The portable rocking genre is beginning to get a bit crowded now. With a new DS iteration of the “Hero” franchise landing every six months some fans may be growing tired of rocking out on the bus ride to work. Activision and Vicarious Visions are hoping to move the genre forward with their latest release Band Hero. Like previous DS outing this game still lets you shred the guitar notes with the attached peripheral (which is still not compatible with the DS Lite), but it also combines the entire band experience by adding in drums and vocals to the mix. What we get is another solid, if not predictable effort with a completely different set of tunes.
First let’s break down what exactly Band Hero is and how it differs from Guitar Hero. In all honesty in structure they are exactly the same game. Colored notes drop down the screen; you hit buttons in rhythm and so on and so forth. No one needs the genre explained to them, but trying to figure out what is so different about Band Hero may confuse some. Activision has stated that they are trying to offer a more mainstream version of their franchise, which boils down to injecting the track list with stuff like Black Eyed Peas, Avril Lavigne, and Pink. Now if you are a fan of this type of music then it is great, however if you a hardcore shredder who plays the series for the complicated note charts then this may not be the game for you.
Anyone who has played one of the Guitar Hero games on DS knows that it comes with a peripheral that plugs into the GBA slot to mimic the fret buttons on a guitar. Band Hero continues this but also throws in a new drum peripheral. These colored pads are overlaid onto the buttons to simulate a drum kit. The problem is that their placement is one of the most awkward setups you will encounter. Rock Band Unplugged did it right by offering two buttons on each side of the PSP as your skins, but Band Hero forces you to train yourself the button placement as it does not match what is happening onscreen at all. This makes drumming more frustrating than it should be and thus not equaling the quality of the guitar.
Thankfully the guitar playing is as smooth as it was in the previous DS versions. The included peripheral gives you four buttons and the pick so you can strum using the touch screen. Everything here still works like a charm even if your hand does still get cramped after extended play time. They really need to fix that confined design for people with normal to large-sized hands. One of the coolest and most embarrassing features added though is singing. Imagine seeing someone holding a DS two inches from their face blaring the words to a Taylor Swift on their way to work. Surprisingly the vocal recognition works well enough, but you almost have to hold the system too close for comfort. This makes reading the words on the tiny screen a strain for your eyes.
As far as modes go Band Hero is certainly packed with stuff to do, but it does lack the recently implemented band progression some of the other games have. There is no sense of building your band or character to stardom here, which even LEGO Rock Band had. I am not sure why this was left on the cutting room floor unless Vicarious was going for the same style as the console version and thinking of accessibility as opposed to dedicated gameplay. The career mode here is your standard fare with you unlocking new songs, venues, clothing and characters as you progress which works for some, but others are sure to be disappointed.
In addition there are a few DS-only features that really set this version apart. The first one comes with a catch in that you have to own the Wii version of the game to use it. While it is kind of a crappy way to get you to buy both versions, it is almost worth it considering how good the Wii version of the game is. These are called Fan Requests and they offer up 50 additional challenges that you can take on that are actually quite a bit of fun in and of themselves. Having to sync up the game with the Wii version is kind of a drag for those that want to play this mode but don’t own a Wii or want the console version, but if you are lucky enough to have access to both it is a very cool mode.
The other DS feature are the touchscreen mini games that seem to come standard with all DS games nowadays. During a song you will get an icon on the touch screen that you can tap in addition to the Star Power meter. This initiates a mini game that ranges from slapping high fives to crowd surfing. Not that these are anything special on their own, but it is a nice diversion during a song that is entirely optional for the player. There is also the quintessential multiplayer mode that does offer up some enjoyment, but the best part about past games is sadly omitted. Being able to connect and share songs across various versions of the franchise is absent entirely. This means not syncing up with someone who has Modern Hits and shredding that collection of songs together.
Visually the game looks similar to the recent crop of DS Guitar Hero games which is certainly not a knock on it. The colorful visuals lend themselves well to the design and the characters are as over-the-top as you would expect from a Hero game. The sound again impresses coming from the tiny cartridge. I still recommend plugging in headphones for the ultimate experience, which with all other peripherals attached probably makes you look like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Band Hero is a solid addition to the portable series, but as they continue to segregate the franchises the audiences will continue to dwindle. On consoles you could combine the song lists from each game so the lack of that on portable is disappointing to say the least. Still if you enjoy the poppy tunes you hear on the radio constantly then this is likely more up your alley than the other versions. Band Hero is a solid game, just not a groundbreaking one.