Oldies and Goodies
Guitar Hero: On Tour was a smash portable hit for Activision this past summer. Much of the addictive gameplay of the Guitar Hero franchise was admirably translated to the Nintendo DS. The fret button peripheral and the touch-screen controls were satisfying if somewhat cramping. Also, the track list was quite varied and appealing, and the classic songs were skillfully compressed and sounded surprisingly good on the DS.
As you can imagine, playing upon the successful formula of the original, not a whole lot has changed in this second installment. Guitar Hero: On Tour – Decades is still a very tight experience that does a great job of expanding the musical selection, especially considering tunes can be streamed from both carts between two handhelds. However, if you are expecting some great new additions in terms of game modes, you’re out of luck. Decades is essentially little more than a vessel housing 28 more songs. Even the Decades moniker doesn’t fully change the gameplay experience, as more than half of the music is drawn from the last 15 years.
If you didn’t have a chance to play On Tour, Decades’ gameplay and mechanics are identical. The four button Guitar Grip fret board, which plugs into the DS’ GBA slot, successfully emulates the experience found on home consoles. However, expect to experience severe cramping while playing for extended periods of time on Hard and Expert difficulties. Regardless, button presses and swipes on the touch-screen are all accurately registered by the software, allowing players to jam on their little DS like true face-melters.
The biggest difference between the original and Decades is found in its track list. The Decades theme divides the gameplay experience into five different venues, each of which focuses on a specific decade of music. Playable venues include Modern, 2000s, 90s, 80s, and 70s. Each category and song within them come complete with informative mini-descriptions for musical edification, which was a nice touch.
On the whole, the venues do a good job of characterizing the decade they represent, though the 80s were decidedly mistreated; the inclusion of Los Lobos’ “La Bamba” and Sammy Haggar’s “I Can’t Drive 55!” as anthems of that era was a real mistake. Let’s face it, there were plenty of awesome guitar riffs to choose from in the decade when groups like Van Halen and Metallica reigned.
Also, the Modern and 2000s venues should have been combined into one, as there really is no distinction between the two. Moreover, as previously mentioned, half of the 28 songs (five from each venue plus three secret unlockables) were recorded within the last 15 years. This kind of defeats the whole Decades vibe. Nevertheless, the track list is diverse and all songs (even tunes I loathe) are fun to jam to and sound relatively good (more on that later).
Decades has gamers play through the Career mode in three ways: Lead Guitar, Bass/Rhythm Guitar, and Guitar Duel. Lead Guitar and Bass/Rhythm Guitar settings are similar to the console versions in that the same song is divided up into its constituent parts. As such, players essentially get two different gameplay experiences with the same song.
Additionally, a third experience is thrown into the mix with Guitar Duels, where players battle it out against an A.I. combatant using the Duel mechanics established in Guitar Hero III and refined for portable consumption in the original On Tour. After completely going through each of the three components in Career, players will be rewarded with a new secret song each time (“We are the Champions” – Queen; “Satch Boogie” – Joe Satriani; “Smooth Criminal” – Alien Ant Farm). This kind of reward is substantially more motivating than the various guitars and skins you’ll open up for purchase along the way.
Other than Career, you’ll find the Multiplayer, Practice, and Quick Play features from the original On Tour that round out the title. For those out of the know, co-op and competitive modes are available and will have you battling it out and/or strumming in harmony with friends over local Wi-Fi. Best of all, Guitar Hero: On Tour – Decades amps up the Wi-Fi features by unlocking a sharing feature that allows you to stream songs wirelessly between both versions of On Tour in co-op and competitive modes. We were amazed at how well battling and co-op worked over Wi-Fi in the original, but the seamless way in which songs are streamed between two DS this time around is downright amazing.
Background visuals in Decades, like On Tour, are poor; band members, guitars, stages, crowds, and scenery all look awfully pixelated. However, foreground features are all that anyone really looks at, and they are clearly drawn, allowing for perfect execution. Like foreground visuals, sound is quite good. I was amazed at just how clear tunes are reproduced. However, quality earphones are a must, as the tiny DS speakers are practically worthless. This is especially so if you are travelling in a car, train, plane, boat…or mo-ped; the drone of the engine will completely cancel out the music. Besides, much of the garbled sound transmitted through the handheld’s speakers is reduced with headphones.
Guitar Hero: On Tour – Decades is a great choice for anyone that wants to take a virtual axe on the go. As competent as the original, Decades brings another 28 quality songs to the mix that can be streamed between two DS. On the downside, I do wish the “Decades” theme was further enriched by a greater selection of older jams, though Activision does have a demographic to think about. Regardless, if your hands aren’t still screaming out in pain from On Tour, grab a DS and a friend, but be sure and grab Decades. It is well worth the price of admission.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
Visuals are just good enough to keep the game perfectly functional. 4.0 Control
The Guitar Grip and tuch-screen controls work perfectly, though incessant hand cramping is just a part of the experience. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The 28 songs are of high quality and admirably compressed. However, the Decades theme doesn’t quite shine through, as most of the songs were recorded very recently. 4.2
The Career offering is a great solo mode, and the multiplayer features, especially the ability to stream songs for co-op and competitive modes, are very valuable indeed.
4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.