Band Hero DS Review
When Activision first announced a Guitar Hero game would be coming to DS, people wondered exactly how that'd even work. The eventual result of putting a special controller into the GBA slot was pretty slick considering the immense challenge, even if it was entirely awkward and goofy-looking when played out in public. For some reason, Activision has decided to go one further and step almost entirely off the deep end with their third DS music game.
The DS version of Band Hero is more like a sequel to the Guitar Hero games on the DS - but now, in addition to the guitar grip add-on, there's also a silicon case for your DS Lite that allows you to hit four drums in a drummer mode. You can also sing directly into the DS' built-in microphone, so now the "full band experience" is available on the DS. Unfortunately, the peripherals for Band Hero are only compatible with the DS Lite, not the DSi or the original fat model.
As someone who's tried their hardest at the drums in the home versions of music games, I was interested to see what Activision's done with the drums here. Sadly, they're even worse than the rather awkward Rock Band PSP control scheme. The "pads" given to you on the silicon skin simply press the up and down directions on the D-pad on one side, and the B and X buttons on the right. But on-screen, the drum pads come in a left-to-right setup, so getting even a simple rhythm going takes a lot of getting used to. Frankly, it just doesn't work; I'd have rather they just put four pads on the touch screen and allow you to tap them instead.
But it gets worse - much like with past games, the space limitation on the DS cartridges puts a serious constraint on the sound quality that Band Hero can provide. The music is tinny and rough-sounding, and music lovers will quickly pull off their headphones in disgust and just play a non-music DS game instead. The Rock Band games on iPhone and on the PSP sound much better, and while the guys at Activision are trying their hardest to innovate with the controls, they aren't even getting that right - plus the music just doesn't sound right, and if you can't get that to 100%...
It goes beyond even that, though. Band Hero's interface is very annoying at times, and too many poorly-planned features are getting haphazardly stuffed into the DS with very little success. For example, silly little mini-games pop up in the middle of songs and ask you to use the touch screen to beat them for star power, but they quickly become boring after only a couple of tries at each of them. Multiplayer as the "full band" over ad-hoc wireless is in the game, but why would you want to share the pain with others? Finally, you can build your own playlists in Band Hero, but you can't even see the name of the artist on the list. Even the names of songs are shortened, and all the features of creating your own rockstar and such seem like they were only slapped on to pad a feature list on the back of the box.
Instead of all this, Activision should have taken the resources spent on these ridiculous features and instead put them into a better tracklist and higher-capacity DS cartridges so that the songs wouldn't sound like you're streaming an internet radio station on a 56k modem. And even then, all of this comes at a steep price: the Guitar Hero guitar grip peripheral (with included Band Hero sticker you can put on top), silicon drum grip, and game cartridge will run you a full fifty bucks.
Overall, Band Hero on the DS is a step in the wrong direction for portable music games. They've tried to go big on the peripheral front, but in doing so they've excluded a huge chunk of gamers in a wide range of ages. Younger kids may enjoy this and they probably won't care how silly they look singing into a DS or using the guitar grip, but I imagine that anyone tween-age or older will likely be a little too embarrassed to even try Band Hero anywhere but at home. And for those younger kids that wouldn't mind, well, there are plenty of better DS games out there that cost far less than $50.