Same problems, different game.
When Guitar Hero hit the DS earlier in 2008, I was very excited despite its questionable track list. I popped it into my DS, and after just a few songs my hand had cramped up and I had to move my entire body to a different position. A few songs later, I had to readjust again. You see, the DS Guitar Hero games utilize a special adapter called the “Guitar Grip”, which plugs into the GBA slot. It’s a largish device that wraps around the bottom of the system; you literally strap your hand onto the accessory, which forces your fingers onto the four fret buttons. The DS is held book-like, and you strum by stroking the touch screen with either your stylus or an included pick-shaped stylus.
Now, here’s why it doesn’t work: the grip is not “locked” into the GBA slot, so there’s nothing keeping it from just sliding out, which it eventually will unless you come up with some uncomfortable way of holding the grip. There is no way to keep your wrist in a neutral position, so muscle aches build up quickly. I found that holding the DS against my belly and rotating my elbow out to the side (thus keeping my wrist straight) was the only way to play for an extended period of time; unfortunately, this problem exists in its sequel as well.
Once you do manage a comfortable guitar position, the game itself is pretty cool…in theory. The track list in the original On Tour was pretty much all over the place, with lots of tracks simply imported from Guitar Hero 3. Decades attempts to implement a unifying theme, that being “decades.” There are five lists: Modern, 2000s, 1990s, 1980s, and 1970s (isn’t Vicarious Visions aware that the modern period IS the 2000s?). So what you’re really playing is ten songs from the modern “period,” which, might I add, physically hurts to listen to and play. The very first song you play is “Dirty Little Secret.” After that, it’s “Crushcrushcrush.” By the time you hit “Can’t Stop,” the requisite Red Hot Chili Peppers song, you’ll start wondering if Decades is worthwhile. But once you hit “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” it definitely starts to redeem itself. Still, the 1990s are not that memorable. The 80s are a little better, but it’s the 70s that really work. The developer seemed to know this, making the 1970s the game’s piece de resistance. The Edgar Winter Group’s “Free Ride” is a million times better than almost every song that you slog through to get to it, and just like the original On Tour, some of the songs are also found in Guitar Hero: World Tour.
Vicarious Visions learned from the mistakes of the first game, improving the note progression in Decades to better facilitate the awkward Guitar Grip setup. They’ve also added something I wish the entire franchise would adopt: when you beat the game on a difficulty setting other than Easy, you get all of the money and potential unlocks for both that difficulty and all the difficulties before it. This means that if you beat the game on Expert, you never have to play the single-player game again; you get all of the money for Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert. To make up for this change, Vicarious Visions added another career mode: Bass/Rhythm. This makes for three career options—Lead Guitar, Bass/Rhythm, and Duel. Duel mode is still a lot of fun, but once you start beating your opponent into submission you should just win and move on. As it stands, you’re forced to play through the entire song.
Another new feature essentially doubles your two-player pleasure: If you have On Tour but your buddy has Decades, there’s no need to worry, as both games will stream their songs to the other system. I really appreciated this feature, and I hope it’s retained in DS versions to come.
Decades’ graphics are vitually identical to the original game. There are a few new characters from Guitar Hero III and World Tour, but the character models continue to look low-res with repetitious animations. There are, however, more costume choices and a wealth of new guitars. The backgrounds are more detailed, but honestly, are you paying that much attention to them? You should be staring at the notes. Sound quality is questionable, but improved with headphones.
It seems that the On Tour brand is here to stay. That said, this brand may not fit the DS all that well, given the ergonomic problems associated with its Guitar Grip peripheral (also of note is the fact that the upcoming Nintendo DSi eliminates the required GBA cartridge slot). Here’s the bottom line: while the console versions remain the definitive Guitar Hero experiences, portable players that are absolutely ga-ga for the franchise should give Decades a shot.