Developer: Planet Moon Studio
Release Date: April 22, 2008
In the age of popular music simulation games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band, it comes as little surprise that other companies want to get a piece of the lucrative pie. It's not as easy as just throwing together a faux guitar and some music and setting it loose on the consumer. In order to make a true splash, you must create something fresh but maintain the familiar feel of the rhythm gaming genre. Planet Moon Studios has definitely offered up something new with Battle of the Bands for the Wii, but does the game either meet or exceed the popularity that's been achieved by other music simulation offerings?
Battle of the Bands is unlike Guitar Hero or Rock Band in that no guitar peripheral is needed, and you can play the game with just your Wiimote. While the other titles task you with playing a song as thoroughly and perfectly as possible, you'll have to fight against another band for supremacy in Battle of the Bands. What makes this prospect even better is that the opposing band isn't simply another rock band, but could potentially be a country, hip-hop, Latin or marching band. This gives the soundtrack a bit of flair that's not found in the more well-known Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
I wasn't kidding when I said that you'd have to "fight" against another band. When you first get into a battle with another band, you'll instantly be vying for control of the song. The music bar between the bands indicates which player is the latest to accurately string together a combination of notes, and if you gain the upper hand, your song style will be played instead of your opponent's. The side to which the arrow is pointing is the one whose song style is dominant at the moment, but it's not indicative of a higher score, so it doesn't necessarily mean that the person is winning. It's a good way to listen to a song change as the tug-of-war between the two players' musical styles ensues. While the song is being played in your genre, you'll earn more points for each successive note you hit, and the same goes for the opposing band.
The way you get control of the song is by using the weapons at your disposal. Before the song starts, you can select three attacks that you can bring into the match: light, heavy and special. There are approximately 70 different attacks in the game (fire, lightning, smoke screen, etc.), 15 of which are of the special variety. The number next to the weapon indicates how many notes you'll have to string together before you'll be able to use the attack. If you hit a string of notes correctly, you'll get the chance to use it against the opposing band. Hitting them results in extra points for you, and, if they control the song, will allow you the chance to regain control of it. For those who relish the obvious "rubber banding" that would likely occur with this method of gameplay, the developers have incorporated a blocking mechanism that works surprisingly well. Should you see the attack coming, you'll have the chance to block it before it hits you.
Of course, all of this means nothing if the gameplay doesn't live up to the genre expectations, and this is exactly where Battle of the Bands falters. Much like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, you'll be tasked with hitting the correct notes in succession. As the notes come up the screen, you'll have to either flick the Wiimote left, right, or down, depending on where the notes are located. You'll also need to waggle the Wiimote to the left and right when a small zigzag appears, and wave it widely for bigger zigzag. Notes with crosshairs on them require you to quickly thrust the Wiimote toward the screen in a stabbing motion. The directional motions work well enough, and the zigzag controls are fairly competent, but the stabbing motion is a very hit-or-miss prospect and sometimes just didn't register.
Although the controls could have used some improvement, that's not where Battle of the Bands really stumbles. Despite having decent rhythm gameplay, the true annoyance is in the fact that it doesn't really matter if you miss a beat. If you were to miss a note or skip a beat in Guitar Hero or Rock Band, it would reflect in the actual song; if you don't play the note, then you won't hear it played in the actual tune. In Battle of the Bands, you can miss all the notes you want, and you'll still hear them. It takes away much of the feeling of actually being in the band, as opposed to just watching the band.
In titles like Battle of the Bands, the audio soundtrack is probably the most important feature, and much to my delight, the game performs exceptionally well in this regard. While there are only 30 tracks to enjoy, each has been recorded in five different genres, and the music is actually quite good. The real treat is in listening to some tracks in genres that you'd never expect to hear, such as "Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones as a country tune. In addition, if you are listening to the Latin version of a song, even the lyrics will change from English to Spanish. It's a very neat feature that many music lovers will enjoy.
The graphics for Battle of the Bands are mediocre at best. While the art direction is cartoony, the textures and backgrounds can get a bit tiresome. None of the music simulation games have ever boasted outstanding visuals, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that Battle of the Bands doesn't, either. The title supports 16:9, which is always a nice treat for Wii games, as it isn't mandatory.
The versus mode of Battle of the Bands basically offers exactly what you'd expect from the name. You and a friend start up a game, pick a band, play a specific song, and there's not much more to it beyond that. Planet Moon decided to not include any form of online play or variation on the main game. It seems like such a shame that the multiplayer portion doesn't live up to what you'd expect from a game named Battle of the Bands.
With Battle of the Bands, Planet Moon Studios has essentially developed an introductory music simulation game. It may be a good title to tide over rhythm gaming fanatics until Rock Band comes out for the Wii or Guitar Hero IV hits later this year. It's cheaper than either Guitar Hero or Rock Band, since it relies on the Wiimote and doesn't require additional peripherals. It's simple enough that it can serve as a good "gateway game" for those who have been too intimidated by the prices or commitment required by other rhythm titles. Much of the music and gameplay in Battle of the Bands is pleasant enough, but don't expect to find the next truly revolutionary rhythm gaming experience.
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