As much as we loathe Activision driving the Guitar Hero franchise into the ground (air guitar belt buckles! Stupid plastic figurines! Band-focused updates!), you've got to admire the effort it puts into the 'main' sequels.
Granted, that effort probably stems from it no longer having the peripheral-based rhythm action market to itself. With the series playing catch-up to EA's expansion from guitar to band simulation though, it seems fitting that Guitar Hero has returned not just to confront the 'anything you can do it, I can do better' adage, but also do all the stuff that Rock Band isn't doing on the Wii.
But before you wonder why it's called Guitar Hero at all any more, you should know that Guitar Hero: World Tour is much more than just an expansion of the concept, far more than Activision thinking it might be a good idea to just bung a few extra instruments in there and have done with it. Think of the progression here as a mountain climb for the developers. Where Guitar Hero III was Neversoft and Vicarious Visions finding their feet on the rocky slopes of rhythm action, World Tour instead sees them both scrambling to the top and standing on the summit, flag held aloft in triumph. Hurrah indeed.
It's The Little Things
Admittedly, much of World Tour's success comes from critical tweaks being made to the already proven formula, tweaks that seem obvious but haven't been included until now. Star notes, for instance, can be collected to extend your star power meter even if you're using star power, a move clearly influenced by Rock Band's 'earn while you burn' Overdrive mode. New open notes that require strumming without button presses complement the 'hammer on' button presses with no strumming. And then, of course, you've got the possibilities that the new guitar offers such as sliding notes, tap strumming and tap wah-wah. You can get round them if you're not using the new guitar, but they're definitely worth experiencing.
On top of that, you've now got the option to create everything yourself, from your own rock icon to the various instruments they use, with each one offering a plethora of tweaking options. There's a mixing desk in the Options menu that can make each instrument louder or quieter, which is great when you're ploughing through Bass career and don't want your plucking drowned out. And no, we're not mistaken: once relegated to the part no-one wanted to play in co-op multiplayer, there's also now a full Bass career for the budding Fleas and Paul McCartneys among you.
The best tweak of all, however, is the care Vicarious Visions has put into integrating the other instruments into the game and rounding off the difficulty level. Specific attention has been paid to the higher levels and while there are still plenty of tricky sections on Hard and Expert, they're far from the dizzying jumble of random notes present in Guitar Hero III and so hitting them perfectly is no longer a near-impossible feat.
Is it just about tweaks though? Thankfully, no. World Tour is very much the next step for the Guitar Hero brand and as such, there's very little we don't love about it. We love the expansion of the bass role; we love the drums to pieces because the kit is solid and the songs on offer translate well; we love playing as a band online co-operatively as well as competitively; we love the new arrangement of the Career mode, which stops it feeling like you're just plodding through a list of songs; we love the addition of downloadable content, saving songs onto an SD card. It is, as they say, all good.