reviews\ Jun 10, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Guitar Hero iPhone Review


In the areas of web surfing, instant messaging, and application features, the iPhone will always trounce PSP and Nintendo DS. But in the area of gaming, the handheld systems always win … right?

Ninety-nine percent of the time, yes, they do crush the iPhone but when it comes to music games, it seems that Activision may have finally found the perfect handheld home for its acclaimed Guitar Hero franchise. We all remember what happened the last time the series went portable. The strap-on peripheral – which gave the DS a weird grip and four buttons to make up for not having an actual guitar controller – was very uncomfortable. After playing through the game once, there was no reason to return.

The iPhone version, however, is much simpler in concept and offers a much more creative use of a touch screen. Whereas the $40 DS version used a guitar pick-themed stylus to encourage players to strum on the screen, the $2.99 iPhone version takes advantage of our own peripheral: our thumbs. To be clear, the low price means you only get six songs (additional song packs are available for $1.99). But considering the retail price of a console Guitar Hero, and knowing how much one song goes for on iTunes, $2.99 isn’t that bad.

The built-in song lineup includes “We Are The Champions” by Queen, “Savior” by Rise Against, “Paint it Black” by The Rolling Stones, “Cousins” by Vampire Weekend, “Say It Ain’t So” by Weezer, and “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes. With headphones on, the sound quality blows the DS version out of the water. These aren’t scaled-back versions of the aforementioned tunes – they’re the real thing, and they sound just as good as if you were listening to an MP3. This would explain the unusually large file size (more than 100 megabytes), which dwarfs most iPhone games and apps.

In addition to the high-quality audio, Guitar Hero also sports one very responsive control system. There are four touch points on the bottom of the screen. Each has been given a familiar color: green, red, yellow and blue. As the notes move in from the top of the screen, you know what to do – tap the colored area to play them as they scroll by.

Unlike the console versions, the iPhone iteration is not overly picky about when you tap a note, so long as it is tapped within the vicinity of the colored area. This is good because it allows you to tap slightly out of synch with the song that’s playing, giving the player a bit of wiggle room when notes are moving very quickly. On expert mode, I appreciated the leniency; without it, I would not have been able to keep up. Pro Guitar Hero players may not like this aspect, but they’ve got to remember that this isn’t a guitar controller we’re using here – it’s an imprecise touch screen.

And yet, despite that imprecision, the developers managed to do some very cool things. For starters, they included note combos, requiring the player to use two fingers (or both thumbs) to hit the notes simultaneously. There’s also a cool sliding note that, when it scrolls by, you’re supposed to touch and quickly slide your finger in the direction of the arrow. Similarly, there are zigzag note patterns that can only be conquered by sliding your finger across all four note buttons. But you have to time your speed accordingly; move too fast or too slow and you’re screwed.

While these note patterns and play styles are far from groundbreaking, they do add a nice bit of variety to the game, preventing it from being a cheap and shallow iPhone experience. On the flip side, the game seems to lack an option to change the volume (if there is one it must be very well hidden), which isn’t shallow, but it is kind of cheap. Not everyone has an iPhone with volume buttons on the side (actually, I’m not sure anyone will until the iPhone 4 is out). The only option is to manually exit the game, click on a music file, play it, and adjust the volume there. Then you have to exit that song and re-load the game.

Of course, there are some players who won’t care about this blemish, particularly those who obsess over customization features. Guitar Hero contains a solid list of them, allowing you to create an avatar using a host of pre-made clothes, accessories, and body settings.

As with the pre-World Tour console versions, Guitar Hero gives you access to two different instruments. Though it would have been easy for the developers to change the sounds between them and call it a day, they went the extra mile and created distinct note patterns for both the guitar and the bass guitar. Both are very fun to play. When you’re done, you can share your high score on Facebook.

In neither case do you actually feel like you’re playing the guitar, which might be a drawback for purists. However, if you’re looking for an entertaining video game – not a guitar simulator – Guitar Hero is a solid download. It won’t blow your mind, but it will keep you busy during your next, “I’m bored and I need to kill time!” moment.


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