Guitar Rock Tour
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-12-20 Nintendo DS Music/Rhythm T (Teen) Gameloft / Ubisoft

The music simulation genre: a mix of games of both superb and questionable quality that allow players to become part of their favorite songs by taking on the roll of guitarist, drummer, and singer. With Guitar Hero (and Rock Band, for the more well-rounded music set) truly lighting the genre on fire, and with enough Guitar Hero games currently on the market to keep even the fastest of strummers busy for months, I find it odd that game companies are still releasing games in this already overcrowded section of the marketplace. Ah, the search for the all-mighty dollar...

Guitar Rock Tour on the DS is, for the most part, a basic clone of Guitar Hero, with an extra, albeit pretty simplistic, drumming mode added to the mix. After picking from one of the game's pre-designed characters, and choosing whether or not you wish to be the drummer or guitarist, you are thrown into that the game calls a "roller coaster career mode", but is in reality a loosely structured storyline consisting of you and your band mates' journey from garage band to ultimate rock powerhouse, as they are content to play for little more than pizza.

The game's random storyline notwithstanding, each step in your band's journey takes place in a concert comprised of at least two songs, with later concerts having up to six. You are never given a choice of which song you'd like to play, but must instead play the entirety of the pre-determined set list, which is either hit or miss in terms of quality.

With classics like "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and "Smoke on the Water" being obvious inclusions, other, more head-scratching additions include songs like Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" and Pink's "Who Knew". Please don't misunderstand me, I enjoy both of their music just as much as the next person, but if you could tell me when either of them became rock, I?d sure appreciate it.

After beginning a song in the guitarist career mode, you are taken to the concert venue where your guitar is positioned on the touch screen, with your band being shown in all of their pixilated glory on the top. As one would expect, your guitar contains six strings, with the end of each housing a different colored node that must be tapped on as falling notes cross over them.

In an effort to diverge from the expected, Guitar Rock Tour utilizes a unique two-in-one feature, that allows you to play multiple notes at once, even if the DS's touch screen is sensitive to only one touch point at a time. This is achieved via a sliding motion that has you tap on one note and quickly drag your stylus to touch the next. Not only does this feature allow you to play more intricate note patterns than in other DS music games, but it does help a bit in making the game feel more realistic, as obviously a sliding motion is more reminiscent to actual guitar playing than tapping.

As you tap notes correctly, the crowd goes wild, and your superstar and pyrotechnic meters start to fill. Once full, you can choose to activate one of these meters by either dragging the "Switch Swinger" knob to the left for pyro, which eliminates all notes currently on the screen, or to the right to activate superstar mode, which doubles the score you receive for each note for a set amount of time. The longer you wait to activate superstar mode, the longer the mode itself stays active, allowing you to conserve all of your power until the end to really rack up the points.

In the easiest guitar mode difficulty, with the exception of a few stray notes, the entirety of gameplay takes place on the inner four strings of the guitar, whereas when playing under a higher difficulty setting, each song makes use of the entire guitar, creating a bit of a double edged sword for the title. That is, while having more notes on the screen at once does add more of a challenge, it also forces your hand to cover up the right hand portion of the screen as you reach to the far left, hampering your ability to play said right-hand-side notes.

Another problem is more widespread throughout the game, and targets all three levels of difficulty. This problem concerns the game's tapping recognition during frantic and complex parts of songs. Whereas in slower portions of each song, the game perfectly registers where you are tapping and where you are not, during guitar solos especially, the game tends to register your taps incorrectly, either by judging that you hit notes too slowly or too quickly, a situation which is greatly exacerbated in the hardest difficulty levels, when the amount of notes on screen at any one time is exponentially greater than in others.

One other, more nitpicky problem with guitar solos is the fact that they are incredibly disorganized. While the majority of each song's notes fit with the rhythm of the song, during these aforementioned solos, the notes are thrown at you in seemingly random intervals, making it difficult to judge when to hit each note, as they tend to contradict the music that you're hearing. Both of these problems greatly impede your ability to "rock out" as much as the game claims that you can.

While the guitar mode is more flawed technically than the drumming mode, the latter doesn't come out spotless either. When playing the drums, which consist of two actual drums and the cymbals, you are given quite a few control options. Any of the directional buttons or the left trigger hit the left drum, while any of the right side buttons, including the right trigger cause you to hit the right drum. By pressing one button from each side at the same time, you hit the cymbals. Gameplay remains the same however, in terms of the notes falling down the screen, where they must be acted upon after falling over the correctly colored node.

With so few drums to concentrate on, drumming is infinitely easier than playing the guitar, that is, until you get to the hardest difficulty level, where the amount of notes on screen at any one time explodes into a frenzy of nonsensical arrangements that cause immediate panic and subsequent frustration when you undoubtedly fail the song. It's times like these when you are better off muting the game altogether, so that the song itself can't distract you with its own rhythm that the drums seem to disregard entirely.

And the hits, or rather misses, keep coming. You can only play one instrument throughout the entirety of a career mode, meaning that if you choose guitar at the beginning and later change to drums, you have to start over at the very beginning, losing all of your progress. In addition to this, you have to play each song in career mode more than once, since only 15 tracks are included in all, making the entire thing feel rather cheap and repetitive.

Being that Guitar Rock Tour is fundamentally all about the music, the sound department itself should be of the highest caliber, however, all of the songs are, as one would probably expect, covers that range in quality. While The Police's "Message in a Bottle" is sung by a man whose voice is arguably a perfect match for Sting's, other songs like Nickelback's "If Everyone Cared" and Michael Jackson's "Beat It" are laughable, and would sound better coming from a drunk at a local karaoke bar.

The crowd noises inadvertently help in these situations, by being so loud that they cover up most of the music anyway, saving you from having to suffer as much as you would without them. On the other hand, for songs like "Message in a Bottle" that are, dare I say it, good, the crowd noise is an absolute negative.

Likewise, the graphics themselves are nothing to be impressed by in terms of quality, and although the top screen does contain some interesting, cinematic camera angles, and dramatic lighting effects, you'll be so consumed with the gameplay itself that you're rarely given a chance to notice them.

One thing that does help to save the title from complete insignificance comes in the form of the multiplayer mode that allows you to either compete against other players at either of the game's instruments, or to work together in a co-op mode, where one player plays the drums, and the other the guitar. A nice touch, sure, but is in many cases too little too late.

While Guitar Rock Tour does show a lot of promise, with the inclusion of the two-notes-at-once strumming system, which definitely harkens to the console versions of such games, and does contain a certain level of fun when things (even momentarily) perform the way they should, there are just too many other games on the market today that take the genre one step further, are more technically sound, and offer more variety in terms of both musical instruments available and in song choices. In the end, all of this combined unfortunately keeps Guitar Rock Tour far from the top of the charts.

Special thanks to and Gameloft for providing a copy of this title.