Tour bust

The wheels come off for Guitar Hero
By MITCH KRPATA  |  July 8, 2008
1.5 1.5 Stars


VIDEO: The trailer and instructional video for Guitar Hero: On Tour

Guitar Hero: On Tour | For Nintendo DS | Rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older | Developed by Vicarious Visions | Published by Activision
Even before the dinosaurs escaped and started eating everyone in Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum’s character warned of the consequences of toying in God’s domain. “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could,” he said of cloning dinosaurs, “that they didn’t stop to think if they should!”

I had a similar thought several times while playing Guitar Hero: On Tour. Could Guitar Hero be downsized for the Nintendo DS? Could hardware mavens Red Octane devise a peripheral to approximate the full-fledged guitar simulation experience on a hand-held? The answer to these questions is yes. But should Guitar Hero: On Tour have been made? Well, it’s more pleasant than being eaten by a T. Rex.

Guitar Hero has owed much of its appeal to the solid engineering of the plastic guitar that ships with each iteration of the game. Requiring you to lug around such a guitar would defeat the purpose of a Nintendo DS version, so Red Octane has concocted a novel solution. The input is a plastic device with four fret buttons that you plug into the Game Boy Advance port at the bottom of the system. Then you hold the DS sideways, like a book, and strum by scraping a pick-shaped stylus across the touchscreen.

There may have been no other way to do it. And fingering skills do translate perfectly from the console versions to this one. Strumming is a bit tougher. During fast sections, you can’t just run the stylus back and forth in a continuous motion — the game seems to demand that you strike the screen each time you strum. It’s a bit tricky to get the hang of, especially once you start to play on higher difficulty levels.

Worse, the peripheral is an ergonomic nightmare. It’s somehow too large and too small at the same time; the buttons are tiny and close together, but the bulkiness of the device makes it difficult to keep your pinky near the blue fret button. In order to look at the screen head-on, you have to choose between flexing your wrist and tilting your head, either of which becomes uncomfortable after only a couple of songs. Even a moderate play session left me with pain shooting from my elbow to my fingertips for about 20 minutes afterward.

And what of the music — the reason for Guitar Hero’s very existence? In this edition, it’s more painful than the controller. Listening to tinny, compressed versions of “This Love” by Maroon 5 and “All Star” by Smash Mouth is torture enough. But these aren’t even guitar songs. No wanking solos, no chugging riffs, just bland, radio-friendly pop. I can only think that whoever chose this material was trying to appeal to the casual gamers who make up much of the Nintendo DS’s ownership —and who may be itching to play Top 40 garbage in the most physically awkward way imaginable. If so, good luck to those forsaken souls.

I would close with an admonition to Activision not to continue to stripmine Guitar Hero lest it squander the massive goodwill this lucrative franchise has engendered — that is, I would if Guitar Hero: On Tour hadn’t enjoyed the most successful American launch of any Nintendo DS game in history, selling more than 300,000 copies in its first week. Instead, I will speak to those hundreds of thousands of folks who bought the game: if you continue to clean your plate, the cooks will continue to serve you slop. And they’ll keep serving it without once stopping to wonder whether they shouldn’t do better.

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