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Music games such as Rock Band 2, Guitar Hero: World Tour, and [shudder] Rock Revolution typically rely upon controllers in the shape of the instruments they’re imitating to help sell the experience. But not rhythm-action music sim Ultimate Band - it sticks with the basic Wii remote and Nunchuk.
So, you don’t strap on a plastic guitar or bass and “play” it. You hold the nunchuk in your left hand, pressing the C and/or Z buttons like they’re frets (unless you’re on easy difficulty, which requires no buttons at all), and “strum” with the remote. You’ll also do other gestures to execute a “windmill” strumming motion, clap along, or hit the whammy bar. It’s not terribly accurate or precise – especially on bass, which has you tilting the nunchuk instead of some of the button presses – like a “real” controller would be.
Similarly, you don’t grab drumsticks and hit a downsized electric drum kit. You hold the nunchuk and remote in your hands and move them downward to hit drums, flick them to the side to hit cymbals, and make a swirling motion to “spin” the sticks in your fingers. It too, lacks in the accuracy department.
As for singers… well, there’s no mic, so you instead use the remote and ‘chuk to strike poses, wave at the crowd, clap along, punch the air, and so on. But you don’t actually sing. At all. Thus, accuracy isn’t really a concern here because there isn’t any.
Needless to say, this isn’t exactly the most compelling recreation of an actual live musical experience we’ve played. Luckily, it’s all so easy that accurate controls aren’t that important. And while the emphasis on psyching up the crowd with non-musical onstage antics – there are even “flourishes” and “grandstanding” moves – is different and novel, it’s not as much fun as a more realistic playing experience, or even the same experience with solid, reliable gesture recognition would be. It’s a novelty that has somehow become more important than the music.
Amazingly, Ultimate Band on Wii lacks the DS version’s impressive recording studio – probably because the faulty controls would make it harder to stay on the rhythm. There is a much deeper setlist, with around 35 songs from bands ranging from Cheap Trick and Devo to Weezer and the Killers. And of course, these are covers, which is totally lame. However, this has enabled the developers to add in a male and female vocal line to every song and tweak the lyrics to match the singer’s gender. This is always strange and it sometimes sounds terrible as well.
There’s no online support other than checking the leaderboards, but Ultimate Band does support four players in one room. Plus, if you have the DS version as well, a fifth person can run your lightshow using the DS. That’s pretty cool, if also kinda useless. So is the super-excited, earnest story of your band winning the chance to play at a big rock festival.
Granted, Ultimate Band is cheaper than competing music games like Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero: World Tour, and that would normally be a big plus. But when one considers just how much more game you get with those titles, how much longer they’ll last you, the savings isn’t really worth it.
Dec 9, 2009