It's hard to believe that it has only been twelve months since Activision first introduced the world to Guitar Hero: On Tour. At the time of its release I was skeptical; disappointed by the crummy selections of songs and in pain from the way the weird fret board controller cramped my hand. Six months later I had almost exactly the same thoughts about Decades. While I was impressed that the game allowed me to stream songs between Nintendo DS units, I couldn't get over the fact that the control cramped my hand.
Here we are one year later and Activision is back with their third stab at a music game on Nintendo's portable. The game does add a few new ideas to the mix and allows for an even larger library of songs to stream from DS to DS. But try as I might, there's just no getting around the awful fact that this series is torture for my hands. And even if it wasn't murder on my left hand, it still wouldn't feel like you were actually playing a real instrument. I'm afraid that I'm never going to be able to recommend a Guitar Hero: On Tour game until Activision changes the fundamental way you play the game. And frankly, I don't see that happening any time soon.
So here we have the awkwardly named, Guitar Hero: On Tour - Modern Hits. What is a "Modern Hit," you may ask? Apparently it's a song that has been released in the last five or six years from a band that may or may not have had a big hit that I recognize. In other words, you get songs from Foo Fighters ("All My Life"), Modest Mouse ("Dashboard"), Wolfmother ("Dimension"), Weezer ("Everybody Gets Dangerous"), Franz Ferdinand ("Falling Down"), The Offspring ("Half-Truism"), AFI ("Miss Murder"), The Strokes ("Reptilia"), Sum 41 ("Still Waiting"), Fall Out Boy ("This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race"), Coldplay ("Violet Hill") and more. There are 28 bands total, many returning from other Guitar Hero games.
Because the game was going for more of a modern sound, this put me at an immediate disadvantage. While I consider myself well-versed when it comes to music, my expertise is not in four year old emo. Thankfully there were more than a few songs I recognized, but much of the soundtrack just came off like a list of songs MTV would play if they were still playing music. If you're a fan of this music and already like the Guitar Hero: On Tour series, then stop reading right now, because this game is for you.
However, I'm not a fan, so I have a few things to complain about. For starters, I'm not a big fan of the brand new way you advance through the campaign mode. At first it looks and feels like your typical Guitar Hero: On Tour game. That is, you can choose from a small selection of songs and try to get the highest score you can. But then you realize that you have to earn a certain amount of fans before you can move on to the next group of songs. The problem is that you probably won't earn enough fans simply playing through the songs once, so you will need to go back and play some of them again.
This is where the new "Fan Request" mode comes into play. Instead of simply going back through the song again, the game gives you different missions to accomplish. For example, you can go back through the same by playing the bass, giving you the challenge of playing a different instrument. There's also a mode where you can duel with another character in a one-on-one battle. You can battle it out on any song, just like you might if you were playing against a friend sitting across the room.
But even after you've completed one or two of these fan requests, you may STILL be short on fans. So back you go to play through the song for a third time. This is the kind of thing that wouldn't be a big deal if I was playing songs I liked, but that's simply not the case with Guitar Hero: On Tour - Modern Hits. I would say that it took unlocking six or seven songs before I actually found a song I would want to play more than once. Even then I wasn't excited about playing that song more than two times.
I suspect that the game developers added these fan requests to offer some variety and replay to the standard story mode, but having to play the same songs over and over isn't my definition of fun. This might have been acceptable if you had a lot of really creative challenges to take on and a variety of songs to play, however that is not the case in Modern Hits. What was supposed to be a way to avoid a linear gameplay path just ends up feeling like busywork.
The awful truth about this Guitar Hero: On Tour "sequel" is that the fan request stuff isn't its biggest problem. The unavoidable issue seems to be the downright broken gameplay. This is the third time I've complained about the screen not detecting my strums. The third time I've rolled my eyes at the wonky note detection. The third time I've complained about the way this series makes my hand feel. The fact that Activision hasn't addressed these concerns is downright appalling. These aren't minor issues, these are complaints about some of the most important aspects of the game. If they could just address one or two of these problems I would have no problem bumping the score up to something acceptable, but how am I supposed to recommend a game that leaves me in pain after every play session?
And did I mention that Guitar Hero: On Tour - Modern Hits will not work on all Nintendo DS units? I figure I might as well say something, because it's not like Activision mentions it anywhere on the box. The game comes with another fret board control and an adaptor that allows you to play it on both the original DS and the DS Lite. But it does NOT come with a way to play it on the Nintendo DSi, Nintendo's newest iteration on the portable. I'm sure most hardcore gamers probably know this information going in, but given this game's casual ties, it seems odd that they wouldn't mention this information somewhere on the box (maybe in big letters warning people).
For the most part the game delivers on everything it promises. It gives you a bunch of new venues, a couple of new characters, a few new player options and a couple dozen new songs. What it doesn't deliver on is innovation ... then again, Activision never promised that Modern Hits was going to reinvent the wheel. If you're a fan of the first two games then it probably doesn't matter what I have to say about Modern Hits. However, if you're still on the fence, then do yourself a favor and check out Harmonix's incredible Rock Band Unplugged
for the PSP. Not only does it have more music for a cheaper price, but it also won't cramp up your hand.
Has Activision been able to right all of their wrongs with the Guitar Hero: On Tour franchise? Have they been able to make this Nintendo DS game feel like you're actually playing a real guitar? Have they given you a compelling reason to own this game? No, they definitely haven't. Modern Hits is more of the same uninspired and painful gameplay you've already experienced!