Rhythm and blues…
My left hand hurts. Of course, I’m not surprised. One look at the weird fretboard attachment for Guitar Hero: On Tour, and I knew my hand would soon have an affair with Tiger Balm. Normally, I wouldn’t be so upfront about the controls, but Guitar Hero is all about the peripheral. Without it, you don’t feel like a guitar god, but an everyday what’s-his-face who can press the ‘X’ button at the speed of scrolling capsules. Or in the case of Guitar Hero: On Tour, an everyday scratch-‘n-sniffer who can scrape a windshield at the speed of scrolling M&M’s with white chocolate centers.
[image1]For one, it takes forever to find a comfortable hand position. Your hand is supposed to hold the DS on its side and wrap around the back of the DS with the help of a strap, but this is easier said than done. Sliding the stylus, or the packaged guitar pick, across the touchscreen to strum every note causes the DS to gyrate like a faulty vibrator. It’s sort of like trying to play Guitar Hero with a hand vice while a strangely aroused monkey shakes the TV back and forth. Then you have to ask yourself how you’re going to actually play the game: How exactly are you going to stroke the screen? How are you going to adjust the strap so that your hand feels comfortable while your fingers are mobile enough for fretting? And how are you going to sit, or stand, or lean, or balance on one foot, or contort into a human pretzel?
Eventually, I found this position to be best – sitting half-lotus with the DS held against my knee for stability and wrapping the strap around the bottom part of my back palm. Unfortunately, I figured that out only after my hand cramped up about four times and after the fretboard, which is inserted into the GBA cartridge slot of the DS, slipped out three times. Every time it slips out, the game ends; so coupled with hand cramps, the irritation is constant and disruptive.
By the time I discovered a suitable position, however, I didn’t need one anymore. Completing all 25 songs – there are no unlockable songs – in career mode on Expert took me about two hours and twenty-four minutes, give or take a few hand cramps, a bathroom break, and a couple bites of preserved shredded pork fu. That’s what happens when I stop caring: I eat.
Now granted, my skills at Guitar Hero are admittedly outrageous (some would say, godly), especially since the usually fifth orange button on the fretboard isn’t there. I could flip through the songs and five-star each of them, like I usually try to do, but the idea of fighting with the controls and confirming the weakness of my wrist isn’t appealing. I would much rather wait to get home, slap on a black plastic guitar that at least appears less fake, and improve upon the songs on Guitar Hero III to bump up my leaderboard ranking.
[image2]Where the system also falls apart is in the slippery hit recognition of the touchscreen. A series of notes squished together require you to draw a fast zigzag with the stylus, which usually destroys your 4x multiplier. In fact, keeping a 4x multiplier is supposedly so rare that the screen actually alerts you whenever it happens. There are also times when the way you stroke causes you to miss when you’re sure that you’re not stroking any differently than before. It just makes the pursuit for high scores a near futile notion.
Thankfully, excluding the controls, Guitar Hero: On Tour plays exactly as you think it would, even if its track list is unapologetically short. Career mode has you pick a band name, a shredding avatar with the likes of Axel Steel, a venue, and a song with the hope of earning five stars or five full-combo golden stars. Passing songs gets progressively harder as you near the final venue – nailing three-note chords, hammer-ons, and pull-offs, and using voice-activated star power (which either has you speak loud/blow hard from a distance or put your face awkwardly close to the mic) is the key… as usual.
The only difference in modes is Guitar Duels, which upgrades the power-up-based Battle Mode from Guitar Hero III by tuning it into a full-fledged adventure. I was never a fan of the bosses in Guitar Hero III since they were based as much on skill as on the luck of the power-up draw, but even for people that enjoyed inflicting lefty-flip power-ups on their sorry opponents, it’s not as intriguing this time around. To use a weapon, you have to divert attention from the streaming notes and tap the weapon’s icon on the touchscreen while you’re concentrating on stroking. You’ll miss often. Worse yet, the A.I.’s scrolling note chart is not shown, so what you’re really competing against is a score panel that doesn’t do anything but go up. It’s like fighting against taxes and lies.
[image3]For what it has, the slim track list is full of recognizable tunes, all exclusive for the DS, and all surprisingly clear. Plugging in a set of headphones reveals the high quality of the audio, at least for the DS. The 3D graphics aren’t as fantastic as those on the PSP, but they’re the best the DS has to offer, enough to model characters like Johnny Napalm without many hitches. As a translation to the handheld, the production values – including those for online mode – are respectable.
Porting Guitar Hero onto the DS is less of a bad idea and more of an uphill battle, a battle that Guitar Hero: On Tour ultimately loses. For newbies, the controls are too unwieldy, and for veterans, though they’ll get a short burst of fret-shredding (for $49.99…), stylus scraping just doesn’t compare to a life-sized Gibson controller. With all the fumbling it takes to hold the DS comfortably, you’ll wonder why you’re playing this in public. Really, if you need a Guitar Hero fix while on the go, try air guitar instead. You might get some awkward looks, but at least you’ll have a lot more fun.