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TVG thrashes wildly, plectrum in hand, as we go on the road with the first portable version of Guitar Hero...
- Well-crafted Guitar Grip.
- Guitar Duels work better on the DS.
- Strumming action is more 'life like'.
- Limited space for tracks.
- Limited multiplayer.
- RSI for both players and the DS is a possibility.
A modern phenomenon, the Guitar Hero franchise has relentlessly taken videogames by storm since it first appeared nearly four years ago. Giving non-guitar playing philistines (including myself) the chance to feel like a rock god with a peripheral that wouldn't look out of place at a Fisher-Price store, the series has continued to grow without losing (much) steam.
So it was perhaps inevitable that the franchise would shift away from its home console beginnings and go portable, which is where Guitar Hero: On Tour comes in. Bundled with the 'Guitar Grip', a four fret add-on that slips neatly into the DS' GameBoy Advance slot, the game aims to deliver the same Guitar Hero experience on the move. But without the usual plastic guitar, can On Tour even begin hoping to replicate the same thrills of the main franchise?
TVG grabbed our axe and took to the stage...
Hitting The Road.
Taking on the rocking responsibilities this time around, is Vicarious Visions, which seems to be an increasingly vital cog in Activision's Nintendo DS portfolio. Even though Rock Band outfit Harmonix forged the franchise before Neversoft took the reigns, the Albany studio actually lies at the very heart of On Tour, pitching the idea to Activision and Red Octane only when a finalised prototype for the guitar grip was realised.
So, how good is the transition to shredding on the move?
On the whole, the On Tour experience is a fairly solid one; the grip is quite simply remarkable, even though it can pop out of the slot if the game is being played a little too vigorously. The buttons are, as you'd expect, a little small compared to the full size peripheral we've been used to in recent years, but even with our ham fists it's not overly clumsy. All the more remarkable however, is how much more 'life like' strumming is on the DS, thanks to the plectrum-shaped stylus that makes the magic happen.
Guitar Hero has always proved to be something of an anomaly in that actual guitarists generally struggle to get to grips with mechanic, whereas here the stylus enables a more natural technique to be used - this is surely a Guitar Hero for guitarists! Despite the well designed grip, it has to be said that On Tour isn't best suited to extended periods of play thanks to the ever-threatening aches of RSI; even Activision warns about playing the game for too long during the boot up sequences.
The two other features usually associated with the guitar peripherals of the franchise, Star Power and the Whammy Bar, also make it in to the game. With a scratching motion on the touch screen, players can simulate the power of the whammy, whilst a yell of 'Rock On!' or a simple blow in the mic is used to activate the Star Power for high combo goodness.
OK, so the hardware and mechanics seem to have made a solid enough transition, but what about the gameplay?
Massively cut down from the usual catalogue of tracks available on its home console cousins, understandably because of the restricted space on the DS carts, On Tour has just twenty-five songs (plus one bonus track). Set across a handful of locations from a Greek Arena to the Rooftops and a Battleship, only a select number of tracks are re-used (mainly from Legends of Rock), with the vast majority making their Guitar Hero debuts. On the whole, the tracks fit in well with the pedigree; the likes of Ozzy sits perfectly besides Guitar Hero newbies, Twisted Sister. But there are a couple of bands, we're looking at you Maroon 5, that make questionable appearances here.
Carving out a career is something that's featured in every instalment in the franchise to date, and On Tour is no different, but the game also throws in some limited multiplayer action over an ad hoc connection. Also available as part of the single-player game, these Guitar Duels originally featured in 2007's Legends of Rock, but here they feel far more at home on the DS than they ever did on the PS3 or Xbox 360.
That's mainly down to the DS' original input mechanics, with both the mic and the touch-screen proving indispensable to the gametype, and allowing Vicarious Visions to throw in some more creative distraction attacks for players to use. Blowing out fires with the microphone or reattaching a snapped string with the stylus are just two of the many examples where the DS input devices come into their own, though they're also joined by flash photography and changing difficult levels too. Much more appealing against an actual person rather than an NPC opponent, the duels are nonetheless support acts to the headline act of the career mode.
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