Gameloft’s Guitar Rock Tour is supposed to be the closest thing to Guitar Hero you’ll find on the iPhone, and it is awfully similar in many respects. It uses the same vertical “note track,” it borrows concepts like overdrive… heck, it even uses the same sound effects on its menu screens! The close comparison to the original brings out Guitar Rock Tour’s flaws, but these minor problems are ultimately drowned out by the game’s rockin’ fun.
First, the good news. Guitar Rock Tour’s library of music has something for everyone. There’s classics by Michael Jackson and Deep Purple, “modern classics” from Nirvana and Blink-182, and plenty of fairly recent Top-100 material played by a variety of bands, like The Bravery and Bloc Party. Odds are you’ll recognize–and maybe even like–a majority of the tracks, and that’s really all you can ask of a music game that has to appeal to a broad audience, like this one. Furthermore, the levels seem to have been designed by someone who’s knowledgeable about music, so that the game imparts a bit of the illusion that you’re playing along with the bands. You’re not holding a guitar controller, obviously, so the suspension of disbelief only goes so far, but you can definitely get a piece of it in the middle of a wild solo. As you scale up the difficulty levels, you get closer and closer to “playing” all the notes in the song. Easy mode is perfect for beginners, while the Hard difficulty level is really quite a challenge, even for rhythm game vets.
The game’s career mode has been nicely fleshed out, too. You get your pick of several premade characters, and then embark on a journey from garage-band wannabe to international superstar. Each stop on your grand tour around the world has a new venue, and the story is told through funny little cartoon strips between trips. We wish that you didn’t have to replay so many songs along the way, but the game only has 17 tracks to work with, so it has to dole out the content gradually. Plus, when you take the three difficulty levels and the two playable instruments (guitar and drums) into consideration, there are over 100 distinct tracks to play through.
Gameloft also gets props for cleverly allowing you to turn your iPhone upside down, so you won’t be blocking the speakers with your hands as you play. Although some puzzle games already allow play from any orientation, since it is part of their gameplay, we hope the entire App Store starts copying this design practice for portrait-oriented games, too. It really does wonders.
Unfortunately, going with the vertical orientation may not have been the best choice for Guitar Rock Tour, because it makes the controls less effective than they should be. When playing guitar, you get four string buttons at the bottom of the screen, as well as an overdrive switch towards the middle on the right-hand side. Playing individual notes is rarely an issue, but problems start to crop up when playing rapid arpeggios or chords, because the buttons are a bit cramped; fat-fingered players may feel victimized. Realizing this, the developer added the ability to “wipe” from one note to another. This technique definitely helps, but you can only use it between two notes at a time. Meanwhile, the overdrive switch is just poorly placed. You have to stretch to touch it, but simply tapping it won’t do–you actually have to flip it up to activate it. There’s rarely time to do this in the middle of a blistering solo, given that the game doesn’t let you miss many notes before booting you out of the song. We think designing the game to work in landscape mode may have nipped most of these problems in the bud.
On top of the control problems, Guitar Rock Tour suffers from a few minor performance issues that damage the experience. A recent update thankfully fixed the constant memory crashes and improved the formerly jerky framerate, but the animation issues have yet to be fully resolved. The slowdown is more pronounced during musical passages that are filled with notes–which also happen to be the times when you want the animation to be perfectly smooth. While playing drums, we noticed that the response time for the controls can be a bit sticky, as well, particularly when you have to bang both drums at once or play rapid drumrolls. Finally, the game’s loading times are just long enough to push them into annoyance territory.
Guitar Rock Tour may strike some slightly flat notes, but none of them are really showstoppers. This is still a good rhythm game that has a lot of satisfying content; $7.99 is a steep price, but the music contained within is worth it.