbies and pros alike, providing detailed hands-on instruction for DS-specific features such as the microphone, as well as those advanced techniques such as hammer-ons and pull-offs. These are easier to execute on the DS than on the larger consoles, and the overall feel of the game is more intimate and scaled down.
This is not to say that On Tour’s compact size diminishes its entertainment value. Far from it; the game possesses all of the original’s best features and appeal, wrapped up in a neat package that you can play anywhere. Despite its portability you’ll probably baulk at playing this game in public, unless your inner exhibitionist thrives on the attention it will draw… in which case you may wish to engage in an all-out duelling DS session with a friend via DS wireless. To the casual onlooker this resembles a couple of low-key air guitarists battling it out; with headphones off and volume cranked to the max it's almost as entertaining to watch as it is to play.
Graphics are crisp and colourful, with that ever-so-slightly grungy feel of GH senior. While your performances don’t quite have the visual impact of big screen gigs, the DS screens do an admirable job of delivering the atmosphere and excitement of a rock concert. Earphones aren’t essential, but On Tour is definitely at its best when using them.
There are 26 tracks in the game, which is far fewer than previous GH titles, but with four difficulty levels providing ever-increasing challenge – and the physical discomfort of playing too long – we believe the set list contains sufficient material to keep you strumming for many hours.
An awful lot of thought has gone into the game’s design and execution; this is reflected in the nifty Guitar Grip as well as creative implementation of the microphone and touch screen. At just under a hundred bucks it is slightly more than you’d pay for an ‘A’ list DS title, but once you have invested in the hardware you’ll be able to enjoy the sequels which Guitar Hero: On Tour will inexorably spawn.
Thoroughly recommended – but please do heed those health and safety warnings.