Guitar Hero: On Tour Hands-On

GamerNode recently had the chance to sit down with RedOctane and Vicarious Visions for an early hands-on look at Guitar Hero: On Tour for the Nintendo DS. While it is natural to question how it might work, or even doubt the possibility of a Guitar Hero game on Nintendo’s handheld, Vicarious Visions has managed to develop something that is unique, functional, and faithful to the franchise, leaping all of the hurdles that have come along with such a drastic change of format.

The most obvious issue with bringing Guitar Hero over to the DS is the familiar guitar-shaped controller that the franchise is known for — you can’t exactly plug one of those into your DS and jam while waiting in line or riding the subway. To solve that problem, the team behind Guitar Hero: On Tour has come up with a creative piece of hardware called the Guitar Grip, which adds 4 buttons to the very bottom of the handheld, very much akin to the fret buttons on the normal Guitar Hero controllers, but in portable, miniature form.


Guitar Grip Guitar Grip
Guitar Grip Guitar Grip


The device plugs into the GBA slot and runs along the back of the DS (both Lite and original). It is shaped to fit players’ hands comfortably while orienting the system with the screens facing towards them, and is kept snug with an adjustable velcro strap. For the fashion-conscious, the clear plastic cover can be removed to replace the artwork held beneath. Players can insert photos, printouts, or even hand-drawn pictures to personalize their Guitar Grips and achieve true rock star status.

After an evening of rocking out with On Tour, I have a few slight reservations about the Guitar Grip.  It is a little unwieldy compared to the normal Guitar Hero controllers, and I found that performing well in this game was slightly more difficult than in other entries in the series. I could manage well enough for the most part, but sometimes the pinky button was difficult to hit in a timely and accurate way, requiring a bit more hand contortion than the others. Additionally, I felt as though hand fatigue could become a problem during longer sessions, as certain positions caused my hand to begin cramping after spending some time in shreddin’ mode.

To actually play this virtual instrument, a special pick-shaped stylus is included, tucked away in a slot in the Guitar Grip itself. Simply stroking along the touch screen has the same effect as using the strum bar on the guitar controller. What is special about this method of strumming is that the DS will recognize a variety of stroke types. Long sweeping strokes, short picking strokes, or continuous back-and-forth strokes all work with On Tour. The strings and whammy bar displayed on the touch screen even animate according to the player’s input.


Guitar Hero: On Tour


Using the whammy bar and activating star power are handled differently in On Tour than in previous Guitar Hero games, due to the hardware differences of the DS. In order to bend the pitch of a long note, players must keep the stylus on the touch screen at the end of a stroke and wiggle back and forth to create the vibrato. Activating star power is as simple as yelling/blowing into the mic, tapping the star power button on the touch screen, or pressing any of the DS face buttons. To avoid accidentally or prematurely triggering star power in noisy environments, the microphone’s sensitivity can be decreased accordingly.

In terms of content, Guitar Hero: On Tour doesn’t quite match up to the sheer size of home console Guitar Hero games, but its 25+ songs does outperform any other DS music or rhythm game to date, and the broad range of difficulty across all tracks offers plenty of gameplay variety and room to improve one’s skills. On Tour includes 20 songs that are exclusive to the DS; the rest are the developers’ favorites from Guitar Hero III. Judging from what I saw, the setlist will likely appeal to a very broad audience, and keeping portability and quick gameplay sessions in mind, the team strategically chose shorter songs for On Tour than in other Guitar Hero games. About 85% are original master recordings.


Guitar Hero: On Tour


Another design decision that was made to better suit handheld gamers was to remove boss battles. The reasoning behind this is that handheld gamers are more interested in a pick-up-and-play model than a more traditional videogame structure that might include bosses and the like. Instead, On Tour features multiplayer guitar battles via local ad hoc wireless. Two On Tour owners compete to give the best performance of a song while simultaneously attacking with or defending against any of 12 different battle moves. These special maneuvers, such as moving the note highway to the touch screen, setting your opponent’s guitar on fire (which must be blown out via the microphone), or throwing a t-shirt (which must be signed before continuing) at them, are earned by completing starred note sequences successfully. Up to three of these attacks can be stored at a time, and are unleashed by tapping a button on the touch screen. It makes for a pretty frantic experience.

Guitar Hero: On Tour looks very promising. I was surprised at how well the franchise has been adapted to the Nintendo DS, and am excited to get my hands on a final version of the game when it arrives on June 22nd. The game, Guitar Grip, and pick stylus bundle will retail for $49.99.


Partial set list:

Do What You Want – OK Go
All the Small Things – blink-182
Spiderwebs – No Doubt
Are you Gonna Be My Girl – Jet
We’re Not Gonna Take It – Twisted Sister

All Star – Smashmouth
Breed – Nirvana
Jessie’s Girl – Rick Springfield
Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Pat Benatar
This Love – Maroon 5

Heaven – Los Lonely Boys
Helicopter – Bloc Party
China Grove – The Doobie Brothers
Rock And Roll All Nite – Kiss – *Cover
What I Want – Daughtry

Greek Arena
Jet Airliner – Steve Miller Band – *Cover
Black Magic Woman – Santana – *Cover
Stray Cat Strut – Stray Cats
La Grange – ZZ Top – *Cover
Youth Gone Wild – Skid Row – *Cover


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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