Friday, July 03, 2009

Rockin' With Guitar Hero on the Nintendo DS

I know that Guitar Hero has been one of the hottest selling games for some time now. Yet despite our love for video games, we still don't have a large game guitar sitting in our house. One reason is that the guitar takes up a lot of space. The other reason is it's expensive when you add in game, guitar, extra guitar for a friend, etc.

So when Mom Central asked me if I'd like to try out the new Guitar Hero: On Tour for the Nintendo DS, I said sure, why not? It seemed to solve both of my objections to the game: the guitar accessory comes with the game, it is only a small addition to the DS instead of a large guitar, and it costs less. Perfect!

Because we are a family of gamers and have two Nintendo DS systems, we received both Guitar Hero: Decades and Guitar Hero: Modern Hits. (We also have a Nintendo DSi, which is currently not compatible with the Guitar Hero games.)

When I opened the box, my husband - who has been lobbying for Guitar Hero for some time - immediately grabbed one of the games and began learning how to play. Included in the box was the adjustable grip, some stickers and a guitar pic stylus - far cooler than using your regular stylus, right? There were also different "skins" available for the grip, too.

The basics of Guitar Hero on the DS are quite simple. As notes scroll across your screen, you hold down the proper color-coded fret button on the nifty little Guitar Hero grip (which plugs in to the GBA slot of your DS - if you have an older model DS, you'll need to use the provided adapter), and then "strum" on the touch screen with the pick-stylus.

That part sounds simple, and it is. But it quickly becomes more complicated and challenging. Some notes are "hold" notes, where you need to keep the fret button held down after strumming. Sometimes, you need to hit a chord - where more than one fret is held down at the same time. And the transition from one note to another can come at you fast and furious and require a lot of hand-eye coordination to swap frets fast enough.

Then we get into the advanced part of the game. You can earn "star power" for hitting all of the notes in some sequences, and when you have enough star power, you can use that power for multipliers on your score. You also get multipliers for hitting enough notes in a row without missing one. Once you have the basics of the game down, you can go "On Tour", where you work through the playlist of your game, earning money that can be used to upgrade your avatar's appearance and instrument.

There are also options for multi-player play, either cooperative - where one person plays lead guitar and the other plays bass or rhythm - or competitive: from the straight up "Who is playing better?" mode, to "Guitar Duel" where there are complications that get in your way, including outside distractions, and power-ups you can earn to either enhance your own gameplay, or to attack your opponent.

If you and a friend have different Guitar Hero games (like we have Modern Hits and Decades), you can share your song catalog while playing together, giving you twice as many songs to choose from. The host DS is the one who has most of the control, but both DS systems have access to the expanded catalog.

The game is listed for ages 10 and up, and based on my own play, I know my preschooler would not be able to play. However, that doesn't keep her from being a perfect backseat-guitar-player, watching everything we do and shouting Get the red one, mommy! Now push the blue one! She may be playing sooner than I thought.

I'll be honest: I kinda suck at the game. I never claimed to have rhythm. But I'm not giving up, either. Not everyone can be an expert on the first try, so I'm continuing to practice. My husband's only complaint is that it doesn't feel like a real guitar. But that's the reason I like it - it doesn't take up a lot of space, and the guitar pick stylus stores in the grip so it doesn't get lost.

What I really like is that this game is easy to pick up and put down, which is a must for busy parents who sometimes only have 15 minutes to relax with a game before moving on to the next demand from a small person. And I love many of the songs and artists: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fall Out Boy, Coldplay, Weezer, etc.

I don't know if I'll ever be an expert Guitar Hero player, but I'm having a lot of fun with Guitar Hero: Decades and Guitar Hero: Modern Hits. And if I get better, there might be a chance I'll give in and let my family get the Wii version of the game, complete with full-size guitar. But only if I get to jump around while I play it.

Disclosure: I was provided free review copies of Guitar Hero: Decades and Guitar Hero: Modern Hits by Mom Central and Nintendo. No compensation was recieved and no positive reviews were required. Thank you, Mom Central and Nintendo!

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