About four months ago Activision and Vicarious Vision did the impossible; they created Guitar Hero for the Nintendo DS, and it was good; quite good actually. So there should be no surprise that they wanted to continue the wave of success with a follow-up featuring a new set of tracks. Decades is more or less an expansion pack with very little in the way of new features, but there is enough here for fans of the original to get back into it. The song list includes 35 new tunes derived from various decades (hence the name) and contains songs that have been in previous rhythm games as well as a few new tracks to create a solid list regardless of your preference of music. Amazingly enough Decades escapes the feeling of quick cash-in and makes returning to handheld rocking worth the investment.
The key to all games of this type is always the track list and as I mentioned Decades contains a solid list of new and old favorites. As the name implies each tier within the career mode consists of four songs and one encore from each decade (70s, 80s, 90s and 00s) and covers a wide variety of styles. The variety of artists includes the likes of Lynyrd Skynrd, Foo Fighters, Los Lobos and Queen to more obscure bands like Veruca Salt and Paramore. The career mode spans each decade as a separate tier, which works to the namesake, but creates a weird difficulty scaling that actually hinders the experience.
The Guitar Hero formula has always been to tier the songs in order of difficulty for a solid learning curve, but when you are forced to cram all songs of one type it is impossible to keep things streamlined. This results in some inconsistent difficulty spikes when moving from decade to decade. You will finish a truly difficult track only to be greeted by the easiest note chart in the game on your next turn. Veterans of the series will likely shrug this off, but newcomers will find the constant change in difficulty frustrating.
Much like the previous game Decades comes packed with the same peripheral and the gameplay remains identical to the original game. There is no doubt that the same engine was used, including the peculiar out-of-sync animations of some of the characters. If you never played the original game it really is miraculous what the team was capable of accomplishing with a bite-sized version of the game. The peripheral plugs directly into the GBA slot on the DS while you strum on the touch screen with the included pick stylus. The four-button layout is simpler in design that its console counterpart, but the gameplay is just as responsive and smooth, which was a big reason why the first game was so impressive.
Probably the biggest addition in Decades though is the ability to stream songs wirelessly with your friends in multi-player mode. Purchasing the new version also unlocks this feature in the original game as well as future incarnations. This makes buying the while bundle worthy again simply for having two peripherals for friends who do not own the game. This feature alone makes Decades a must buy for fans of the series on the DS and really adds a lot of replay as you can participate in both cooperative and competitive modes with all of the tracks from both games.
Much like the first game the visuals are exceptional for being on the DS. There are a host of new venues specific for Decades, but the overall engine remains untouched. The sound quality is also impressive, but we still recommend playing with a solid pair of headphones to appreciate just how good these songs sound. It is also worth mentioning that Decades continues the trend of offering all original versions of each song, which is a first for some of the repeating tracks and really drives home the level of authenticity.
Guitar Hero On Tour: Decades is a solid follow-up to an impressive first effort on a handheld system. While it feels more like an expansion set the addition of wireless streaming is more than worth the price of admission. The track list is solid, the gameplay remains intuitive and amazingly enough playing Guitar Hero on the go remains entertaining. Activision knows it has a winner on its hands and it continues to evolve the series just enough to keep fans coming back. As long as this remains the trend the series could easily find a home in the handheld market.