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Band Hero

Score: 91%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Rhythm/ Party/ Family

Graphics & Sound:

The rise of the band-genre in the video gaming industry has been nothing short of meteoric. Though pre-dated by a few games, the ascent in popularity of these games really began with Konami's BeatMania series (1997). This series included several popular titles such as Dance Dance Revolution and GuitarFreaks. In 2005, RedOctane released the first Guitar Hero, a game heavily influenced by GuitarFreaks. Early iterations of these games included a guitar-shaped controller for players to use, helping greatly with the immersion factor. The Guitar Hero series has seen tremendous success over the years. Competition ramped up in 2007 when EA released Rock Band, a game which added microphone support and a drum peripheral. Not surprisingly, this upgrade also made it's way into the Guitar Hero series in 2008 with the release of Guitar Hero: World Tour. Interestingly, while the games which inspired both the Guitar Hero and Rock Bad series included a large mix of popular music (for the time), both of these newer series seemed to have gone more in the direction of classic rock and alternative music, leaving fans of pop rock and top 40 music without much in the way of song selection. Finally, heeding the call (and aiming at the pocketbooks) of an ignored demographic, Activision has released Band Hero.

For those familiar with the Guitar Hero series, Band Hero will feel like coming home, albeit you may feel like you are sleeping in your teenage sister's bedroom. The stylized graphics have not changed much in actual rendering, but the overall feel is far more glitz and glamour. Goodbye Headbanger's Ball, hello American Idol. From the staging to the characters, the look has been redesigned to meet the expectations of a different set of players. The game features guest appearances by several of today's biggest stars, including Taylor Swift, Maroon 5 and No Doubt. All of these performers were actually motion-captured for the game so that their movements on stage look like the real thing. Though somewhat meaningless (as I'm generally too hyper-focused on the dropping notes to see the stage show), it is a nice touch. Another nice touch is the ability to play as your avatar. Don't expect a massive leap forward in the graphics department, but Band Hero shows that the series producers and developers are still making small improvements with every new release.

Of course, the graphics in a music game are not really THAT important. What is important is the sound. It is a game based on sound after all. Band Hero includes 65 songs by 63 artists on the disc, all master recordings. In addition, 65 songs from Guitar Hero 5 can be imported into the game, along with most previous DLC. Both the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series have made huge strides in recent years in terms of sound, and this dedication to the music continues to show through. The songs all sound fantastic, even the older recordings. There is little question that my appreciation of the music behind the songs has increased dramatically as I have played through these various series and I find that I enjoy the songs that much more, having been more keenly exposed to the individual elements on a more intimate level. Though playing these games will never actually teach me to play the guitar or drums, I strongly feel that this new way of hearing the songs, even those that I have been a fan of for years, makes the time spent playing these games all the more worthwhile.


Basic gameplay in Band Hero is on par with other games in the series. Players can choose to perform a solo/band set in Quickplay, choosing as many songs as desired from the list of available tunes. Career Mode also returns. In this mode, players will traverse a series of venues where they will have to perform a predetermined set of songs, earning stars based upon their performance. Collect enough stars to open up more venues. This mode can be played solo or with up to three other band members. Also included is a Party Mode, which allows players to drop-in/drop-out at will, with varying difficulty selection and no fear of failure. It is a great mode when a group of friends with varying levels of experience are playing the game. All of these modes are structurally the same as those found in Guitar Hero 5. A great new addition is the Sing Along Mode. This turns the game into a basic karaoke machine, allowing up to four players to sing along to chosen songs without scoring or the possibility of failure.

Toned down a little from the full offerings of previous installments, Band Hero finds just the right mix of modes to keep the targeted demographic satisfied. Outfitting a character will likely prove almost as entertaining as performing the songs themselves. The song list, while largely from the realm of pop music, does offer some top hits from earlier decades, that, while not classic rock, are surely classic pop, or at least what served as pop during their time. Songs such as Styx's "Mr. Roboto" and The Jackson 5's "ABC" showcase their longevity, as a new generation learns to appreciate the roots of the music they enjoy so much today.


Just because Band Hero may be taking aim at a younger crowd, don't make the mistake of thinking that it will be a cake walk compared to other games in the series. While the Party and Sing Along Modes offer ways to play without concern for difficulty, Band Hero doesn't skimp on testing the skills of more hardcore gamers. Some songs that might seem innocuous prove to be surprisingly challenging, even on Medium difficulty. KT Tunstall's "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" is a particular favorite of mine, not because it is overly difficult, but because it offers an enjoyable and satisfying challenge.

As in Guitar Hero 5, there is a bar chart in Quickplay offering a rating of the difficulty on each part (guitar, bass, drum, voice) in each song. Though not entirely accurate, it does offer a good baseline of how challenging a song might be for the player based upon skill level and difficulty setting. Party Mode allows players to change difficulty on the fly, so should a player jump in and determine a song is either too hard or too easy, they can simply adjust without leaving the session or waiting for a new song. Overall, Band Hero achieves a very nice balance between fun and challenge that is easily scalable based upon the desires of the players.

Game Mechanics:

For those that have already played Guitar Hero or Rock Band in the past year or so, go ahead and skip to the next paragraph, as Band Hero functions identically to its forerunners. The basic idea of the game is to immerse the player into the role of rock/pop-star. Instead of sitting on a couch or chair with a standard controller, mashing buttons as the colored bars float down the screen, Band Hero provides the player the opportunity to feel the experience. This is done by use of guitar-shaped controllers and a drum peripheral. Using the guitar controllers (as either a guitar or bass), players must follow along as colored buttons flow down the screen via a visual representation of the highway (neck of the guitar). As these various colored buttons arrive at the glowing line, players need to hold the corresponding buttons on the neck of the guitar and strum up or down on the strum bar. Beyond these basic controls, players have the ability to hold sustained notes, alter notes using the whammy bar and even tap notes without the need for strumming. Playing the bassist requires the occasional strum without holding any buttons, just to alter the play a bit. Similarly, the drum set contains four electronic drum heads which correspond to the colored buttons on the controller and a foot pedal. Again, as the notes stream down, players must hit the appropriate drum head(s) or pedal in synchronicity with the arrival of the notes on-screen. For new players, this may seem a little awkward at first, but the learning curve is fairly shallow at the beginning, so most players will find themselves happily playing along at Easy or Medium in short order.

I know that some of the more hardcore band-genre gamers have turned their nose up at Band Hero, due to the set list and a perceived sense that it is a lesser game due to the more Hollywood-esque stylings. To these gamers I say simply this; you are missing out. Band Hero is exactly what you think it is, but it also offers a lot of fun songs and a general good time. If you don't like the game staging and settings, 61 of the 65 songs can be exported back to Guitar Hero 5 (unfortunately, "Mr. Roboto" cannot be exported), so consider the investment a way to potentially up your gamer score and/or add to your library of songs. For those households looking for an entry point into this genre, Band Hero is certainly a viable option, with an easy learning curve and lots of family-friendly options.

-The Mung Bard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Buddy Ethridge

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