From Nintendo, More Ways to Rock

Friday, July 11, 2008

Nintendo enthusiasts hit the musical jackpot last month with two new games to release their inner rock stars.

Guitar Hero: On Tour (Everyone 10+; Nintendo DS, $49.99; Activision) Taking a game built around a full-size guitar peripheral and adapting it for a handheld is no easy task, but Guitar Hero: On Tour aces this solo. Substituting for the ax is a glove-like guitar grip that plugs into the DS's seldom-used Game Pak slot. It features four colored buttons instead of the standard Guitar Hero five (I never liked that fifth button anyhow) and includes a nifty guitar pick stylus so players can strum the touch screen while notes scroll down the secondary screen. The game's 25 tracks include a mix of newer hits ("This Love" by Maroon 5 and "All the Small Things" by Blink-182) and older titles, including "Pride and Joy" by Stevie Ray Vaughan and "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar. (Earphones are a must, as the DS's internal speakers don't provide enough volume to truly rock out.) The game offers co-op and face-off modes, but duels provide the most fun with creative battle attacks that take advantage of the DS touch screen. Hit your opponents with pyrotechnics to force them to blow into the internal mike and put out the flames. Annoying fans pop in demanding that players give an autograph before getting back to the show. And instead of just repeatedly hitting a button to fix a broken string as in the console titles, players must use the stylus to attach the end of the string and drag it up the neck to get that note back up and running. Very clever. This has got to be one of the best titles to hit the DS this year.

Rock Band (Teen; Wii, $169.99; MTV Games) Wii owners have been clamoring for their version of Rock Band since the title debuted on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in November. Sure, the Wii edition lacks some of the online features of those consoles, but developer Harmonix made sure it got the gameplay right for this port. The package includes a drum kit and microphone, which plug into an included USB hub, and a wireless Fender Stratocaster guitar controller that transmits to a USB dongle. Add a guitar controller as a bass ($59.99) and you've got a four-piece band. Players can choose to rock out to a collection of 63 songs, including "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones, "Enter Sandman" by Metallica and "Say It Ain't So" by Weezer. For gamers who have played their share of Guitar Hero titles, the big draw here is the drum set. You get to use a real pair of sticks to pound on four colored touch pads while interspersing pedal stomps on the kick drum. It's very cathartic, especially when you get to break into a freestyle drum solo. Singing works just like a Karaoke Revolution game, with lyrics horizontally scrolling on a staff at the top of the screen. Playing lead or bass guitar is just like in Guitar Hero. React to the scrolling notes by pressing the correct colored buttons while hitting the strum bar. The Rock Band guitar controllers sport an additional set of fret buttons up on the neck to make it easier to tackle quick solo sequences. Rock Band really shows its stuff with two or more players, as no other game comes close to letting gamers experience the camaraderie of playing in a band.

-- Dirk Lammers, Associated Press

© 2008 The Washington Post Company