Seeing videogames being shrunk down to fit on portable consoles is nothing new. Owners of handhelds are so numerous, they form a demographic that simply cannot be ignored. Often that means successful PC and console franchises get shoehorned into the smaller formats, and 3D games are regularly rehashed as mediocre, half-hearted 2D scroll-’em-ups. Although the improved 3D abilities of the current crop of handhelds means this happens less than it used to, it’s still a popular tactic among developers.
What chance, then, does Guitar Hero on the DS have? Graphically, these games present little challenge, because the most important part of them is essentially a scrolling track with coloured blobs on it. Even the DS can handle that with relative ease. The real obstacle this title faces is the fact the Guitar Hero games rely heavily on a fairly large guitar-shaped controller. Playing one of those on the train would, no doubt, rightly attract some odd looks.
The solution presented by Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades is a miniaturised controller that fits into the GBA cart slot. The Guitar Grip only has four buttons compared to the full version’s five, but at this size, that’s plenty. Also, unless you played the other versions on the Hard setting, you wouldn’t have used the fifth button anyway.
Guitar Hero also comes with a plectrum-shaped stylus, which can be stored in a slot on the controller. With this, you ‘strum’ an image of a guitar on the touch screen, while the ‘notes’ appear on the other display. The result is surprisingly effective. This game really is a proper portable version of Guitar Hero, and is almost as enjoyable as its big brother. You even get a selection of stickers to personalise your equipment.
There are a few problems, however. Firstly, the Grip can become a little uncomfortable with extended periods of play. Of course, handhelds aren’t really designed for that, so it’s not of any great importance. Of more concern is the fact that, every now and then, the Grip controller comes out of the GBA slot, causing the game to crash. You’re then forced to turn off the DS and start again. This doesn’t happen too often, but you can’t help feeling it’s an issue that could have been avoided.
The other main drawback of this portable version Guitar Hero is that of sound quality. Perhaps inevitably, the audio sounds pretty poor, which is disappointing for a game that relies on music. The tracks (a varied, if rather small, selection of songs) have clearly been compressed into submission, and subsequently sound like bad karaoke sung through a bog-roll tube.
Despite these problems, Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades is an accomplished piece of work, and also happens to be a hell of a lot of fun. The limitations of the format inevitably take their toll, but the game still manages to provide plenty to do. Being able to play the game in Lead Guitar, Bass/Rhythm Guitar or Guitar Duel mode means you get three times as much play time from the same songs. The first two options aren’t that different, but the Duel mode is a versus game, which you play against a computer opponent or another player. It’s a hectic affair, involving power-ups that you can use to make the game easier for yourself or harder for your opponent.
Veterans of the full versions of Guitar Hero are possibly wondering about the all important Star Power, which is activated in those games by swinging the ‘guitar’ upright. This isn’t possible with the DS version, and instead you can touch an on-screen icon, press the d-pad, or, as the game suggests, blow or shout ‘Rock on!’ into the microphone. All but the last of these is an acceptable method, and, aside from the fact the phrase ‘Rock on!’ should have been left firmly its 1980s grave, if you’re over ten years old and you’re shouting ‘Rock on!’ at your DS, you might want to seriously consider some kind of rock n roll suicide.
Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades is a joy to play, and proves that portable conversions can be almost as good as they games they come from. It’s like a cover song that, despite not being as good as the original, is still pretty good to dance to.