Guitar Hero: On Tour DecadesESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Developer - Vicarious Visions
Publisher - Activision / Red Octane
Guitar Grip (compatible with Original DS and DS Lite)
The Guitar Hero franchise has become a household name and a mega-hit for Activision and Red Octane. It has not only been a mainstay on next-generation platforms but it is now firmly entrenched on the Nintendo DS as well. Guitar Hero: On Tour was the first time the franchise had made its way to the DS and it did so with a big splash. The killer set list and the ability to play Guitar Hero on the go made it a must have for DS owners and Guitar Hero fans alike. The Guitar Hero franchise is back on the DS with its second instalment titled Guitar Hero: On Tour Decades. This time around we have a new set list and some new features, but does it address the issues which plagued the first DS Guitar Hero game? Unfortunately the answer is no; but that doesn’t make it a bad game.
Similar to the last instalment on the DS, Decades is a solid looking title. It obviously does not look as good as it does on any of the bigger and more powerful home consoles but that is to be expected given the hardware limitations of the DS. That being said the visuals do seem a little cleaner this time around and the signature style of the franchise is displayed it all its glory on Nintendo’s handheld machine. Guitar Hero is known for its rich colors and Decades is no different. The look and feel to the game maintains that authentic Guitar Hero feeling. There is no mistaking you are playing a Guitar Hero but in portable form.
When you first fire up Decades the menus look very sharp. When you jump into a song you will notice the scrolling notes look clean and crisp. Here is where I notice that the game seems to look a little better than On Tour. The characters, stage, background and scrolling notes all seem more noticeably sharp. Axel Steel, Judy Nails, and Johnny Napalm are present from past Guitar Hero games and there are some new characters added to the mix who also look very good too. Decades uses the same graphics engine as On Tour nevertheless the overall final product is seemingly much better this time around. But as with all games of this nature your focus is primarily on the falling notes and you will not have much of a chance to watch the goings on around you anyhow.
Similar to its predecessor, the sound is a bit of a ‘mixed bag’. On one hand the game features a great set list with 28 songs included in the game, but on the other hand the tunes do not sound so great coming out of those tiny DS speakers. The tunes seem a bit clearer this time around but I did expect the sound quality to be a little better. Perhaps my expectations were a little too high but the songs still sound like they were coming out of a tin can or AM radio. It doesn’t get much better with headphones either. I expected a drastic improvement with Decades’ audio when using my headphones, unfortunately this is not case. Yes, you can listen to the tunes louder but the quality is not what I have heard in other games when using my headphones.
As I suggest above, the set list in Decades is a good one and the developers included three more songs this time around. The game features a diverse selection of songs targeting young and old. The set list covers every decade from 1970 to the present and it spotlights some of the biggest songs in rock history. For those wondering what songs you will get to play I thought it would be prudent to make a list. You will find yourself rocking to such tunes as:
Alien Ant Farm - "Smooth Criminal"
The All-American Rejects - "Dirty Little Secret"
Blind Melon - "No Rain"
Blondie - "One Way Or Another"
Bon Jovi - "You Give Love A Bad Name"
Boston - "Rock and Roll Band"
The Darkness - "I Believe In A Thing Called Love"
Edgar Winter Group - "Free Ride"
Fall Out Boy - "The Take Over, The Breaks Over"
Foo Fighters - "The Pretender"
Free - "All Right Now"
Jimmy Eat World - "The Middle"
Joe Satriani - "Satch Boogie"
Journey - "Any Way You Want It"
Lenny Kravitz - "Are You Gonna Go My Way"
Linkin Park - "One Step Closer"
Los Lobos - "La Bamba"
Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Sweet Home Alabama (live)"
Paramore - "Crushcrushcrush"
Queen - "We Are The Champions"
R.E.M. - "The One I Love"
Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Can't Stop"
Sammy Hagar - "I Can't Drive 55"
Seether - "Remedy"
Smashing Pumpkins - "Tarantula"
Stone Temple Pilots - "Down"
Veruca Salt - "Volcano Girls"
Weezer - "Buddy Holly"
Overall it is not a bad set list at all (depending on taste) and you can certainly tell the developers were trying to reach a larger audience by including some oldies like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Journey while adding some newer bands such as Linkin Park and Fall Out Boy. It was pleasant surprise to play some of my favorite bands songs such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters. To the hardcore Guitar Hero fan who has become accustomed to 40 plus songs, 28 may seem skimpy. I can’t speak for others but by the time I was done the last song my hand was so sore 28 seemed more than enough. But if 28 tracks are not enough Decades features the ability to play with a friend and stream songs from the original On Tour for a total of more than 60-songs in multiplayer co-op mode or Guitar Duels.
The core of the gameplay in Guitar Hero: On Tour Decades remains unchanged from the console games in the franchise and plays exactly like the original On Tour. For those who have been living under a rock for the past few years and don’t know what this game offers, it is a rhythm based game where you hit falling notes that are represented on-screen as colored discs. While these notes scroll down the screen you hold down the corresponding colored fret buttons and strum to the beat. As you manage to hit notes in succession you increase your bonus multiplier and rack up your score. That is the essence of Guitar Hero in nutshell.
To adapt the gameplay to the DS, Decades comes with a special peripheral known as the ‘Guitar Grip’. It is specifically designed for the DS and actually comes with an adapter that allows the game to be played on older Nintendo DS models. The Guitar Grip comes equipped with four fret buttons as opposed to the Guitar Controllers on the consoles which have five buttons. The four fret buttons are located on the side of the DS near the GBA cartridge slot. A slick wrist strap is attached to the underside of the DS to provide you with some support while playing. You hold the DS vertically and use a special guitar pick-shaped stylus to strum on the touchscreen of the DS with your free hand. The notes and the band playing are located on the left screen. Overall it is truly an innovative piece of gaming equipment, but just like last time it is not without its share of issues.
For starters, holding the Guitar Grip continued to feel awkward and ultimately makes the DS heavier than it should be. To this day I still haven't found a comfortable position where I can play the game longer than 10 minutes without getting sore. I tried lying down, sitting up, and even standing; but for the life of me I could not get comfortable while playing. Generally I am fine for a couple of songs but then my hand starts to cramp. Needless to say, you need to take a lot of breaks when playing Decades. I would suggest you play the bits of the set list at a time then put the game down for awhile. As I see it, part of the problem is the wrist strap prevents you from moving your hand and you inevitably start getting a cramp as you hammer away at those tiny fret buttons. I found I really had to loosen up the strap so I could move my fingers around better. The touchscreen strumming with the stylus pick on the other hand seems much more accurate this time around. Perhaps I am just improving my strumming ‘skillz’, but regardless the accuracy of the pick was bang-on. I found I rarely had to adjust my position in this regard and strumming the screen was as easy as strumming a set of guitar strings. Despite all my gripes, the Guitar Grip is a neat little device, but I hope the developers tinker with it a bit more in an effort to make the thing a little more comfy.
As with all Guitar Hero games, Decades features a career mode which is where I spent the bulk of my time. Before you jump into a tune you select your on-screen persona from several different characters. Some return from previous Guitar Hero games in the series while others are unique to the DS game. As you progress through the 28 songs you unlock various venues and other assorted items such as new options for your character's appearance. Decades also keeps the tradition of giving you simple songs to start with but eventually becoming more difficult the deeper into the set list you get. Bottomline, Decades presents a great challenge and for those that do find it a little too easy there are a total of four difficulty levels to amp up the challenge.
Decades has more than just a career mode for single player enjoyment this time around as it offers three different single player career tracks. In addition to the classic Lead Guitar career, you can also take on the unique challenges of the Bass/Rhythm Guitar career, or prove your guitar-slinging mettle by taking on a series of rival shredders in the challenging Guitar Duel career. Overall, all three modes offer a ton of replay value and all are welcome additions to the DS Guitar Hero line-up.
Like the last game, Decades supports four multiplayer modes: Face-Off, Pro Face-Off, Co-op and Guitar Duel battle mode. The intuitive interface makes setting up a game easy as pie. I am not going to go over all the modes again but I do want to touch on a new multiplayer feature which is simply awesome. Decades utilizes a new technology to allow you and a friend to play and stream songs from different versions of the game. So if you’ve got Guitar Hero: On Tour Decades and your buddy has the original Guitar Hero: On Tour you can double the songs you can play in any multiplayer mode. A very cool feature indeed and once again demonstrates how the franchise is not stuck in its ways and always looks for avenues to improve from the previous game. I’m looking at you SingStar.
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