The Little Guitar Hero
May 30, 2008 – At some point in almost everyone’s life, they dream of rocking out on a guitar in front of thousands of adoring fans. When Guitar Hero came out, it finally gave many gamers the feeling that they were doing just that. Sure, the guitar was made of plastic and all of the adoring fans were virtual, but this is still the closest most of us will ever come to fulfilling this dream.
The guitar peripheral had a lot to do with selling this illusion, giving players a somewhat realistic axe with which to ape their favorite rock stars. So how can a portable game without a guitar peripheral hope to satisfy fans of the Guitar Hero series? Thankfully, the answer is a very simple one: great gameplay.
To have great gameplay you really need good controls. While you will not have a full-sized guitar peripheral to play with, the Guitar Grip peripheral included with every copy of On Tour is an excellent portable equivalent. The Guitar Grip fits perfectly into the GBA cartridge slot on the bottom of the DS, with your hand being strapped to its back for stability and to allow you to reach the fret buttons. Because of its compact size you will only be given four fret buttons this time around, instead of the standard five that we are all used to. Fortunately, the game feels completely natural with its four fingers to four fret buttons approach. Having only four fret buttons may lead you to believe that this game will be much easier to play, but rest assured, the expert level of this game will require just as much skill, dexterity, and quick reflexes to complete as its console brothers.
With nothing on the Guitar Grip to strum, you will instead get to use the DS’s touch screen and a guitar pick stylus. The touch screen controls are actually surprisingly responsive, registering strums accurately no matter in which direction you choose to move the stylus. It works so well in fact that it allows for strumming forward and backwards, making it possible to hit quick strings of notes faster than is possible with any of the previous Guitar Hero guitar peripherals. The lack of a whammy bar may also seem like a problem, but you can actually just slide the stylus back and forth on the screen to produce the same effect. This works rather well and feels very intuitive. Since there is no tilt sensing incorporated in the DS or in the Guitar Grip, star power can instead be activated by pressing any of the DS’s face buttons or simply shouting “rock on” into the microphone. It is next to impossible to use the face buttons for this, leaving you with only one option. Fortunately, if you are easily embarrassed and don’t want to scream at your DS, blowing into the microphone will work just as well and will greatly reduce the amount of odd looks you are likely to receive while playing in public.
The single-player campaign is quite a bit of fun, but the game’s Guitar Duel mode is the real highlight of this title. This is basically the battle mode from Guitar Hero III, but it plays to the DS’s strengths so well that it is honestly much more fun. When you earn power-ups to mess with your opponent, they are all quite odd and effective. Some of the possible trip-ups include setting your opponent’s guitar on fire and forcing them to blow it out using the microphone; making a T-shirt, purse, etc. appear on screen that will need to be signed to continue strumming; switching your opponent’s screens to create confusion; and even cutting certain strings on your opponents guitar that will need restrung using the stylus. These duels are incredibly fun specifically because of all of those well thought out and unique attacks and defenses at your disposal. My only complaint about the Guitar Duel mode is you can’t play it over Wi-Fi, only over a local wireless connection. Online play would have really been a great option and is sorely missed.
The music in On Tour is noticeably compressed to fit onto a DS cart but still sounds great. Even with the extremely limited space, there will be over 25 songs and over 100 minutes of music to play through. There is a decent variety of music from most eras and genres of music. Having bands ranging anywhere from the Doobie Brothers to No Doubt gives players a good diversity of songs to choose from. Because of this, you are basically guaranteed that no matter your age or musical tastes you will most likely be able to find something you enjoy playing. About 85 percent of the songs included will be master tracks, adding a nice level of authenticity to the varied song list.
Vicarious Visions has done what was previously thought to be impossible. They have successfully condensed a wonderful console-only guitar playing franchise onto the technologically weakest system still available on the market and without a guitar. Not only did they get it to work, but it actually feels incredibly natural and is every bit as fun to play as its console counterparts. The Guitar Grip attachment is an amazingly well-realized and constructed peripheral that makes all of the included great gameplay elements work perfectly. I have to say that before I got a chance to play On Tour, I was perhaps one of the game’s biggest doubters. Fortunately, after just a few hours of DS strumming, I am happy to admit that if given a chance, Guitar Hero: On Tour will make a believer out of just about anyone.
Guitar Hero Franchise Downsizes In A Good Way
April 18, 2008 – It didn’t take long for the immensely addictive Guitar Hero titles to win over the hearts and fingers of a wide range of casual and hardcore gamers alike. However, considering much of the fun of the game revolves around totally rocking with a guitar controller peripheral, rumors of plans to bring the franchise to the DS spurred rampant speculation as to exactly how such a feat would be accomplished. With the official announcement of Guitar Hero: On Tour and a unique peripheral on its way soon, you can stop guessing and start saving up to get your hands on the real deal.
It appears the solution the developers finally arrived at for bringing the rock and roll experience to Nintendo’s handheld could be just what fans have hoped for, only without the trademark guitar. Vicarious Visions, the development team that handled the Wii version of the Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, is currently working on the game. While they considered using a guitar or mini-guitar attachment for the DS, they eventually settled on something smaller, simpler, and a little more basic to do the trick.
Obviously, playing Guitar Hero without the ubiquitous guitar controller just won’t be quite the same. In an attempt to remedy this, the game will come bundled with a strange-looking peripheral called the Guitar Grip. Aside from the miniaturized versions of the familiar colored fret buttons, it shares little in common with the original guitar peripheral. The device plugs into the Game Body Advance cartridge slot and has four fret buttons – sorry, no fifth fret for virtuosos – to emulate the same rhythm gameplay experience of the original. Using a hand strap, you’ll hold the DS in the palm of your hands like an open book with your fingers hovering over the keys located at the GBA cart slot opening.
The gameplay concept is on par with past Guitar Hero games – albeit in a diminutive and slightly pared-down form. From what we’ve seen it should be relatively easy to pick up and play on the DS without a long adjustment period, whether you’ve previously played the original games or not. As the song plays, colored notes will move down the fret board towards you on the left screen, and you’ll strum a virtual guitar located on the touch screen while fingering the four fret keys to hit each note in time to the rhythm. You can use a stylus, but the package includes an oversized guitar pick-like thing, which can be stored in the Guitar Grip casing. Star power is activated by yelling something rock-tastic into the DS mic like “by the hammer of almighty Thor!,” “let there be rock!” or “free bird!” If being an über-dork doesn’t float your boat, you can always just blow into the thing to set it off. The Guitar Grip attachment will fit both the DS Lite and the original DS design, thanks to an adjustable element.
Based-on early screenshots, the in-game fret board designs aren’t as elaborately detailed as the console versions, and some of the elements on the touch screen (like the score, star power, and applause meter) are also a little plain-looking. It’s to be expected that some concessions would have to be made – reduced visuals and an alternative to the popular guitar controller among them – in order to get the game running properly on the DS. The rest of the 3D background visuals mimic the style of Guitar Hero III. Players can choose from different models of Gibson guitars to strum in the game, six characters to perform as (two of which are DS-exclusive), and you’ll be shredding in five new unlockable venues. All told, the characters and environments look pretty good on the handheld. The majority of players will probably be more concerned about shredding notes than whining about the lack of HD. There’s something to be said for being able to whip out some Guitar Hero wherever you go.
Most of the music tracks to be featured On Tour will be master recordings, and players will be rocking out with more than 25 songs in all. The five songs announced at this point include: “All the Small Things” by Blink-182, “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” by Jet, “Do What You Want” OK Go, “Spiderwebs” by No Doubt, and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister. We’ll be keeping a close eye on what other tunes are announced as the game gets closer to release, since the track list could very well make or break the title – especially since Guitar Hero on a the DS is quite different.
Playing solo offers the typical career mode as well as a quick play for short-and-sweet sessions. When playing with a friend wirelessly, you can pick from face off, pro face off, and co-op modes. The dueling mode has you firing off attacks to mess up opponents in was similar to GHIII. The idea of bringing the rock with you wherever you go is a major selling point for On Tour, but the delivery on the DS is still going to have to prove itself. Though different, will the handheld gameplay hold up to the challenge and fun of the console versions? We hope so.