Reviewed: November 19, 2008
Released: November 16, 2008
Connects with original On Tour
Guitar Hero: On Tour - Decades isn't as much a sequel to the original On Tour game that released a mere five months ago, but more of an expansion pack with new music and new venues. Of course that didn't stop the marketing geniuses at Activision from re-bundling the game with the exclusive DS fret grip and throw in some new interchangeable artwork.
While owners of the original game will likely opt for the standalone game copy, those new to the handheld version of the Guitar Hero franchise will find either title a worthy entry point. Decades caters to an older generation; my generation if you will, with classics from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and even dabbles in some post-millennium music. Regardless of your age or your musical taste, there is something here for everyone to enjoy.
Much like the first game, Guitar Hero: On Tour - Decades works surprisingly well thanks to several key factors. First, the song selection is as strong as any of the console versions, both in quality and quantity of music. Avid console gamers are likely to hear a few musical favorites return from previous releases, and if you have been playing World Tour you’re going to recognize a few venues as well. The aircraft carrier and Times Square stages come to mind, but then you have some cool new venues like the skateboard park where your musicians will come skating down ramps to assume their pre-rock poses.
Thankfully, the core gameplay doesn’t change from what we have all come to know and love. You still strum and finger the frets just like you always did. Decades features a robust multiplayer mode for versus and co-op and a bigger and better battle mode with all new attacks that make use of the unique features of the DS. But even better, owners of Decades can connect with owners of the original On Tour game and each can play music from their opponent’s library depending on who is hosting. This gives On Tour gamers a great way to sample the songs from Decades before they actually go out and purchase the game.
As far as gameplay and hardware design is concerned, nothing has changed in the past five months. You still slide your hand into the Velcro-adjustable wrist strap and finger the four (not five) fret buttons while strumming the virtual strings of your virtual guitar on the touch screen. As always, a handy guitar pick is provided or you can use the stylus.
Don’t mistake the missing fifth fret as a sign of decreased difficulty. The designers have amped up the note streams creating the same, if not greater challenge. Expect lots of triple notes and rapid-fire streams that will force you to master bi-directional strumming techniques.
On Tour makes great use of the DS special features, especially in the creative new battle mode attacks. You can set the other player’s guitar on fire and watch them blow out the flames by blowing into the mic. And instead of furiously tapping a fret button to restring your guitar you actually have to make the realistic motion of replacing a string. You’ll even get to sign autographs in mid-concert using the pick (or stylus), and just wait until you see what the fans want you to sign.
You also invoke Star Power by yelling “ROCK OUT” into the mic (or tapping a face button if you are in public). Actually, you can whistle, blow, or make just about any noise into the mic to invoke Star Power. The one problem I had was I was using an external amp/speaker for my audio output, which was loud enough for the mic to pick up and trigger Star Power as soon as the meter filled to the half-way mark. And if you are playing multiplayer and talking to your opponent, any conversation will almost certainly trigger Star Power.
Guitar Hero: On Tour doesn’t stray far from the game modes or presentation of its console cousin. You still pick your rocker and choose your guitar. The guitar you pick is used as the background art for the right screen, and the strings and whammy bar animate realistically. Once you have your performer equipped you can head to the Career mode, Quickplay, or rock out wirelessly in any of the challenging and fun multiplayer modes.
The Career mode takes you through the traditional series of venues, each one representing a period in musical history, a decade of rock if you will, which will dictate your selection of songs. Each venue has its own track list that you must complete to unlock the encore song and the next venue. Earn cash to buy more clothes, guitars, and custom paint jobs for those guitars. It’s classic Guitar Hero in the palm of your hand.
Guitar Hero has never been about the graphics. Even on the 360 and PS3 the game maintains a more subdued visual style boasting colorful stage shows that take place in interesting venues, awesome stage lighting, MTV-style camera work, and an eclectic group of animated rockers that are heavily stylized and usually come off as a parody of various stereotypical performers from heavy metal, to classic rock, and even a bit of country.
What the games lacks in quality it makes up for in quantity with multiple costumes per rocker and multiple skins for each guitar. There is an amazing and vast assortment of guitars and these are nicely animated on the touch screen even to the point where you will see the corresponding strings vibrate and you can wobble that whammy bar in real-time.
The graphics really light up when you play the battle mode and start launching attacks at either the computer or another human opponent. There is a blinding flash photography effect, scorching fire that will consume your guitar until you blow it out, broken guitar strings, and an odd assortment of items that will get shoved in your face for autograph signing.
The only downside to the entire visual experience is that, just like it's console brothers, the person playing doesn't have time to appreciate all these nice added touches, and unlike the console version, there isn't much room or screen size for spectators to enjoy the show.
As you make your way through the career mode you will travel to five venues and play several songs in each. After you complete the required set you will be offered to play the encore song. The music selection is quite remarkable, both in diversity and quality, although the DS version is rated E10 so expect some subtle edits in the lyrics. I'm guessing the rating also influenced the final song selection as well. I was amazed that the DS cartridge was able to not only hold all these songs with both lead and bass tracks, but also full vocals, all the while maintaining a respectable sound quality...when properly amplified.
Featuring more than 40 years of rock’s most celebrated artists with 28 master recordings, here are the 28 songs you will have available in Decades:
This is definitely one of those games you’ll want to output the sound to either a stereo amp, boom box, or powered headphones. I like my rock and roll loud and Decades, even on maximum volume, sounded a bit weak, both on the DS speakers and using un-powered headphones.
With only 28 songs, On Tour might sound a bit thin when compared to the console versions, especially the ones that allow for downloading even more songs, but once you factor in the two guitar styles (lead and bass) plus the learning curve of playing the game an entirely new way, plus the countless hours of multiplayer fun you are going to have, Guitar Hero: On Tour - Decades is a steal for the $50 price tag, and if you already have the original you can buy just the game and use your existing fret expansion.
It takes about two and a half hours to finish a career path on any given skill setting. Your replay value will vary depending on your obsession with earning high scores and five stars on each song. There is also a single-player Duel mode where you can practice your battle skills versus an unseen computer opponent before you hook up wirelessly for the real thing. And as expected, you have Co-op, Face Off, and Pro Face Off modes that will consume you for weeks and months to come.
Also worth mentioning is that somebody must have realized everybody didn't upgrade to the new DS Lite, so inside the bundle box is a small plastic piece that will allow the Guitar Hero peripheral to fit the old-style DS systems. Kudo's to the designers/marketing people for not forsaking the old-school gamers who don't jump every time Nintendo releases a new product.
Guitar Hero: On Tour - Decades is a great expansion to the original On Tour game as well as a great introduction for those looking to jump into the portable version of the franchise. You can't go wrong with either title and the ability to cross-connect with owners of the other game is pure genius.
Decades is an entertaining and challenging game that recreates the Guitar Hero experience as best you can without actually holding a guitar.