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Band Hero

Score: 78%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Rhythm/ Party/ Family

Graphics & Sound:

Have you ever wanted a whole band in your pocket? Wait. That came out wrong. I meant have you wanted to carry around a band in your pocket? From the people that bring you Guitar Hero comes the latest in pocket-sized percussion, Band Hero for the Nintendo DS (DS Lite, but not the DSi, however). Not content to shortchange the portable with just one instrument, Band Hero ups the total instruments to three, (four if you count bass guitar separately) and brings family-friendly fun on the road.

Right off the bat, you know Band Hero isn't settling for a cheap update to the Guitar Hero: On Tour franchises, because it comes packed in with a guitar grip and drum pad peripheral. Other than having a drum pad overlay, Band Hero stands apart with its new art direction. By trending more towards "Pop Star" instead of "Rock Star," Band Hero uses much softer and more soothing color palettes, which means there are a lot of pinks and purples. Like all the past Hero games on DS, the 2-D Menus and cutscenes look fine on the tiny screen, but the 3-D venues and characters look like a pixilated mess. It gets worse as you zoom in on custom characters, but in reality, the only screen anyone would be staring at is the note highway and that looks just fine.

Band Hero is a much different game aurally than Guitar Hero. Instead of going for the teenage hits of "Rock" music, Band Hero is happier putting smiles on the whole family with hits from the "Pop" charts. With songs from Fall Out Boy, No Doubt, Avril Lavigne, and Pink, Band Hero has more than enough saccharine sweet music to fulfill anyone's Pop music needs. The only complaint is the edits for many of the songs. Many songs have references to drugs or adult-related content cut out entirely, which is fine for the rating, but that ruins the flow of many of the songs because there aren't any replacement lyrics, just an absence of a bar of lyrics. It isn't a deal-breaker by any means, but it is something to consider when singing along.


Gameplay:

I won't waste time explaining how rhythm games work nowadays, especially considering how many millions of copies Guitar Hero has sold, so instead I will go over what sets Band Hero apart from the rest and see if it's worth the 50 dollars... for a DS game!

First off, there isn't any real Career Mode to speak of. From the Menu, you just start playing songs in a "Freeplay" fashion after you select your character and venues. You can set up your own 3-song playlist from over 30 songs in any order, which is nice, but there is no sense of progression anymore. Songs continue to play out even if you fail. It doesn't make that much of a difference since there aren't any restrictions to the song choices, but it seems that negative reinforcement is the wrong way to go for a "family" game.

Once the freeplay form of Band Hero sinks in, choosing from one of four instruments is rather refreshing. Pick from guitars, bass, drums, or vocals in single player or multiplayer games. After extensive amounts of time with the guitar grip in the past (it is the same, after all), I focused on the new drums and vocals feature. Drumming comes with a silicone rubber overlay that you use your fingers or thumbs to beat away to the rhythm. It is definitely a learned skill and takes a lot of adjustment coming off of the guitar, but the basics are the same.

The singing feature is the strangest design feature of Band Hero because not only do you have to hold the DS so close to your face in order for it to pick up the right notes and pitches on the DS's built-in microphone, the lyrics just appear on the top screen without making any real relation to the rhythm and tempo of the bottom screen. Not to mention the uncomfortably crossed-eyes I got from having to read lyrics two inches away from my face! Singing should have been the most fun part of Band Hero, but instead it feels embarrassing, boring, and too awkward for anyone that had a desire to sing on the go.

The multiplayer options in Band Hero are surprisingly plentiful. Wirelessly connecting with friends is easy and fun, like in the past DS Hero games. But the neatest new feature is being able to connect to the Wii to download "Fan Requests." What are essentially special challenges, Fan Requests add an actual layer of achievement and accomplishment to the bland Career. Completing certain songs under special conditions almost makes it a game within a game, but still fun and compelling. Some requests turn off the color of each note, relying more on muscle memory than hand-eye coordination, while others speed up the song as the multiplier increases until the entire song is playing in hyper-speed. Unfortunately, the only way to unlock Fan Requests is to connect the DS copy of Band Hero to a Wii that is playing Band Hero and download them wirelessly from the Wii player's Career as they unlock them. The scores and fans can be transferred from the DS to the Wii, but that just means Band Hero for the DS was never intended to stand alone, and that is a shame. I had way more fun playing the funny and clever Fan Requests than I ever did trying to beat my own high score of Duran Duran's "Hungry Like The Wolf."

The only real problem I have with Band Hero is the inclusion of "Stage Stunts." The stunts are optional mini-games that appear in the middle of any song that increase your star power and rock meter. They range from the humorous, like crowd-surfing up to the stage, to the absurd like giving fans a high-five while avoiding hitting their babies. I'm not saying the stunts aren't fun - they are a lot of fun, but they don't belong in the middle of a song. It flashes an icon that distracts too much from the simple goal of completing the song and takes away up to a fourth of playtime from each song. There is a time and place for the stunts, but they most definitely do not belong crammed between the bridge of every song.


Difficulty:

As is par for the course, Band Hero offers many different difficulty levels for anyone new to the portable music scene. The options vary between Beginner and Expert, but with only four notes to contend with at all times, the dexterity factor of playing guitar or drums on consoles is taken away which makes Band Hero on the DS somewhat easier. It isn't that easy, though! Playing the drums is the hardest new feature because as the notes fall, you have to train your brain to press the right buttons between two hands instead of one like on guitar. The song selection is a good mix of challenging and fun. There obviously isn't any Dragonforce on here to shred fingertips, but there are some tricky songs to master, especially for the percussion-minded player.

Game Mechanics:

The real hindrance of Band Hero is the unnecessary peripherals. The guitar grip is fine and works the same as it always has, but the drum pad is the worst decision, by far. A cheap silicone cover slides over the bottom half of the DS and there are four colored pads corresponding to each colored note in the game. The problem is that the drum pad has each note stacked on top of each other. On the right side, green is atop red, and on the left side, blue is on top of yellow. When the notes fall down the highway, they present themselves horizontally as green, red, yellow, blue. But when picking up the drum pad for the first time, you brain recognizes it as green, red, blue, yellow, which causes a lot of confusion when trying to maintain a simple high-hat and snare tempo. Your brain can be taught how to cope, but it is just jarring at first. I would recommend taking the drum pad off entirely and relying on the D-pad and face buttons to hit each note; left is green, down is red, (B) is yellow, and (A) is blue. I promise it is much easier and less taxing on your thumbs.

Band Hero succeeds in making a family-oriented title on the DS. Unfortunately, the needless peripherals and bland Career Mode don't justify the price of admission. Band Hero would make a great gift for siblings that have to share playtime on the Wii version of Band Hero, but it feels incomplete without the fun Fan Requests that require Nintendo's other console. If you don't already own any of the other Guitar Hero games on the DS, Band Hero is great place to start, just don't expect to get much use out of the drum peripheral.


-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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