Is it possible for a music game to be fun without simulating an instrument? Historically, yes. Guitar Hero may have roots in the instrument-based Guitar Freaks and other Bemani-series games, all of which use specialized controllers, but its immediate predecessors were Harmonix's Frequency and Amplitude for the Playstation 2. These two games featured the same visualization method and gameplay as Guitar Hero -- notes as icons, moving toward the screen Klax-style -- but used the PlayStation 2's stock controller. These two games were, in fact, more complex than Guitar Hero, requiring players to move between musical tracks. The Guitar Hero controller doesn't allow for this feature (and, of course, there'd be no reason to move over to the drum or vocal track with a guitar controller), so, in a way, the guitar controller hampered the game design.
PaRappa the Rapper used the PlayStation controller to control the main character's speech. That's about as far from representative as a controller could be, and PaRappa was well-received enough for the genre to advance. Now, just because NaNaOn-Sha, Harmonix, and other companies could make great music games without representative controllers doesn't mean that Vicarious Visions can, or will -- but it does mean that we shouldn't summarily dismiss Guitar Hero: On Tour for not having a sufficiently guitar-like controller.
From the looks of it, the Guitar Grip peripheral will provide a mechanically similar gameplay experience to the full-size controller anyway. With the exception of the fifth fret button, of course, the base game of holding one or more of a line of buttons and strumming on time is unchanged. So it's still Guitar Hero -- it just doesn't look like it. This should really only dissuade people who play Guitar Hero in order to pretend like they're playing guitars. People who like Guitar Hero as a game will only benefit from a smaller version.
Portability is especially novel for something like Guitar Hero, whose normal controller is freaking huge. Sometimes you don't have space for a bunch of big controllers! You may be dissuaded from bringing your Guitar Hero setup to your small dorm room, for example, while you could easily play On Tour in the back of a Volkswagen. The added value of portability, with a smaller price tag? Rokken.
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