Battle of the Bands Review
It was sometime near the end of Battle of the Bands' country-latin mashup of Tenacious D's incredible song "Master Exploder" that I realized this game was brilliant. The fusing of two out of the game's five very different musical genres into a bunch of (mostly) popular music is a really great idea, and made for something that sounded really goofy yet uniquely fun. But I wasn't actually playing - once I started to, my opinion went downhill from there.
Battle of the Bands is a new music-rhythm game from Planet Moon Studios and THQ. Five genres of music are represented: Rock, Hip-hop, Country, Marching Band, and Latin, and two bands go head-to-head to play music. It rips off a lot from Guitar Hero but the new stuff here just doesn't play that well. The game is controlled with just a Wii Remote, and the basic play goes like this: flick it down for notes in the center, flick to either side for notes to the sides, make a stabbing motion for special notes, and wiggle it for certain sections. You unleash attacks against your enemy by choosing one of three and launching them by hitting a number of consecutive notes, and you can press the B button any time to bring up a shield for a split second to block incoming attacks.
That's pretty much it. The music continues uninterrupted if you miss a note, and the controls will tire out your arm much faster than holding something like a guitar controller. And I'm not sure who decided that waggling a remote around is remotely analogous to playing music at all, but considering that you get a track that moves like most music games (although it down rather than up), the music should be more in tune with the action. It is interesting to have the two genres swap back and forth in mid-song based on who's doing well, but they don't really blend well; the game just finds a spot in between bars to 100% switch over. In some songs, at some points, and with some genres it actually sounds really amusing and good, but at others it's very disruptive. Not that it affects gameplay, as you could probably do just as well with the game muted as you could with the sound going.
And part of that is the complete lack of challenge in Battle of the Bands. You learn everything about the game in a tutorial that lasts only a few minutes, and from there, going from easy to hard just means the opposing team gets more points and there are more notes for you to play. There's very little added depth that goes along with an increase in difficulty, and while the local one-on-one multiplayer mode can be fun, it's just not going to keep the attention of a Rock Band or Guitar Hero player.
The developers tried to add something substantial with the ability to unlock new attacks to unleash on your enemies, and you still have the choice of using older ones that don't require as many consecutive notes to fire - doing that is good when your enemy is unleashing his own attacks that almost ensure that you miss some of the notes. This system is decent for versus mode, but it's really just annoying that in the single player mode you can't just play, meaning that there's always either another player or an AI opponent trying to screw you up. I know that's the point of the game, but some kind of practice mode could have been acceptable too. One thing I like is the ability to play any of the songs right from the start in a jukebox mode and switch between genres almost on the fly, but it's just not enough to redeem the game.
The choice of songs is pretty amusing, with 30 tracks from the five genres included here - although the biggest focus is on popular music. To me, the highlights are Gorillaz' "Feel Good Inc.", Tenacious D's over-the-top "Master Exploder", and a few others. For a guilty pleasure, I would have to choose "Whoomp! (There it is)" as my favorite. If only they had "Rump Shaker" on here, too. Some of the hip-hop tracks like "Mama Said Knock You Out" and "Insane in the Brain" just don't really work that well, as some of the covers - in these cases, the hip-hop ones - are just poor. And while the game does include a full five versions of all songs, all are covers and many just aren't right. I like that, for example, the Latin covers are sung in Spanish, and the music is still overall the strongest point of the game, but some of the covers just don't work and the gameplay winds up leaving a lot to be desired.
The presentation of Battle of the Bands is pretty solid, with cartoon-style bands that fire weapons at each other as you play (and go through some horrible text-only trash talk before every match). This makes the game pretty good to watch as you can enjoy the goofy music and band shenanigans, but it's just not nearly as fun to actually play. I don't think that the plan to make this a full-priced Wii game was bad, as the musical selection is ambitious, but in the final product the implementation of such simplistic Wii controls just don't work and really drag the fun factor down. This one could be a good buy once the price goes down and if you are sick of playing other music games day in and day out.