It is, perhaps, a blessing that Nintendo's new DSi handheld lacks a GBA cartridge slot, thus rendering the whole Guitar Hero: On Tour series obsolete - perhaps it'll convince people to stop procrastinating and just buy a real Guitar Hero game instead.
Sure, we can appreciate what the handheld version of Guitar Hero is trying to do but for us, pretending to pretend to play guitar (which is what you do in On Tour) just doesn't cut it when there's only one degree of pretence in the 'proper' version. And don't give us the argument that it's a reasonable compromise for those who can't afford the full console game either. That's like saying that a tin of Spam is a decent replacement for a fat, juicy steak. Just because it's cheaper, that doesn't make it taste any better.
Not that any such concerns have stopped Activision from busting out Guitar Hero: On Tour - Decades, a game that does so little over and above what the last On Tour game did, it should be called a track pack rather than a full-blown sequel. What you've essentially got here are 28 new tunes to play through, many of which have been ripped straight from the setlist of Guitar Hero: World Tour and, rather surprisingly, many of which aren't the pop fluff that constituted half the songs in the last On Tour.
The Rock Of Ages
Placing a more even-handed focus on how the decades are represented, you're now invited to play through each period as its own themed gig featuring five songs a-piece. Sadly, it all gets off to a sour note by starting with the modern era - Paramore and Tokio Hotel can take their business elsewhere. On the plus side, that naturally just means the game gets better as you progress. Give enough time to the Career mode, which isn't hard considering completing it only takes a few hours, and you'll soon find a few songs that are so wonderfully kitsch and anthemic, it'll be hard to not sing along with the tunes... providing you know the words, as we do, of course.
To be blunt, this is the only part of Decades - or, indeed, any Guitar Hero game - that really matters. Activision can bang on about the new characters and all-new venues all it likes, but we wouldn't care if all the tracks were performed by a toothless tramp standing
in a skip so long as they rocked hard enough. The problem is though, all the great songs in the world can't fix the other more critical issues that Decades has. And what's worse, they're exactly the same issues we had with the last game.
For instance, it still hurts to play it for any length of time thanks to the harsh dynamics of how the game uses the grip controller. It's amusing that even Activision acknowledges this by suggesting other ways of holding the DS during the game's start-up, but such humour didn't stop our wrists from cramping.
There are still some serious issues with the touch screen either failing to register your strummed notes or performing double strums which effectively wipe out your combo score meter. And bar the addition of a Bass/Rhythm career on top of the usual Lead Guitar and Guitar Duel Career modes, there's nothing here that the last On Tour didn't do. A few subtle tweaks to the visual interface here, a couple of power-up adjustments to the Guitar Duels there and you're done. In terms of advancing the series, it's positively dwarfed by the improvements made by World Tour on the Wii.
Ultimately though, it's all about perspective. Did we have fun for the three scant hours that it took us to play through the Career mode and unlock all the available songs? To a degree, yes, if only because the songs found towards the end are perfect examples of what Guitar Hero should be all about. Would we pay £30 for the privilege and be caught playing it in public though? Good lord, no. Regardless of how much polish Decades has over its predecessor, the fact remains that the DS game will never be more than a simulation of a simulation; a short-term novelty that just makes you wish you were playing the real Guitar Hero games instead. Unless you don't own anything other than a DS and can't bear to miss out on the phenomenon, there's really no good reason to get this.