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Fans of the handheld Nintendo DS are no longer relegated to playing air guitar.

With "Guitar Hero: On Tour," the best-selling game system has finally been paired with one of the best-selling game franchises. However, the big question is whether you can find full-fledged fun in the downsized game.

Your opinion of the E10-rated "On Tour" — which was developed by Red Octane for Activision — will certainly be influenced by your gaming experience. Those who are major digital shredders are likely to dismiss the game as something akin to "Ukulele Hero." Those who are big DS fans are likely to see it as an interesting new way to have fun.

The game comes with a four-keyed attachment that fits into a slot in the system’s side. To play, you press the keys that correspond to the notes that appear on the view screen and use a pick-shaped stylus to strum across the image of a guitar on the touch screen.

Star Power, which multiplies the value of the notes you hit, is activated by yelling "Rock Out" into the DS microphone, according to the instruction book. However, after my wife challenged me to actually try that while riding on the subway, I quickly learned that it’s actually activated by any loud noise, including a cough. So, I now have the choice of prompting subway riders to think I’m either crazy or have tuberculosis.

The game offers quick play, career and duel modes. Guitar duels can be against digital opponents or against humans over the Nintendo DS wireless connection. Red Octane has come up with a few new twists to the duels. For example, when a string breaks, you need to use the stylus to restring your guitar. Or when pyrotechnics go wrong, you need to blow into the DS microphone to put them out.

The difficulty seems to have been tweaked to account for the unusual contortions your wrist and fingers need to make to play the miniaturized game. Medium seems a bit easy and hard didn’t seem quite so difficult.

In miniaturizing the game, the number of keys has been cut from five to four and the number of songs has been slashed. "Guitar Hero" purists will see this as a major problem. Indeed, a limited selection of songs seems to reduce replay value — especially when you realize that you’re likely to hate some of the songs.

However, those probably won’t be major concerns for gamers who are new to the series or are looking for something new for the DS. For example, my sons’ only gripe with the game concerned sore fingers and wrists — proof that the instruction book’s warnings about prolonged playing should be heeded.

Because of the tiny speakers in the DS, it’s best to play the game with earphones. Or, you can hook it up to bigger speakers — which definitely boosts the fun level.

Overall, DS fans are likely to find "On Tour" a fun change of pace from brain-teasers and miniature monsters.

Platform: Nintendo DSOn the Web: www.guitarhero.com


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