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SummaryGuitar Hero To-Go
The GoodThe central idea of playing games on a handheld has always been a way for the gamer to take the experiences they get at home on the road or wherever they go. But some games, however, just weren't meant to be played on the small screens and portable form factors of handhelds. That hasn't stopped developers from trying, however, which brings me to today's game.
Oh boy. When I first saw the announcement that Guitar Hero was coming to the Nintendo DS, I literally jumped up out of my seat. I may have been one of the few on the internet who saw "Guitar Hero: On Tour" as an exciting new direction for the series and not just an instant cash-in, and I was stunned at all of the negative feedback the game was receiving at the time. "It won't work. It's laughably easy. It looks painful." However, when the game was finally released in the summer of 2008, I made sure to snap it up shortly thereafter, and what I found was one of the most innovative titles I ever experienced on a system chock-full of them.
You may have asked, "How would I play Guitar Hero on my DS? I can't carry my guitar controller around with me at all times." No you can't, which is why the developers at Vicarious Visions came up with the ingenious Guitar Grip peripheral for the DS. It was essentially the first four guitar controller frets attached to a GBA cartridge, with a handstrap to stabilize the whole thing. You simply slid it into the GBA cartridge slot, strapped it on your hand, and curled your fingers around the buttons. When you actually played the game, the second innovation came into play: You had to hold your DS in a vertical position, similar to other games like Brain Age and Hotel Dusk, making GH one of the rare DS games to ever use this orientation.
From there, the game plays EXACTLY like Guitar Hero, but with the added wrinkle of having just four buttons and strumming on the touchscreen, rather than a bar. The touchscreen strumming is perhaps the part of the game that separates Guitar Hero DS from its console counterparts. Rather than having a single "bar" to hit, you now had an entire screen that you could stroke anywhere to activate strumming. The strumming gave the game a unique tactile feel that was incredibly fun. You could even activate star power by strumming off of the star power meter on the right hand side of the screen, making it easy to do star power at just about any time that you wanted without breaking your rhythm. Back and forth strumming was also recognized to a degree, though you had to be extremely careful as the strumming was oversensitive and could cause you to break your combo if you didn't do it right. Whammy-ing was also done via the touchscreen, as you could wiggle the very cool "pick" stylus around for the whammy bonuses. All in all a great gameplay package,
The songs were also great, as well. There were 26 full-length songs stored in the cartridge, and the audio quality was fantastic, not an easy feat. From classic rockers like Steve Miller and The Doobie Brothers to funky modern hits like Maroon 5 and OK Go, the soundtrack was all highly, highly enjoyable. Every song really was fantastic in their own ways. They also offered fun charts as well, which was surprising considering the lack of a fifth button on the Guitar Grip. Some of the songs,especially near the end of the game, offered the kinds of crazy solos and fast-paced, tricky strumming that made Expert players weep for joy.
In addition to all of that, the graphics also turned out surprisingly well on the Nintendo DS. The arenas are highly detailed and animated, and the framerate stays fluid throughout the entire experience. The characters unfortunately were looping animations, but you didn't notice it at all while playing, and it didn't really detract from the visuals at all. The lighting effects were really impressive considering the limitations of the hardware. All in all, VV outdid themselves when it came to the presentation of this game.
The BadThere were a few gripes I had with the game, however. For one, I wish that VV had put in some sort on on-line play via the Nintendo WFC. Multiplayer is available, however, it's local only. I only ever managed to find one person with the game, and for the time I got to mess around with the multiplayer, it was solid, like the rest of the game. It's just a shame that VV never went that extra mile, not even in subsequent games of the series.
The second problem with the game was the system itself. After 2008, Nintendo decided to scrap the GBA slot completely in subsequent Nintendo DS models, because it had become too outdated. This meant that players who bought or decided to upgrade to a DSi, DSi XL, or the upcoming 3DS, are completely SOL when it comes to this game. If you happen to have an older DS, however, you are in for a treat. Just be careful, however, which brings me to my final complaint.
This game WILL destroy your touchscreen. If you play this game on a constant basis like I did when I first got it, you may end up with parts of your touchscreen which simply refuse to function any longer. The bottom- middle portion of my screen (in vertical orientation) has a region that just gave out on me. If you try to draw, or drag an object inside of it, it will refuse to go inside, and taps won't register at all. Please, exercise caution when rocking this game, and you will have great fun.
The Bottom LineVicarious Visions defied the doubters and proved the haters completely wrong. You CAN bring Guitar Hero to the DS, and you can make it FUN in the process.
This is, to me the most "pure" On Tour game. Subsequent games would mess with the strumming code, making the game harder to play, and would also offer inferior soundtracks. With this one, however, you get a great soundtrack and a great gameplay system, wrapped up in a great package, There are a few flaws, but all in all, this game rocks.