Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends! This morning I’m pleased to bring you my 5th music title review of this year alone, with two more coming in the next few weeks. Once again we travel to the Land of Make Believe, Mr. Rogers style, for some plastic instrument awesomeness. This time around we get to see the latest offering from Activision Blizzard and Neversoft – Band Hero. With an obvious aim at the “tween” demographic, courtesy of blazing hot neon and a J-Pop feel, is Band Hero the new hotness, or just a hot mess?
Band Hero, like other offshoot titles like Guitar Hero: Metallica, benefits greatly from the preceeding title. To that end, Band Hero sports the latest and greatest advancements brought to us by the recently released Guitar Hero 5. The significant graphical improvements, better animations, new career options, vocal options, as well as some all-new multiplayer challenges. The question I had on my mind was whether the things I mentioned in my review would be fixed – it just didn’t seem that there was enough time before release for that to happen. Disc in tray, it was time to find out.
Right from the intro screen I knew that this title was going to be different. Gone is the heavy guitar riff, flying skulls, and metal imagery replaced with neon glow, a completely J-Pop anime stylized intro, and lots of pink hair. My inner Rock God was immediately concerned for what lay ahead.
As I reached the game proper I was greeted by the same ‘jump in’ Party Play system that allows up to four players on any instrument to immediately begin to play whatever random song was selected. In this case, one of my favorite tracks, Mr. Roboto, was playing. Jumping in on drums on Hard I found myself fairly unchallenged. On the fly, as it was in Guitar Hero 5, I changed to Expert and busted out my best Domo Arigato. Moving into the Career mode I was once again in familiar territory.
Band Hero is laid out in exactly the same fashion as Guitar Hero 5. There are venues that you have to unlock, as well as secret characters and customization loot that you’ll pick up by performing well in songs. There are a total of 65 songs from various artists that I’ll name shortly on the disc, markedly lower than the 85 tracks we received with Guitar Hero 5 for the same price. They are laid out somewhat evenly in the venues ranging from the mall to various night clubs and stages. As you complete tracks you’ll unlock new gigs that were previously locked – we’ve seen all of this before. What we haven’t seen is the new drum set. Although I didn’t receive a unit to review, the drum supposedly is lighter and more sturdy (you may recall my complaints about the drum construction in my Guitar Hero World Tour review), as well as lighter and sporting circular pads. A crossbar has been moved into the center of the stand to hold the pedal in place. Reportedly there is also a calibration system for the pads – something absent in the previous iteration. Again, I did not receive one to review, so all of this is based on what was promised. This drum change is in addition to the changes made to the guitars that shipped with Guitar Hero 5. For this review I used both my ION Kit as well as my aging World Tour drum set.
Before we talk about charting, layout, song placement, or anything else, let’s go over the song list:
- 3 Doors Down, ‘When I’m Gone’
- All-American Rejects – “Dirty Little Secret”
- The Airborne Toxic Event – “Gasoline”
- Alphabeat – “Fascination”
- Aly and AJ – “Like Whoa”
- Angels & Airwaves, ‘The Adventure’
- Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, ‘Steal My Kisses’
- Big Country – “In a Big Country”
- Boys Like Girls, ‘The Great Escape’
- The Bravery – “Believe”
- Carl Douglas – “Kung Fu Fighting”
- Cheap Trick – “I Want You To Want Me” (Live)
- Cold War Kids – “Hang Me Up To Dry”
- Corinne Bailey Rae, ‘Put Your Records On’
- Counting Crows – “Angels of the Silences”
- Culture Club, ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’
- Dashboard Confessional – “Hands Down”
- Duran Duran – “Rio”
- David Bowie – Let’s Dance
- Devo – “Whip It”
- Don McLean – American Pie
- Evanescence – “Bring Me To Life”
- Everclear by ‘Santa Monica (Watch the World Die)’
- Fall Out Boy – Sugar We’re Going Down
- Filter, ‘Take a Picture’
- Finger Eleven – “Paralyzer”
- The Go-Go’s – “Our Lips Are Sealed”
- Hilary Duff – “So Yesterday”
- Hinder – ‘Lips Of An Angel’
- The Jackson 5 – ABC
- Janet Jackson – “Black Cat”
- Jesse McCartney – “Beautiful Soul”
- Joan Jett, ‘Bad Reputation’
- Joss Stone, ‘You Had Me’
- Katrina and The Waves – “Walking On Sunshine”
- KT Tunstall – Black Horses & The Cherry Tree
- The Kooks – “Naïve”
- The Last Goodnight, ‘Pictures of You’
- Lily Allen – Take What You Take
- Maroon 5 – “She Will Be Loved”
- Marvin Gaye – “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”
- Mighty Mighty Bosstones – “Impression That I Get”
- Nelly Furtado – Turn Off The Light
- N.E.R.D., ‘Rockstar’
- No Doubt – ‘Don’t Speak”, “Just a Girl”
- OK Go – “A Million Ways”
- Papa Roach, ‘Lifeline’
- Parachute, ‘Back Again’
- Pat Benatar – “Love Is A Battlefield”
- Poison – Every Rose has its Thorn
- Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue – “Kids”
- The Rolling Stones, ‘Honky Tonk Women’
- Roy Orbison – “Oh Pretty Woman”
- Santigold, ‘L.E.S. Artistes’
- Snow Patrol – “Take Back the City”
- Spice Girls, ‘Wannabe’
- Styx – “Mr. Roboto”
- Taylor Swift – “Love Story”, “Picture to Burn”, “You Belong to Me”
- Tonic – “If You Could Only See”
- The Turtles, ‘Happy Together’
- Village People – “YMCA”
- Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue”
Looking through this list, there are some obvious questions you should be asking – who is this product aimed at? The people who like “Lifeline” by Papa Roach are not the people who like “Put your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Rae. The folks who want to sing “If you could Only See” by Tonic are not interested in singing “Love story” by Taylor Swift. This brings me to the most salient point of my review. Sun Tzu said “If you can strike few with many, you will thus minimize the number of those with whom you do battle.” and I truly feel that this passage describes Band Hero perfectly. (You didn’t think you were going to get through one of my reviews without a Sun Tzu quote did you?) By appealing to such a wide audience, the developers have left most of us hungry. I personally like “Mr. Roboto”, “In a Big Country”, “Bring Me to Life”, “Let’s Dance”, “Rio”, “Whip It”, and “Ocean Avenue”. I also like “Take a Picture” by Filter, but this live version is horrible. There are a few other tracks from this list that I like listening to, but they simply aren’t fun to play. If it is meant to be more family friendly and recognizable, then I suppose your mileage may vary. For me, in an attempt to appease more than one generation and still keep an E-10 rating, they will likely appease neither – but that is for you to decide. Let’s talk mechanics.
While all of the songs are unlocked in Quickplay, the order they are presented in Career mode is a complete mystery. As far as we can tell, they are listed in order of blood type of the lead singer or number of times the guitarist has painted their fingernails. Seriously, there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to the order in which these songs are unlocked. For instance, the song “Bring me to Life” by Evanescence is very difficult for a singer and it is placed in the first tier. In the second tier we have “Rock Star” by N.E.R.D. which asks the drummer to emulate the stutter-step provided by the drum machine used in the song – not easy for any fledgling drummer. As you move further you find the blisteringly fast “Ocean Avenue” by Yellowcard placed before the painfully dull “Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison. Looking over my progress after I played the extremely easy and interminably long finale (“American Pie” by Don McLean, which despite a perfect performance, I got 0 stars for) I realized that I had gotten 6 stars on a great many of the songs. While Guitar Hero 5 had a good balance on difficulty, it seems that Neversoft threw out the baby with the bathwater – Band Hero is just too easy. It’s a bit of a mystery to me as to why as, if this game is aimed at the younger set, those guys are probably better than us geezers at these games!
Speaking of Guitar Hero 5, do you remember the signature rock-God look of garageband axe-grinder Axel Steel? Yea, he’s been replaced by an over-emotive ass-swaying meathead with a shirt 4 sizes too small. Remember the J-Pop look of candy-sweet Midori with the double-pom hair that would fit this game perfectly? For whatever reason, she’s wearing a trucker hat and is far less bubbly. Pandora apparently stole her mojo as she now sports the double chopstick look with an Asian flair. There is a new hip-hop character named Quincy Styles in the game, but I just found myself laughing when he tried to bust out Devo’s “Whip It”. I don’t know what happened to the great animations of the previous game, but suffice it to say that everything is wrist-slittingly emo all of a sudden. The exception to this are the real world folk in the game. Taylor Swift is perfectly rendered, as are two members of No Doubt, and Adam Levine from Maroon 5. Don’t get me wrong – the graphics are still great, but these animations are just rediculous.
As I mentioned, there are 65 tracks available on the disc, but the game does sport one of the best automatic features seen to date – the game is automatically compatable with the DLC from Guitar Hero 5. This means your track list could be fairly huge right out of the gate. Also similar to Guitar Hero 5, you’ll be able to import tracks from Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero Smash Hits. Specifically, 69 of them from Guitar Hero 5 can be pulled across. If you buy this disc and want to reverse the process, 61 of the songs in Band Hero will export to Guitar Hero 5. I had already done an import from World Tour to Guitar Hero 5, so I’m unsure of how many tracks pull across to Band Hero. Any way you slice it – this is probably the best feature that Band Hero could have kept from Guitar Hero 5.
So where do we stand? Obviously the track list doesn’t work for me, but I can’t judge the game harshly for that – many folks will love a larger portion of these songs than I did. My complaint is the balancing in the game and the fact that this new title brings absolutely nothing new to the table. My wife brought up a great feature request that would have been easy to impliment – why doesn’t this series have a ghost mode so you can see where you are adding or missing notes? (You can have that one for free Neversoft.) Feeling more like an unbalanced and watered down track pack, Band Hero didn’t latch on for me like Guitar Hero 5 did. As it stands, this title just serves to further dilute the brand that, in my opinion, Neversoft had just started to really ‘own’ with Guitar Hero 5. At the end of the day, Band Hero feels a little like that massive bag of cotton candy you buy at the fair. Nostalgia tells you that it tastes great, but reality leaves you with a pink mouth and a stomach ache.