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by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & Guitar Hero: On Tour & r & Rated Everyone 10+; Nintendo DS & r & 2 Stars & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & y mistake was playing Guitar Hero III. Until then, On Tour was a passable entry into the Guitar Hero series. I held the Nintendo DS sideways in my left hand like an open book with the game's special fretboard grip clipped to the back of the DS, and the whole thing anchored to my hand by a Velcro strap. My left fingers rested on four colored fret buttons. As notes descended the left screen, I pressed the corresponding fret buttons while my right hand strummed with the game's pick-shaped stylus.

The tunes drifting through the DS's pinhole speakers weren't loud enough, but headphones solved that. I also reduced the sound effects' volume since they clashed with the music. And after a few instances of my furious touch-screen strumming inadvertently triggering the game's sound-sensitive rock-out mode, I adjusted the mic and didn't accidentally rock out again until I sneezed in the middle of "Black Magic Woman."

Then, just for comparison's sake, I played Guitar Hero III. After jumping around my living room and shredding through GHIII's dozens of songs, I felt like a fool picking up the dinky DS, holding it near my face and clicking and clattering through On Tour's handful of tunes -- exactly 25, several of which have been played on other games in the series. With a selection that small, I'd never leave the garage, much less go on tour.

The DS is not designed for rock 'n' roll. On the screen that displayed my little avatar, the character rocked repeatedly to the same rhythms no matter the song. The key-clicking of my fret hand vibrated the lightweight machine so much that I could barely track the descending notes. I'd also like to fault the DS's postage-stamp-sized gamecard for the miniscule songlist and selection of unlockable items, but in Japan there's a gamecard with a complete interactive kanji dictionary. So maybe On Tour's designers are saving the substantial stuff for the inevitable sequels.

THE GOOD: John Mayer hates Guitar Hero. That's an endorsement as far as I'm concerned. He says he objects to the games because playing the real guitar is more challenging and artistic, and therefore more worthwhile. (Personally I think he's annoyed that a 7-year-old could beat him. He should try On Tour: there's an especially chaotic multiplayer battle mode.) But if I were studying music, I'd select the PlayStation or Game Boy as my primary instrument instead of choosing to become a generic guitarist/singer/songwriter. Games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Patapon and Electroplankton have demonstrated that the future of music can be much more interactive and imaginative than a song strummed by a single star.

THE BAD: On Tour's little hand-held gripper is one of the most uncomfortable videogame accessories designed in a long while. The buttons are so crammed, I feel like I'm text-messaging instead of playing music. And after cramping my hand by strapping it into the Velcro holder, I abandoned that, hooked my thumb through it and cramped that as well.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Though it works as a basic rhythm game, Guitar Hero: On Tour tries to fit too much rocking out onto a system too tiny for either rock or roll.

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