Poor little Band Hero didn't get a very warm welcome when it was announced. A harsh gaming community threw up a collective "screw you" at the game just trying to appeal to every Guitar Hero fan's younger sister. Most expected little more than a stripped-down version of Guitar Hero 5 that wouldn't be anywhere near cool enough for the hardcore rocker. It's true that Band Hero won't satisfy the dedicated shredders, but it does offer an experience that's certainly on par with every other title in the Hero franchise.
What's immediately different about Band Hero is its interface format. The menus have the same basic setup as Guitar Hero 5 but are much friendlier, thanks to a more simplistic design. Another difference is the style, as all of the menus are highlighted with pinks and purples to give them a taste of pop music flair. This theme carries into the in-game graphics as well.
All of the venues are brightly lit and have a softer feel to them, as opposed to the grungy style of the Guitar Hero games. The band members also look like pop stars rather than metal-heads, which is fine, but there are too few of them. Nearly every time I booted up the game, I was greeted by the exact same group of performers. It's not a big deal, but it does make the experience feel a bit cheaper.
Just like Band Hero's presentation, the music goes for a much lighter tone than Guitar Hero. If we were talking radio stations, Guitar Hero would be the hard rock one while Band Hero would be easy listening. The box says "music everyone knows and loves," and that sums up Band Hero's set list quite well.
Some notable artists include Fall Out Boy, Taylor Swift, The Rolling Stones, Spice Girls and many others that everyone is familiar with, even if they don't want to admit it. No matter what kind of group is gathered around the game, everyone's musical tastes are probably covered. There are also some very recognizable, albeit corny, songs that anyone with ears will know, like "Kung Fu Fighting" and "Y.M.C.A." As a side note to the latter tune, the lead singer actually danced during the entire song performance, which I was overjoyed to see.
The problem with such a wide selection of music is that not all the songs fit well with a set of plastic instruments originally designed to play rock. For example, at some points, it becomes obvious the guitar track is playing trumpet or piano notes. It feels weird and takes a big chunk out of the immersion factor.
As for the core gameplay, Band Hero is almost no different from other Guitar Hero titles, other than having a lower difficulty level. On the upper-tier songs, hardcore players won't find any intense solos to brutalize their fingers with, even when playing on Expert mode. Of course, we have to remember that Band Hero was made with everyone in mind, and not just the pro thrashers.
Although there may be fewer notes to contend with, don't think for a second that Band Hero is just as light on features. The game offers almost everything one would expect from any other Hero title, but sadly, the new mode isn't all that impressive. Sing Along allows up to four players to sing the same song at once and would be fun if it didn't turn the game into a karaoke machine. There are words on the screen, and players can sing into the microphone, but the entire gameplay system of matching your singing tone with the song is strangely absent. There's just no gameplay here, and it's probably a tad too simplistic even for casual players.
Yes Band Hero is supposed to be easygoing, but it's still a video game. There's no reason why the singing mechanic from the rest of the game could have been brought over. At least then, the player could feel like they were trying to accomplish some sort of task. To make Sing Along feel like even more of a tack-on, there's no option to create a set list. This a pretty strange omission since set lists can be created in every other part of the game, so why not here?
All these gripes make Sing Along a pretty measly attempt at a fun jump-in game mode. Thankfully, the Party Play found in Guitar Hero 5 does return and functions exactly the same way here. Users can hop right into a song from the main menu, and others can join in using any combination of instruments. Just like in Guitar Hero 5, it brings all the fun from the rest of the game but without the anxiety of failing.
All of the game's 65 songs are available to play immediately, but for the hard workers, a career mode is present. Players start off in the rock star creator, which offers an incredible array of options to mold and clothe their musicians in any way they choose, but after that, the depth starts to fade. Unlike the campaign modes seen in other music games, Band Hero only requires you to move from one venue to the next without ever throwing in some variety. Each song comes with a set of challenges that usually involve getting a certain note streak with one particular instrument, but there's little else to do. Since all of the songs are unlocked anyway, there's not much reason to stay in the career mode for very long.
The GH Studio is also here and packs all of the same depth as its sister version in Guitar Hero 5. The Jam area allows up to four players to pick a rhythm and play freestyle to the beat, while the Mix 2.0 tool serves as a way for users to go extremely in-depth and create their own music, note for note. Songs created by other players can also be downloaded into the game.
It's a nice addition and makes Band Hero feel worthy of the Hero title, but I can't imagine many people within its intended audience will bother with the customization modes. They're certainly not easy, and the song creation tool can take a good deal of time to learn. Of course, there's still the option to purchase new music, and Band Hero's virtual shelves are already filled with content, some of which is meant for other Guitar Hero games but can be carried over.
The game sticks with standard Guitar Hero formula in the multiplayer offering as well with modes like Streakers, where competitors fight to see who can maintain the longest note streak, and Momentum, which increases the difficulty level as you play. Up to four people can participate in the same room, but there are also online modes for bands to battle in more intense competitions.
As previously mentioned, there are 65 tracks in Band Hero, which falls short of the 85 in Guitar Hero 5. Asking for the same amount seems justified since Band Hero's price matches that of Guitar Hero 5. Since the game tries so hard to brand itself as casual, it's hard to understand why Band Hero is a full-priced game in the first place. One of the most important aspects of marketing a game to casual players is an accessible price, so it seems like a counterintuitive decision on Activision's part.
Guitar Hero players will poke fun at the game while playing their Metallica songs on fancy pants expert mode, but they can't tease Band Hero about having a lack of gameplay features. The game is a Guitar Hero title in almost every essential way but has a glitzy pop coating. It's a solid choice for anyone looking to buy a game that the whole family can enjoy with an angst-filled teenage son. It might be a joke to hardcore gamers, but Band Hero does an admirable job of playing the right tune for its intended audience.
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