I'm seriously running out of ideas when it comes to reviewing music games. Over the last few years I imagine I've written similar sentences, if not whole paragraphs, numerous times over. The problem is that the games aren't really changing. Guitar Hero On Tour: Modern Hits is the third title in the series to arrive on Nintendo DS, and it's essentially the same game I've played twice before, albeit it with a new track list and a slightly modified career mode. That said, if you liked the first two games, what's on offer here will probably be just what you're after.
Unlike Rock Band's recent foray onto the PSP, Guitar Hero on DS requires a peripheral. If you've followed any of our previous coverage of the DS games you'll know we're not huge fans of this bulky add-on, simply because it has a habit of unplugging itself from the GBA slot on the handheld. Three games in to the series the uncomfortable grip still remains, but it's certainly become more tolerable. The way you'll have to suffer mid-song pauses each time the Guitar Grip slips out will test your patience to the limit though. While we've tested the add-on in numerous DSs and had the same issue, it's perfectly possible it won't affect you in the same way, but you've been warned.
As in the previous games, you strum along to the songs as notes stream down the DS screen, using the included plectrum to swipe across the touch screen. You're limited to four notes, one less than in the full-sized games, but it's still a tricky game on the hardest difficulty and has all the score multiplying and star power fans will expect. In keeping with the DS series a large focus here is on duelling with another guitarist, so developer Vicarious Visions has included numerous attack and defence abilities, such as planting bombs on your opponent's screen or breaking a string. It's good fun, but some may feel it takes away from the pure shredding action.
It's the career mode that has seen most changes, although these aren't exactly major. In order to progress through your career, unlocking new venues and tracks, you'll have to complete challenges set by your fans. These aren't simply "play a track with 99% accuracy" or "score over 200,000 points", but tasks like playing 100 notes in a row or achieving a certain score multiplier. It's not exactly revolutionary, but it does change things up enough for the game to feel less stale than it would otherwise have been.
More important to many will be the track list, which offers 28 'modern hits'. As to be expected from the DS, the sound quality isn't brilliant, with the tinny audio hurting certain tracks more than others. Avril Lavigne's angelic voice stands out as one of the worst affected, with her high notes likely to make even her biggest fans recoil slightly for fear of a damaged ear drum. Most the artists don't suffer as much, with the likes of Kings of Leon, Placebo, Franz Ferdinand and Foo Fighters simply sounding like you're listening to a poor quality MP3.
Multiplayer is once again a key part of the package, with all tracks playable wirelessly with a mate. You can also make use of the game's sharing functionality, so if you happen to playing against someone with a previous game in the On Tour series you'll have access to both sets of songs. This brings the complete track list to an impressive 70+ songs, although that will require you to have access to all the previous games. There's no DLC functionality at all, but that's not really expected in a DS game, and it's worth noting that you can't play any of the On Tour games if you're using a DSi - the Guitar Grip simply won't attach to the new DS revision.
If you enjoy what Activision and Vicarious Visions has done with Guitar Hero on the DS, On Tour: Modern Hits will be a worthwhile investment. It's only marginally different to the previous games, and more or less features the same issues that have plagued the series from the beginning (the peripheral itself being the biggest problem), but the track list is good and the multiplayer should provide hours worth of fun. It's getting a bit too samey, but fans will likely lap it up.