You truly have not lived until you have heard ‘Insane in the Brain’ on a glockenspiel! THQ has taken the Guitar Hero concept and really flipped it on its head here. The game is similar in many ways to the GH idea, but has added 5 new styles of music to each song (Country, Rock, Hip Hop, Latin, and Marching Band). Bands, get this, battle it out on one of many stages and play the same tune. Keep hitting your notes and the meter will lean your way and thus your style will be prevalent.
On top of this, if you keep hitting your notes you will charge up the weapon you have selected and then discharge it at the ‘enemy.’ Lightning, fireballs, smoke grenades flying across the ravine where the target has only a split second to get his or her or its shield up to block. Speed ups, slow downs, controller flips, dogs and cats living together, MASS HYSTERIA!
Yes, well anyway, they left me in charge of this one and I had a ball.
While the stages are not exquisitely textured or skylines ablaze with fiery suns, the graphics are good. Backgrounds are vivid and colorful, but distinct borders outline everything to prevent it from being a mess. There is not a wide variety of scenery, but nonetheless everything is crisp and defined.
You can’t get a lot of customization going as there isn’t enough memory in a Wii for such things, but that’s not the point. So there’s no selection of guitars, drums, or trombones that will separate your band from the next, it’s about the music and the controls.
The bar in which the notes move is narrow, but while the beats are flowing upwards you know what you’ve got to do. Brightly colored notes and power-ups scroll over a dark background, and even have little arrows to help you move your Wiimote in the right direction. It’s simple and effective.
All of the music is done by many different cover bands. Each song is done in its entirety in 5 different ways. One of my favorites, Spoon Man by Soundgarden, was a delight to hear again, but also intriguing to listen to it being played in a country style, a hip-hip fashion, and the Latino way. As my Marching Band battled the Rockers, listening to the song being tugged back and forth was both delightful and jarring. I loved it.
The selection is wide and entertaining. It harkens back to nostalgic titles by the Ramones or Rick James. The aforementioned Cypress Hill is in there along with Def Leppard. The quality, however, takes a hit as the tunes are in a fairly low-quality format. The Marching Band sound like they’re in a cramped studio, the country tunes lack depth, the Rock singer was clearly out of his league, and most of it is flat.
It was a lofty idea tossed in a board room, but needed the size of a cafeteria.
The control system is simplicity itself. Swing the Wiimote left, right, down, or stabby to get the notes as the wander up the scroll bar. Hit a number in succession and the selected power-up, or weapon, will go off in your opponent’s face. On one hand it was pretty easy, but on the other I had to hold very still on occasions waiting for the next beat. When there were some lengthy rhythm sections I had fun moving to each note and really got into it, but when the rhythm section changed I often looked like Fozzy the Bear floundering on stage.
The game interrupts after every couple of battles to remind you to rest. I recommend you listen because it can be a little tiring after just a few songs. The game is fun, but not worth carpal tunnel syndrome or a strained wrist.
With the 5 styles, there are 1 or two different bands from which to choose. There is only one Marching Band, but there are a couple different rockers or hip-hoppers to select. Each band had its own storyline that is revealed over the course of your progression. Whether you’re trying to save the world, or sold your soul in order to party harder, these stories are a mere distraction from what’s going on. Just press A and you’ll skip through the comicesque pop-up balloons.
While there are nearly a dozen bands to pick, there are only a handful of arenas to play in. Whether it is a football field or the sleepy bar from Three Amigos, it’s all for the audience as your eyes are glued on the scroll bar and note counts to see when you can fire your weapon on your opponent, and visa versa so you know when to block.
The notes themselves are straightforward although the timing is oddly spaced to keep you on your toes. Just when I’m getting the hang of the beat, the game skips a couple and then jams them in real close together. I don’t get any audio indication that I goofed, but I see a tiny bubble on the left indicating a point being taken away. There are pauses in the song for a Face Off. These consist of each band getting its turn to play a section of the song being battled over and hitting notes that send demonic fireballs at your opponent automatically. The opponent has nothing to do but stand there and hit the Block button at the appropriate time. It is always give and take. You’re not trying to play and defend at the same time as you are during the tune which makes me wonder why they bothered with it.
Overall the game is good for a few laughs in short bursts. Extended gameplay is just simply not good as forearms get tired, scenery gets old, and the music gets repetitive.
The concept was pretty simple: jump on the Guitar Hero bandwagon. The ingredients are also simple: grab some llicensing for old tunes, make a GH-like GUI, and make the game for the hottest selling console the world has ever seen.
Now the twist with the 5 styles is crazy smart. Whoever thought of “hey, can one of the styles be a marching band?” is in my kind of left field. All of the tunes can be played from the options menu (no unlocking nonsense) and you can change the style of the tune on-the-fly. That explains the lack of high-quality sound — the load times would be too high — but the technology is pretty cool. Being able to hear Tenacious D’s Master Exploder in any of the styles at will is something to behold.
Battle of the Bands is good. It could have been better in a few ways: better quality sound, custom instruments in-game and out, and a little bit more flow in the beat timing. This would make playing the game for longer periods of time much easier and comfortable.
Still, the game is fun and it’s interesting to hear the same tune in many different ways tickles my cultural interests. People listen to music in different ways and the Latino way is very different from Hip-Hop. The lyrics are the same, even if in different languages, but the background of the singer makes it his or her own.