IGN Review of Guitar Hero World Tour
The Guitar Hero vs. Rock Band battle is on everyone's mind. The music genre is, for the first time in gaming history, pushing the industry just as hard as sports games, or titles like GTA, and that's a huge success for everyone involved. In the end though, everyone's going to wonder which music game is the best, and that's something that may take a few iterations for us to seriously figure out. By now you've undoubtedly seen our 360/PS3 review of World Tour (or if you haven't, you should click on over and check it out) and have seen that our sister sites have all but confirmed that Rock Band 2 takes the prize for this generation, due to some odd band-making issues, interface problems, and general continuity that World Tour just doesn't seem to have out the gate. I personally agree with those issues, but when you step into the realm of Wii, things change in a big way. Yes, World Tour has some definite things that need changing, and if it was about your 360/PS3 experience, I'd suggest you at least try to transition into Rock Band as well as Guitar Hero -- even if you're like me, and a long-time Guitar Hero supporter -- as there are a few things in that game that outrank Activision's latest offering, but on Wii specifically, Neversoft had a wildcard, and its name is Vicarious Visions.
We all know the technical limitations that come with working on Wii, and they're issues that hardcore Nintendo fans -- especially those that don't want to invest in a second or third system this generation -- are having to deal with time and time again. There isn't enough space in our fridge -- meaning that Nintendo's console has less than half a gig of storage space internally, and that's used for WiiWare, Virtual Console, Channels, and save data -- so the thought of downloadable content or expanded gameplay is about as far from most gamers' minds as you can get. Guitar Hero World Tour is a first step in a whole new direction for Wii though, and it's that blending of a very fun music game and a pile of new technology worked that puts this game in the must-buy category on Wii.
Let's dive on in.
For starters, I want to talk a bit about the core game, what works, and where World Tour misses the boat. To me, both Rock Band and Guitar Hero are still different enough to validate multiple purchases (though on Wii that's more of an issue, since the hardware still isn't fully confirmed to work between both games; something Rock Band 2 is trying to change by allowing the new Guitar Hero guitars to work in MTV's game), and the main reason is that Rock Band 2 is a stronger party experience, while Guitar Hero is still the hardcore music gamer's challenging, breakneck speed music offering, now taken one step further with a full creation mode as well. This year's offering adds vocals and drums -- with a set I personally like much more than Rock Band's hardware -- and builds a very basic band mechanic into the game, but when you peel that all away you'll still find that Guitar Hero is harder overall, and has a full-fledged Guitar Hero experience in there (if you don't want to play as a band, you've still got very challenging guitar parts, pro face-off, online face off, guitar duels, and so much more). So while the IGN crew is in full agreement that we'd rather party with a copy of Rock Band 2 at our side than Guitar Hero's new take on group rock, I can more than see the advantage of having the classic Guitar Hero I know and love at my finger tips, backed by a decent -- not amazing -- band experience.
In fact, both Rock Band and Guitar Hero have a list of issues I wish could be fixed, but what it really comes down to is what works, and what doesn't with both games; it's up to you where you should sink your cash. World Tour's first major advantage is that the hardware is superior to anything I've used over the years, with the new touch pad guitars being a blast for quick finger-tapping regular notes and playing sliding notes during solos. Since the touch pad acts as a strum bar during regular notes and as an auto-play fret during purple highlighted notes (and you've still got a whammy bar for bending notes, as well as a quick slide on the touch pad for a different effect added in), there are more opportunities for showing off in front of friends or during face-off battles. Good stuff.
The drums are also stronger in my opinion, with a quieter rubber pad for the snare and two toms and raised (surprisingly rugged) cymbals. On the software side, you've got all the modes you'd expect from the "next gen" SKUs of Guitar Hero World Tour, and also a new Mii Freestyle mode that's a nice, simple take on something like Wii Music. It's a blast to play, though it'll take some serious skill to make anything that sounds good, so parents beware; it's basically a noise maker mode with depth that younger players may never find. Still, if you're picking up World Tour for a few hardcore gamers around the house, Mii Freestyle is a great add-on mode that -- at least in this reviewer's opinion -- is more rewarding than the whole Wii Music package by Nintendo. There's a reason this game wasn't shown off at Nintendo's latest media summit, and it's because Nintendo knows just how strong other music offerings on Wii really are. Mii Freestyle gives you three back-beats to play off of, and then based on your tilt of the guitar/bass you can add in your own notes (set up in the key of whatever backbeat you're using) and literally jam with a buddy in a two-player free-form mode. Wii Music lets you sprinkle in extra notes between pre-made songs, but Mii Freestyle recreates the experience of improvisation in a way no other music game has really explored on Wii, or any other console for that matter. It's simple, but fun.
The music creation mode though, I have to say, is a letdown. There's a whole new community aspect connected to World Tour, where players can use the new Guitar Hero Mixer and studio to record their own music, throw it online, and let other players take the music and play/rate it. It's a great concept in theory, and as long as some uber-hardcore players really get into using it, it'll provide unlimited amounts of free content for World Tour players; an awesome offering. For me though, it was just too complex to really get into, and I've been playing musical instruments for over a decade, and have used actual professional music editing software for years. The combination of guitar control for trying to scrub and edit, along with the lack of keys to input musical notes (since you've only got five frets, and need to change up what notes are assigned to them constantly) make composition difficult. I'd much rather have a sequel make use of an online or downloadable program separate from the game itself, where players can use a full-blown Mac/PC program to make their music, and then upload it to the same bank of songs from a computer, rather than having to make the music using a guitar controller. It just didn't work for me.
With that in mind though, there are already over 50 songs online to grab from people who are getting into the creation process, and as long a hardcore group of players embrace it (maybe the Guitar Hero Custom users out there can stop hacking games, and start creating real music, since many of those players have some serious level design talent) you'll have endless new songs to check out. So even if you don't get into the music-making process -- something I was originally very excited about, but eventually put off by -- you'll still have the chance to quickly connect to the community area, check out some free music, rate it, and if you really dig it, add it to your system's song list just like any other downloadable content. In the future I'd also like to see some better guitar sounds coming out of this mode, or more options overall, since all the music sounds like midi -- like classic gaming sounds in a way-- perfect for those daring enough to make old game tunes at the risk of getting caught by Activision's license police along the way. Case in point though, the audio quality could be better.
World Tour does have some serious issues though, and that's of course the main reason for our PS3/360 score, and the reason Vicarious had to "save" this design with some aspects I'll touch on in a minute. I mentioned the core band experience just isn't as strong with this one, and that rings true from the beginning of the game, echoed in the career mode, and on-screen during songs. For starters, there isn't any serious band creation. You name your team, character creation is optional, and there's no identity behind the created rockers, so if everyone wants to be my studly 80's hair metal-inspired rocker Jason Brandmire, all four users could rock out with him if they wanted, which breaks any band continuity. There's no fan system either, which means there's also no risk in playing shows. The career interface is no more than a few pages of album art where you select shows, and some require cash to unlock (wait, now we're paying cash to play at shows where we'd normally earn cash? Why? We already unlocked them a second ago from playing other shows before it). You get cash from sponsors as you play, but it's really just a clever way to award cash; there's never a time when you select what sponsors you want, or juggle the pros and cons of different career paths. It's basically the same old "play the songs, unlock them in quick play, and move on" feeling as previous iterations of Guitar Hero; not much "band experience" at all to be found.
There are other issues as well: With star power now reworked so that there's one main bar shared between everyone, and activating it will only engage star power for a few seconds, rather than using up the whole bar. I get the idea there -- one moron can't use it all up for the band -- but it isn't always easy to engage during a fast song. And with drums, which require both cymbals hit at the same time rather than the much more entertaining "filler" system in Rock Band, in which you risk missing notes, it's a bad choice overall. Along those same lines, the on-screen interface is about as far from what you need in a game like this as possible, with everything put in a small icon set in the upper left of the screen. With something like Rock Band, you can glance over to the bar and see exactly where you are in terms of failing the song, and where everyone else is in relation, while the cramped icons in World Tour make it tough to tell how close you are to failing, and where your buddies are as well. The info is still there for you, but it's harder to interpret, since you've got an overall band meter (no saving members in this one; if one person fails, the band fails) as well as four little bars. Star Power and Sreak Combo are also way up at the top, so if you're playing in the player four position on the right, you need to look all the way across the screen to check what's going on; something you can usually spot out of the corner of your eye in Rock Band.
I get the overall feeling that Guitar Hero's design team was out to totally ignore what Rock Band has been doing, instead going in a different direction just to be different. I get that the team wanted to set themselves apart from Rock Band, and that's fine, but certain aspects of the game -- blue solo areas for guitar parts, the Bass Groove, drum fills for Star Power (a must), and the end-of-song random fill notes -- are serious advancements in the deisgn, and shouldn't have been ignored just to spite the "other design" out there. Don't hurt the overall game just to send a message to the competition. The touch pad, sixth fret for bass players, and fill areas on specific songs with drums were all nice additions, but don't ignore great design ideas just to be different.
As I mentioned earlier though, even with those odd issues within the core game, Vicarious Visions has managed to seriously turn an otherwise somewhat lacking experience on Wii into a package that is a must-own for music gamers that own Nintendo's console. During the project's development, Vicarious worked with Nintendo to open up the SD card slot for additional use in-game (the reason SD will also be opened up for other games starting as soon as early next year), and the result of that hard work is an awesome package on Wii. For the first time ever on Wii, players can auto sign-in to the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection when booting the game, and remain online in an Xbox Live-like experience for their entire play session. That means you can check online friends at any time, go to the music store and download tracks, play online with random players or friends at any time, or go to the music store all seamlessly throughout the game with no other sign-in at all. Once you boot up the game, you're in, and the team even included an option to auto sign-in from boot every time, meaning that for the first time ever on Wii, all online work is done automatically; awesome.
With the opened SD card technology I mentioned, Vicarious has also bypassed the need for cleaning out the fridge, with songs automatically downloaded to the SD card and then transferred (again, in the background) from SD to Wii system memory during normal load times between tracks. That means if you have a two gig SD card with dozens and dozens of songs on it, and you use one of those songs in a playlist in career or quick play (or online), the game will take just a few more seconds -- about five to ten more than usual -- to automatically transfer that into play when needed during normal load times, and you'll never need to worry about your internal space. Now, all of a sudden the tables are turned when it comes to downloadable content, as Rock Band looks to have significantly more overall (even on Wii) than Activision, but you won't need to manage data transfer with World Tour, making the songs you download in Guitar Hero already set to use in-game. It does take an additional 30 seconds or so after downloading a song in the music store to send it over to the SD card, but once you do, you'll never need to move it again. What it comes down to now is whether you want more DLC at the price of constant song data management, or if you'd rather have your purchased music always available with no break in the gameplay. I'd personally to with the second option; data management sucks on Wii.
Guitar Hero World Tour is a technical marvel on Wii, and the only real aspects that hold the game back from being truly amazing overall are -- oddly enough -- the ones implemented by Neversoft's core design. If Vicarious is going to continue being Activision's "Nintendo Guitar Hero team", I'd suggest that they are given full control over how the game looks, feels, and presents itself on Wii. A new interface, some basic band changes overall, and continued work in making the Wii version a technical powerhouse could make Guitar Hero World Tour 2 (or whatever it's eventually called) leagues above the other World Tour products in Activision's library. It obviously worked with Mii Freestyle, online, and SD management. Let the team run with the whole design from here on out.
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