Publisher: Disney Interactive Software
Developer: Fall Line Studio
Release Date: November 25, 2008
Since the advent of games like Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero and Rock Band, it has generally been accepted that the full enjoyment of each of these titles comes from using a controller that's different from the one supplied by the console manufacturer. For example, dancing with the standard controller doesn't feel as exciting as dancing with the dance mat. Rocking out on a guitar or pounding away at the drums feels better if you're doing it on the respective plastic instruments. While most people have accepted this as a requirement for a good rhythm game nowadays, there are some gamers out there who, for lack of proper funds or physical storage space, can't see themselves playing with anything but the stock controllers they were given. For Wii owners, Disney Interactive Studios has answered their call with Ultimate Band, a modern rhythm game that requires nothing but the Wiimote and Nunchuk to fully function. Does the instrument-less approach work, or are players forever bound to plastic instruments if they want to play music on their little white boxes?
The basic story line of the game is that you and your band are trying to make a name in the rock world by winning the big Rock Dome competition. In order to qualify, you end up playing several different venues, from your garage to a charity concert to the Rock Dome itself. Every level gives you a completely different list of songs to play with before you and your band can move on to the final stage of the game.
When thinking about Ultimate Band, the first thing that has to be put into consideration are the controls. As mentioned earlier, the game forgoes plastic instruments in favor of a Wiimote and Nunchuk combination. With four different roles in the band, each control scheme has to be analyzed carefully.
The drums, while being one of the more difficult instruments to play in other music games, ends up being one of the easiest instruments to play here. Both the Nunchuk and Wiimote act like the drumsticks. Downward motions with the controllers register as drum hits, while sideways movements act like cymbal hits. Outside of clapping motions made by flicking both controllers toward each other, there's nothing else a drummer has to worry about. Even in the higher difficulty levels, a drummer never has to worry about foot pedals or more than two note highways.
The guitar presents a good challenge to players, though it still remains easier than in other rhythm games. The C and Z buttons of the Nunchuk are used to simulate fret buttons, while moving the Wiimote simulates the strum. Holding the B button and moving the Wiimote simulates a whammy bar, while moving both Nunchuk and remote in opposite directions does a tilt. Changing difficulty simply changes the number of note highways from one to two and then from two to four, while adding notes appropriately. It will be challenging for some players, but those who are used to playing Guitar Hero and Rock Band will simply stick to Hard difficulty and not look back.
The bass actually becomes the toughest instrument to play. The principle behind the instrument is the same as the guitar, but the user has to tilt the Nunchuk left to get to higher notes and tilt it right to get to lower notes. Since it takes some time before the Nunchuk is recognized as tilting one way or another, areas of a song that require quick transfers between high and low notes will prove to be combo breakers because of the lack of quick recognition. The game also throws note plucks into the mix, which are done by strumming the remote away from the Nunchuk and holding the B button. The difficulty levels control both note highways and the appearance of plucked notes, making the instrument something for game experts only.
Finally, there's the frontman. Since the game is trying to keep with the no instrument mantra but doesn't want the band experience to be a three-person effort, the frontman doesn't have to sing. Instead, the frontman moves according to the icons on screen. This ranges from punching to moving the controllers in certain directions or holding the remote in specific ways. None of the movements are difficult at all, and they do vary enough to make it interesting. It doesn't beat the thrill of singing, but at least the frontman feels like he's the one hyping up the crowd during each song.
While the controls for the above instruments seem fine (with the exception of the bass), everyone will notice that the controls aren't accurate when it comes to the game's version of Star Power. When any player hits the A button, all four band members have their note highways replaced with gesture icons for a limited amount of time. Each player takes turns doing what is asked of him or her, whether it be creating an air square or doing a time-out motion. Outside of the silly nature of the mini-game, control problems become apparent. For one, the game asks for some specific motions to be done, but it has a hard time recognizing them so some moves don't receive the associated bonus points. The other problem is with the fact that the moves are so grand that you might find yourself getting hit with the wire that tethers the Nunchuk to the Wiimote. This rarely happens in a multiplayer game, but in single-player, where the person is trying to do as many of these moves as possible, you'll find yourself wishing that the Nunchuk was a wireless controller piece.
There really aren't too many game modes to be found in Ultimate Band. You have a Jam mode that lets you play any song you unlock. You also have a practice mode as well as a mode where you can connect your DS to the system in order to control lighting and smoke effects in any level. Considering that the number of songs when you start out is limited to eight, a bulk of the time is going to be spent in Story mode, which can be played with up to eight players. The story itself isn't bad, but the design sure is. The title forces you get a certain number of trophies in order to progress to the next level, but you only get three songs to choose from at each level and one trophy per role you take. This essentially means that you need to play various roles with the same song over and over if you want to get to the next level. The number increases if you have fewer than four people playing, so the only way to move forward is to repeat songs in the same venues. This is a really bad decision, as players shouldn't be punished for not having a full band with them at all times. Why this game would do such a thing when other music games don't repeat the process is baffling.
The graphics of Ultimate Band are actually fine. The art style of the game takes some getting used to, since it seems like a mix between American art and a Japanese chibi-style art that results in characters with big heads, small bodies and average-sized eyes. It's not bad, but it is something that you don't see in many games these days. Animations for your bandmates are nice and smooth, though the same can't be said for the lower-polygon crowd members, who have jerky moves. The song notes are good for all four instruments involved, clearly showing off all of the special notes that each instrument needs. While the note highways are good in single-player, multiplayer tends to muck things up a bit. The highways for frontman and drummer remain the same, but the bass and guitar players have their highways cut in half, making things artificially harder than they should be. Good players won't see anything too bad about this, but people who are just starting out in the music genre may not opt to play the stringed instruments as a result.
The main concern when it comes to sound is the music, and that's where things get interesting. The game contains 35 popular songs from various eras of rock. The list covers songs like "My Generation," "Crushcrushcrush," "Rock Lobster" and "Beverly Hills," making it as diverse as Guitar Hero. However, the songs are not sung by the original artists. All 35 songs are done by two cover bands, one with a female lead singer and one with a male. Because this is a Disney title, the lyrics for some of the songs have also been changed to make them more family-friendly. Changes to the lyrics won't make music purists cringe too much, since the edits aren't any more ruthless than radio edits to those same songs. However, the one interesting thing to come out of all this is that each song will fit the avatar used for the band's frontman. Taking the song "Fell in Love with a Girl," for example, a male frontman will have the lyrics remain unchanged. If you have a female frontman, however, the lyrics will change all instances of "girl" to "boy." It's another change that will make some parents and kids happy but make music fans feel betrayed. Outside of this, the only huge issue people will find with sound has to do with the clapping sound effect, which happens one second after the motion is done. It's really distracting and can throw off players who might not be concentrating too much on their roles due to the off noises.
Ultimate Band is a game that has its heart in the right place but comes up short in execution. The graphics are pretty good and the song covers, while pretty bad at times, play out fairly nicely. The single-player mode is good but spotty at times, and the same can be said for the controls on all four instruments. Despite emulating only four instruments, the game ends up being more engaging than Wii Music, thanks to the included playlist. This is a title that, with some work, can become a really good alternative to other instrument-based games. In the meantime, you might only want to rent this if you want a quick musical fix on the Wii.
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