Do you remember those kids’ activity pages in the newspaper where two pictures were placed side by side and then you were asked to spot the differences? Activision appears to be playing that same game with their newest release, Band Hero.

 

Just months after releasing Guitar Hero 5, Activision throws Band Hero into the ring of the music video game genre.  Although the name Band Hero might make one think that there is some new twist to this game, it is very similar to Guitar Hero 5.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some changes in this game to make it different from previous releases, but it is more in the aesthetics than in the gameplay.

Band Hero is aimed at a different music fan than any of the other Guitar Hero titles have been. From the initial look at the song list, the venues, and general atmosphere one can tell that this appears to be aimed more at the pop music fan. Even the characters have been “popified” for Band Hero. You will see the usual lineup, such as Axel Steel and Judy Nails, in a similar look but with brighter colors and a softness about them. The venues are brighter and have an almost light-show type quality to them. It’s almost like the venues have been borrowed from award shows like the VMA’s to help make them look appropriate for this type of music.

As with their earlier releases, the music features the original artists as well as what appears to be a few in-game only songs. The songs range from Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” to Taylor Swift’s “Picture to Burn” to Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorns”. While at times it is difficult to determine a common thread among the music as it spans 40+ years and a wide variety of genres, it seems as though what put them together was their familiarity from use in movies, other games, and radio play.  It is safe to say that most if not all of the songs included in Band Hero won’t catch many people playing air guitar, but you will often catch people singing along with them. This thought alone makes you believe that this game might be that bridge between games like Sing Star and Guitar Hero.

 

Many of the songs from Band Hero can be uploaded into Guitar Hero 5 and World Tour and vice versa. But as with previous titles, there are always some exclusions. You can transfer 61 of the 65 songs to Guitar Hero 5 or you can transfer 69 songs from GH5 to Band Hero. This allows the user to pick their favorite set of venues while allowing them over 120 songs to play from.

They have also allowed multiple players to create their own band in a sense. If you would like your band to have one drummer and three vocalists, then you can. Or maybe you would like four drummers in your band, you can with this title. It allows for gamers to pick their favorite combination of the “instruments”. This could be a good option, especially if you are always the person picked to play bass and really want to play guitar. Just like in Guitar Hero 5, the game will allow more than one of you to play the same instrument.

 

While much improved, there are still some nagging control issues, particularly when it comes to sorting and searching through the song list.  The Guitar Hero franchise finally allowed for custom sorting of the song list, but it still feels clunky and is in great need of polish.  The other major issue is when you are using quickplay.  Let’s say you’re sorting your songs alphabetically and just playing select tracks as you scroll down.  Every time you finish a song and return to the list, you’re all the way back at the top.  This isn’t a big deal when you’ve just finished “Beautiful Soul”, but becomes a pain when you’re all the way down at “Picture to Burn” and you have to scroll through nearly the entire track list starting at “A”.

Activision brought back the new features of GH 5 into this title also. You can once again jump immediately into a song from the start screen as well as drop out of a song without interrupting the rest of the band. This can be a great feature if someone’s phone rings or they are needed elsewhere. In early titles, the entire band would have to restart the song to add or drop someone from it. This title also allows the players to change their difficulty level while mid-song. This is an especially handy feature when in career mode, but more about that later. They also have once again made all the songs available in the QuickPlay mode without the need for entering codes.

 

While this game has the improved features of GH 5 it still has some of the franchise’s nagging problems. When you choose the Career mode you are assuming that as you progress through the songs and venues they will continue to get increasingly more difficult, but that is not always the case with Band Hero. Early in your career you will be faced with Jesse McCartney’s “Beautiful Soul”. While many people are a fan of the song, I’m not too sure how many of knew how hard it would be to play on many of the difficulty levels. Then immediately following that song and its amped-up difficulty you fall right back into songs with much easier difficulties that are more appropriate for the early part of your career.

This glitch leads to an even bigger problem in many of the titles in the Guitar Hero series – the difficulty levels. What they determine to be of medium difficulty is quite similar to their competitor’s hard difficulty levels on a large quantity of their songs. But then at the same time, another song will be listed as medium difficulty and you will have no problems with it. There seems to be a large jump from songs on easy to songs on medium and then again to hard. They also seem to be still having problems with players being able to gauge the vocals. All in all, Band Hero is a welcome addition to the Activision family. It allows players the same options as GH 5 but ushers in a new look, one that is a little “softer”. This game is aimed for those that enjoy music and video games but maybe not as into the metal scene. They kept this idea throughout the game by including unlockable artists that are appropriate for this genre. You have the opportunity to unlock such characters as Gwen Stefani, Adam Levine, and Taylor Swift. By allowing most of the tracks in this version to be compatible with GH 5 and vice versa it allows the different members of the same family to semi-customize their rock star alter ego.

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