We weren't huge fans of Guitar Hero: On Tour, the DS debut for the hugely successful Guitar Hero series. It was a novel idea, and something we didn't imagine would ever appear on the DS, but it was plagued with control issues and tinny music. On Tour Decades is the follow-up, delivering 28 tracks from the 70s, 80s, 90s and the modern era, some unique multiplayer track sharing, and sadly the very same control issues.
We have to address the control problems first because they make or break the experience. As with the original On Tour, the game ships with a Guitar Hero Grip, which plugs into the GBA port on the DS - in theory fitting snugly on the underside of the handheld. With the DS held like an open book, you place your hand in a strap under the console, with your four fingers of your left hand stretching over the four fret buttons. It's a genius design, but not one that is comfortable.
On the four DSs we have in the office, the grip repeatedly slipped free when using two of them - a similar issue we had with the original game. On the other two this wasn't a problem and we were able to play without incident, but the near crippling hand and arm pain suffered through lengthy play time (and yes, we were trying to hold the DS exactly as depicted on the advice screen) was the same no matter which DS we used. To be fair, we've spoken to people that got on fine with the Guitar Grip, but they are certainly in the minority.
All this is somewhat of a shame as the core game is once again a surprisingly decent portable recreation of the peripheral heavy music game. The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who's played a Guitar Hero or Rock Band game over the past few years, except for the fact that you only have four fret buttons. Strumming is performed on the DS touch screen by using the included pick as notes stream down the left screen. It's about as close to the home console versions of Guitar Hero as you're likely to get on the DS, but that doesn't make it a must own game.
All of the 28 tracks included are original master recordings, meaning no nasty cover bands here, although the sound quality (even through headphones) isn't the best. To our ears the quality here is better than in the original, but certain sounds (especially Ss) come out rather distorted. It's by no means terrible, and probably more of a hardware and storage space issue than any sloppiness at the hands of developer Vicarious Visions, but a disappointment all the same.
Multiplayer is likely to be where fans of the DS game will get most enjoyment, although you obviously have to find someone else with the grip peripheral add-on. The good news, and perhaps the best feature of Decades, is that both players don't have to own the new game to play the new songs. If you link up with a friend who just owns the original On Tour, you can share songs during multiplayer sessions, giving you more than 50 tunes in total to rock out to.
Despite being an impressive achievement for the DS - just as the original game was earlier this year - we simply can't get on with the cramped control peripheral and tinny music. If you bought and loved On Tour, feel free to ignore most of these complaints as you'll be getting more of what you loved, but if you're coming to the DS series as a newcomer be aware that Decades never reaches the heights of the home console games.