Do we really need a portable Guitar Hero game? That is the question I asked out loud when I first heard that Activision and RedOctane were considering bringing their hugely popular franchise to the Nintendo DS. While I love rocking the fake plastic guitar at home, I wondered if it would be the same on the go. It turns out that my skepticism was justified, because Guitar Hero: On Tour, Activision's first portable Guitar Hero game, turns out to be nothing more than a lame cover band masquerading as the real deal.
First things first, Guitar Hero: On Tour actually comes with its own accessories, much like it's console brother. In order to play the game you have to attach a fret board to your Game Boy Advance game port. This addition not only increases the size of your Nintendo DS, but it also makes the game feel more like a traditional Guitar Hero game. And believe me, you definitely need that attachment, because it's about the only thing in the game that resembles a real Guitar Hero game.
To play the game you have to flip the Nintendo DS to its side, so that you're playing it much like you would read a book. From there you slip your hand into the strap connected to the fret bar and get ready to rock. The concept is the same as any other Guitar Hero game, you are tasked with the job of hitting differently colored gems as they move down the "note highway". To strum you have to use a very special guitar pick stylus (I'm not joking) and rub it over the touch screen, which shows you a picture of a guitar.
The truth is, Guitar Hero: On Tour is exactly what you think it is. Although the graphics take something of a hit, the game plays remarkably close to what you've seen on other consoles. You still have star power notes (which allow you to rock out for double the points), hammer-ons and pull-offs (which allow you to hit notes without strumming) and the cool whammy bar effects. Even the game's story mode is basically just you doing the same things you've done in other Guitar Hero games. This is, for better or worse, exactly what you expect out of a portable Guitar Hero game.
Unfortunately the game's major flaws show up almost immediately. For one thing the fret board accessory is extremely uncomfortable. I tried it on both an old Nintendo DS "fat" and the new DS Lite and in both situations I found my hands getting cramped after only two or three songs. Even with only four fret buttons (as opposed to the normal five), Guitar Hero: On Tour's controls hurt my hand and made playing the game a painful experience.
Another big problem is that the game's soundtrack is all over the board, including only a few good songs ... and way too many cover songs. That's not to say that there aren't some noteworthy tracks to play (We're Not Going to Take It by Twisted Sister is a lot of fun) , but most of the good stuff is done by somebody other than the actual artists. And to make matters worse, there are a number of good bands that are stuck with questionable tracks. For example, the extremely early Red Hot Chili Peppers song is good, but wasn't there a better song they could have used? The same goes with Nirvana and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
For the most part the 25 songs in Guitar Hero: On Tour feel like they were chosen at random by a couple of teenagers. How else can you explain the inclusion of Smash Mouth, Los Lonely Boys, No Doubt, Maroon 5 and American Idol's own Daughtry. If these songs appeal to you then chances are you're going to have a lot of fun playing through this abbreviated Guitar Hero game ... assuming you can get over the pain of actually playing this thing.
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