The Guitar Hero franchise is, to use the parlance of the day, bananas. The long-running idea not only morphed into the incredibly awesome Rock Band (and soon, Rock Band 2, not to mention Guitar Hero IV), it's now responsible for a couple of fun but semi-rickety spin-offs, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and Guitar Hero: On Tour. Think of them as Laverne & Shirley to the original games' Happy Days—still fun, but not quite on the same level. Aerosmith's conceit is pretty obvious: It's Guitar Hero featuring mostly Aerosmith songs. Huge Aerosmith fans will no doubt be excited, while the rest of the world thinks up bands they'd rather dedicate an entire game to. (Here are three to start: Metallica, Led Zeppelin, and Rush.) Still, new songs are new songs, and GH junkies don't need to love the tracks to enjoy play-shredding to them. Plus, it isn't actually all Aerosmith. Bands that have opened for Aerosmith get a little play, too: The Clash, The Kinks, Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick, Run DMC, and more are all represented.
The handheld DS version of Guitar Hero (called On Tour) offers a pretty amazing design: It comes with a guitar-button expansion pack that plugs into the unit, then straps to your hand. A special pick/stylus offers strumming action, and the song selection is pretty great considering the diminutive DS' size: Nirvana's "Breed," Bloc Party, Ozzy, ZZ Top, Kiss. One major-ish problem: It kinda hurts to play this little thing. Turn the game on, and warnings about wrist rest pop up. Still, it's an ingenious piece of technology that means addicts never have to leave Guitar Hero at home.
Beyond the game: In Aerosmith, there's video of the band members telling the story of their success, from a tiny gig in a high school to halftime at the Super Bowl. It's incredibly skippable. In On Tour, when it's time to launch "star power," the game suggests you shout "Rock!" at the DS microphone. Worth playing for: The new songs, basically. And for the DS version, just for the novelty of the little thing. It's a long way from those tabletop Pac-Man games they once sold at Spencer Gifts.
Frustration sets in when: When playing On Tour, it's when your wrist locks up. When playing Aerosmith, when you realize your next song is another minor track you've never heard of.
Final judgment: Because they build on the greatness of the Guitar Hero concept, both Aerosmith and On Tour offer plenty of time-killing fun.