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Handheld 'Guitar Hero' loses lustre

July 14, 2009

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Before the current Battle of the Peripherals being waged in living rooms across the world, music games were a lot more simple. Before drums and turntables, gamers would rock out with one instrument and one instrument only - the guitar.

Guitar Hero DSAnd judging from gaming parties that still happen frequently, the axe is still the top choice for a lot of gamers; drums can be a little too difficult and only the best of singers (or the most innebriated) run to pick up the microphone.

With that knowledge, it's no surprise that people are still buying games in the 'Guitar Hero' franchise for the handheld Nintendo DS. At first glance, it's strange to see the 'Guitar Grip' fret button attachment being put on the DS, but it's actually quite an ingenious idea.

The third installment of the Guitar Hero series on the DS is 'On Tour: Modern Hits', a collection of 28 songs from the last few years. Not a whole lot has changed here when stacked up against the other 'On Tour' titles.

The game itself is played by turning the DS sideways and using one hand to press the four coloured fret buttons, and using your other hand to 'strum' by sliding the stylus anywhere across the touch screen. Star power is activated by yelling into the microphone and using the whammy bar is as simple as moving the stylus quickly back and forth on the touch screen during a long note.

Take note, hardcore Guitar Hero players - there is a definite learning curve going from a console version to this handheld game. The game isn't difficult per se - that is, note charts aren't difficult, most of the songs aren't very advanced, and there are only four buttons after all (not five). But adjusting to using the guitar pick stylus and finding a comfortable position for best results takes a lot of time.

Even if you play exclusively on Expert on a console version of Guitar Hero, don't be surprised if you have to move down to Hard on 'Modern Hits'. Though for the most part the gameplay is translated well onto the handheld, there are times when you know you're hitting the right notes and moving your fingers fast enough, but the touch screen just isn't picking up all the notes, ruining a huge multiplier and possibly a whole lot more in the process.

Guitar Hero DSAs for the game itself, Modern Hits' Career Mode doesn't have you open songs by simply completing songs; you have to earn fans to open new songs. You can earn fans in two ways - by finishing newly-opened songs, as well as completing fan requests, which in essence are challenges, such as reaching a certain number of notes, attaining a certain percentage, or hitting a high score without using star power. If anything, it makes the Career Mode more tedious than anything else. We like the fact that all the songs are available from the get-go in Quickplay, but there's almost no reason to play through the Career Mode.

Challenges range from too simple (complete a song by only strumming? How is that a 'challenge'?) to frustratingly difficult. You also earn money after completing a gig or challenge, but the stuff you can buy in the store is beyond lame. For instance, there are several versions of what amounts to the exact same guitar, only in five different colours. The only other stuff to buy in the store is clothes - which we doubt anyone will be paying attention to. Unlockables (besides songs of course) are almost completely nonexistent.

The setlist itself is a mixed bag. There's definitely some good stuff from the likes of Foo Fighters, Finger Eleven and Kaiser Chiefs, but only a handful of songs are actually truly fun to play. If this game were a Metallica record, it would be St. Anger - where are all the awesome solos?!

Guitar Hero DSThere are other problems that plague the game. On console Guitar Hero games, the onscreen characters really do rock out when they're supposed to and strum when the player is strumming. In 'Modern Hits', the characters all have pre-set animations, so it's not surprising to see your guitarist going nuts on stage during a section of a song that has absolutely no guitar. It's a small thing, yes, but it's awkward all the same.

For the casual gamer who plays a lot on their handheld, 'Modern Hits' isn't a terrible choice. It definitely is made for bite-sized jam sessions, and there's nothing wrong with that. Headphones can be used for when you're playing on a bus or beside easily-annoyed siblings in the car, and there are even wireless capabilities that allow you to connect with another DS equipped with past 'On Tour' DS games, upping the song total to over 80.

But for the truly extreme Guitar Hero player who wants a top-notch song list, and wants to get the best possible score on every track available, this could prove to be more frustrating than anything else.


Guitar Hero On Tour: Modern Hits
Format: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
Official Site:

Rating: 5.5 / 10

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