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Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades Package Art
Vicarious Visions

Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades

Activision and Vicarious Visions have wasted no time in giving the Guitar Hero franchise an encore on Nintendo DS. Considering how successful On Tour was, this really is not all that surprising. However, while Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades has a solid foundation drawn from the original, very little has been changed in the all-too-short hiatus.

While On Tour was a fun title and impressive portable take on the series’ formula, there were more than a few problems holding it back: the ergonomically challenged Guitar Grip peripheral and inconsistent touch screen sensitivity come to mind. Unfortunately, Decades fails to make any significant improvements and the problems that were forgivable the first time around are no longer acceptable.


Vicarious Visions titles invariably garner praise for graphics –- few companies do 3D so well on DS. Decades continues the trend and while there are not many noticeable technical enhancements over the original On Tour, the brighter color palette and broader aesthetic scope actually make Decades a fair bit prettier. Vicarious Visions’s artists did not have much time making this follow up, but they did a great job utilizing the preexisting engine to achieve better results.


The overall sound quality pretty much remains unchanged from On Tour: those disappointed by the amount of compression will not feel any better about Decades. Despite those limitations, there are 28 songs crammed into the game. Bear in mind, though, that DS’s speakers still are not the loudest, so a set of headphones are highly recommended.


Gameplay once again remains true to the Guitar Hero formula, though some of the better additions made to World Tour on Wii are absent and sorely missed. Still, the premise is the same as always: hold the DS sideways, press the colored fret button, strum across the touch screen in sync with the notes on the top screen, and hit star-shaped notes for Star Power that can be deployed for point bonuses by blowing or yelling into the microphone. Unfortunately, the problems from On Tour persist. The Guitar Grip needed to play the game remains just as uncomfortable as before. Gamers who play on the lower difficulty levels and have small hands will probably not notice this problem, but large-handed folks who play on expert are going to need to rest after every couple songs. Realistically though, there is little that could have been done about this without completely redesigning the peripheral.

A second problem entails the touch screen. Strumming across the screen does not always register, so expect to miss plenty of notes as a result. This was the biggest problem in On Tour and the fact it was not fixed is completely unforgivable.

Game progression also remains unchanged. Players choose one of three career modes (lead guitar, bass/rhythm guitar, or guitar duel) and then play through a series of five song set lists. The big change this year is the set lists are organized by era: the story starts with playing modern songs, then moves into the early 2000s, '90s, '80s and finally '70s. This emphasis on older music improves the variety and overall quality of the songs, but it also throws some curves in the difficulty that disrupts the game's flow. However, the biggest problem with the song selection is that the developers failed to think about the game’s weaknesses when coming up with the set list. On expert difficulty, some songs are made almost unplayable by the touch screen's dropped notes and the Guitar Grip's carpal tunnel-inducing ergonomics.

For example, the final song in the career is “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, a great song that should never have been put in this game. Several of the song’s riffs fail to register on the touch screen half the time, and the song’s length is brutal on the hand. By the time players reach the solo segment, their fingers may be all but paralyzed. Various Visions needs to stick with songs that are shorter and require less intricate or frequent strumming.

On the plus side, Decades features a wider selection of guitars, paint jobs, characters and clothes available for purchase with career winnings. Also, each career mode features its own hidden song that is unlocked upon completion.


Decades features the same competitive and co-op options as the original On-Tour, but there is one major addition –- song sharing. Decades owners can share their set list with On Tour owners and vice versa; this effectively doubles the number of songs for multiplayer. Just as importantly, song sharing works well and is a relatively quick process. While this is definitely a cool feature, it does not erase the game's gameplay issues.


Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades could have been a great entry in the series: its set list is fantastic, the graphics are beautiful, there is more content to unlock, and the multiplayer has great potential. Sadly, the hardware holds the game back. The Guitar Grip makes extended play sessions impossible for all but the most masochistic of gamers and the touch screen’s sensitivity issues remains a persistent and game-ruining problem.

Guitar Hero On Tour was fun for a while but the novelty has worn off and Decades has made the DS version's shortcomings much more apparent. Hopefully the upcoming DSi’s lack of a GBA slot will force Activision to come up with a more effective way of playing Guitar Hero on the go.

final score 6.0/10

Staff Avatar Andy Hoover
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"There's SAND on my boots!"

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