Let’s get this out of the way up-front: Band Hero essentially IS Guitar Hero 5, but for tweens. There are really no substantive changes made in terms of the core gameplay, features, and extras found between the two. As a result, it’s still very much an expertly-crafted game – it’s just that it’s an expertly-crafted game with a set list designed for pre-pubescent players who choose their favorite musicians by reading Teen Pop Star magazine. If that’s okay with you, great. Here’s your game. If that sounds like Hell on Earth to you… it probably will be.
Above: Screens taken from 360/PS3 versions of the game
Picking up any combination of vocals, guitars, drums, and bass in the no-fail Party Play mode is a crowd pleaser that lets players hop in and out of the action on a whim. You can double or even quadruple up on any combination of instruments between the four player slots. There are many tiers of songs to play through and unlock in different venues in the exceedingly straightforward Career Mode. Plentiful multiplayer options, the GH Studio for making your own midi-like tracks, and the integrated store for purchasing additional songs are also all present and accounted for.
On Wii, you’ll also find some familiar DS connectivity options like those found in Guitar Hero 5. Roadie Battle teams up dueling guitarists with their own DS-wielding comrades who play offensive and defensive minigames throughout the song to try to mess up their opposing team’s guitarist. This makes for some frantic fun, and it’s a great multiplayer option if you don’t happen to have a lot of extra plastic peripherals lying around. A DS can also be used to queue up playlist songs while others are in mid-song. Additionally, the Mii Freestyle mode is a silly way to freestyle jam to different genres. None of these features are really new, but they’re unique to the Wii version and worth fiddling around with.
The changes found in Band Hero are merely a matter of tweaked visual aesthetics and a music selection that draws almost exclusively from the candy-coated, mindless pop drivel that dominates the top 40 hits countdown. Depending on your tastes, this can make all the difference in the world on whether you’ll love or hate the game. Seedy dive bars and over-the-top rock trappings have been replaced with the pink and purple neon glow of shopping malls, music award ceremonies, chic hipster loft parties, and gigs at tourist destinations. Your band’s career ascension is marked by battles with ticket companies, making it into the local tabloid gossip blog, yoga fads, the opening of a restaurant, and even judging a groupie reality show. The entire game has been emasculated of its prior rock-heavy focus and glossed over with an abundance of tween shininess. Even the familiar Guitar Hero characters get a bit of a cushy makeover to look more clean-cut and stylish.
Then we get to that setlist, which is entirely subjective but undeniably targeted. For our part, too many tunes in the vein of Aly and AJ’s “Like Whoa,” Hilary Duff’s “So Yesterday,” and the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” made us want to pour gasoline into our ears and light a match. There are a few classic tunes for the older set to enjoy, including material from artists like Duran Duran, Pat Benatar, Devo, The Village People, The Rolling Stones, Styx, and David Bowie. But much of the good stuff is drowned out by a sea of whiny pop punk. It’s not a bad track list for the Wii’s younger, more casual-focused audience, though the overall musical selection is far more of an acquired taste than a typical Guitar Hero title.
The bottom line is that Band Hero is going to be an awesome game to those who happen to fall neatly within its target demographic. However, the developers missed the opportunity to make Band Hero stand out as a unique offshoot of the main franchise with special features and additional content. Instead, they simply slapped a coat of pink paint on Guitar Hero 5 and loaded it up with pop-heavy music. Tweens and youngsters who listen to the radio religiously will likely find this song list – and the fact that Taylor Swift, some guy from Maroon 5, and Gwen Stefani from No Doubt make in-game appearances – extremely squeal worthy. Serious Guitar Hero fans who prefer head banging, feedback, and stage diving in their rock games will want to die half-way through the game – assuming they even make it that far.
Nov 19, 2009