Activision has allayed some of my initial skepticism of Guitar Hero: On Tour for the DS with its first live demonstration of the game at Nintendo's recent spring media summit. The demo was prefaced with a little back story about the game's development, which started a year ago as little more than a research project. It would seem that one of the most significant products of this R&D was the guitar grip, a four-button peripheral that plugs into the GBA port on the DS and wraps around the backside of the handheld.
The reasoning given for having four fret buttons rather than the series standard five was a practical one--with the fret board attached to the DS, you couldn't really move your hand up and down without jostling the screen. Activision confirmed that the guitar grip would work with both the original and Lite DS hardware, and that a screen-flip option would make it accessible for lefties as well. The grip will also serve as storage for a guitar-pick-shaped stylus. Like the Guitar Hero III console hardware, you'll be able to customize the appearance of the grip, though rather than hard plastic faceplates, it appeared to use a papery insert, which could potentially make it easier to fabricate your own customized look.
While I'm no more convinced that On Tour will provide quite the same guitareoke experience as the full-size Guitar Hero games than I was before, it certainly has the look and feel of the series down pat. I noticed plenty of familiar zips and pings in the menus, and was pleasantly surprised by the sound quality of both Jet's “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” and Twisted Sister's “I Wanna Rock”, the two songs played during the demo. Frankly, I was half expecting MOD or MIDI versions of the actual songs, though I can't tell if I'm relieved or disappointed that they're not. Either way, Activision claims there will be over 100 minutes of music in the final game, though no indication was given as to what the ratio of new songs to old songs would be like.
The bulk of the actual demo was spent showing off the guitar duel mode, which Activision is calling a new mode for the series, though it looks identical to the battle mode from Guitar Hero III to me. Like the battle mode, you and your opponent will trade hot licks back and forth, attempting to trip each other up by activating nasty power-ups along the way, the best of which made good use of the DS hardware. You'll have to autograph fan t-shirts that obscure your guitar, pyro explosions will require you to extinguish your flaming guitar by blowing into the mic, and you'll use the touch screen to restring your guitar when a string breaks. Whether it'll be any more compelling than the battle mode remains to be seen, but at least the power-ups are pretty consistently novel.
A number of lingering questions about the basic mechanics of On Tour were also answered over the course of the demo. Star power, for example, is activated either through the built-in DS microphone, which you can either blow your shout into, or by tapping an on-screen icon. With no physical whammy bar, you sustain notes by continuing to “strum” the on-screen guitar. Sadly, continuing the trend started in Guitar Hero III, the fret board does <em>not</em> explode when you finish a song. It seems worth noting that, while there were icons that could be touched to activate some guitar-duel-specific power-ups, the touch screen appeared fairly forgiving with where you actually strum. Hopefully this will prevent you from having to split your attention between the two screens too much, though I don't want to make the final call on that until I actually get my hands on the game itself.
If nothing else, the live demo of Guitar Hero: On Tour left me with more faith in the ability of Vicarious Visions to bring Guitar Hero to the DS, and has ignited my desire to get some actual hands-on time with the game before its currently scheduled June release.