Cover bands are never quite as good as the original groups themselves. While you might enjoy hearing that familiar riff from 'This Fire', it just isn't the same as actually hearing Franz Ferdinand tune up. Guitar Hero: On Tour invokes that same feeling. While it hones in on the classic Guitar Hero gameplay with great result, design issues with the required peripheral and a poor soundtrack leave the experience flat.
Going On Tour means hitting up five venues in Career mode, each of which you play a set of four songs. Although the songs are preselected, you're given the freedom to play them in any order. Complete all four tunes, as well as an encore song, and you gain popularity needed to play on the next, bigger stage. You also gain cash for purchasing new threads and guitars, although these upgrades are purely for cool factor – they don't have any impact on your performance.
While you're allowed to choose the order in which you play each song, it's only the illusion of choice. If you want to progress to the next venue, you're forced to complete each track. It's an extremely linear design that wouldn't be problematic if it weren't for the lacklustre track list. Whether you like it or not, you're going to have to play through that master recording of Pat Benatar's 'Hit Me with Your Best Shot'. Truth be told, it could be worse – you could be obligated to slog through a Smash Mouth song.
Oh, wait… you are.
Fortunately, the mechanics of the game work beautifully even if the sounds leave something to be desired. On Tour distills the Guitar Hero formula with good result. Notes streaming down the top screen are easily hit by pressing the corresponding fret buttons and strumming on the touchscreen. Using the included Guitar Hero Grip fret peripheral that plugs into the Game Boy Advance cartridge slot, you hold the handheld on its side to play.
In concept, it's a great set-up. The act of sliding a faux pick across the touchscreen appropriately mimics the feel of actually playing a guitar. The Grip peripheral makes it possible to cradle the handheld in your palm and use your thumb for leverage, while at the same time keeping your fingers free to work the four fret buttons.
Unfortunately, the whole thing begins to fall out of tune when you realise the Grip doesn't stay put and is downright uncomfortable. Intense jam sessions tend to wiggle the peripheral ever so gradually out of the slot. Should it slip out entirely, you're forced to reset the game. As a result, you're constantly pushing the Grip back into place. Contributing to this is the general awkwardness of the piece. DS is a bit of an unwieldy handheld to begin with, which only worsens when you add another chunk of plastic.
For all of the elements that fall flat, there are things in Guitar Hero: On Tour that exhibit sharp design. Multiplayer, which supports two players locally, soars with unique twists. Four modes including co-operative duets ensure plenty of variety. During competitive duels, special power-ups enable you to interrupt your buddy's session. Amp overload, for instance, causes your opponent's music to be muted; pyrotechnics, on the other hand, sets their stage on fire and requires hearty blowing into the microphone to put the flames out. These competitive guitar duels are also available against the computer, but they're far better sitting with a friend.
As inventive a multiplayer design Guitar Hero: On Tour possesses, it remains handicapped by an underwhelming soundtrack. A music game is only worth its salt in the tunes it packs and it's a serious stumbling block here. Combined with the issues regarding the Grip peripheral and you've got a great concept that just lacks the necessary fine tuning.