IGN Review of Battle of the Bands
When it was first announced (as Band Mash-ups), Battle of the Bands sounded like it would offer something fresh and new to the music game genre. The idea of playing new, wacky versions of popular songs sounds like a lot of fun, and would seem like a great way to make a smaller profile game like this standout alongside power houses like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Unfortunately, this great idea has been poorly implemented, resulting in a game that, while fun to listen to, is not fun to play. The game mechanics are offensively simple, and the gesture controls are tedious.
The gist of the game is these bands are competing against each other, playing cover versions of (mostly) well-known songs in their own style. There are 30 songs, and bands representing five genres. So there are five different versions of each song: rock, hip-hop, latin, marching band, and country. Players pick the band and style they want to play and then battle against another group performing the same song in a different style. Whichever band is performing better determines which version we hear at any given moment, and it will go back and forth many times during each song. The audible effect is you hear a popular song like The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" being "remixed" into hip-hop and country versions on the fly.
Even though Battle of the Bands sports a pretty cool, original concept, the game doesn't do a good job of explaining this concept to the player. In preparation for testing the multiplayer mode, I gave the game to another IGN editor. He went through the tutorial and played part of the Adventure mode. But, when we went head to head, he had no idea that we each were representing different styles and our performance determined how the song sounds. The game doesn't communicate this basic concept.
Once you wade into the gameplay you'll find out just how shallow Battle of the Bands is. To play a song players swing the Wii Remote in one of four directions in time with the music. Direction indicators scroll up from the bottom of the screen like reverse Guitar Hero necks. There are many things wrong with this control scheme. First, there isn't any challenge to it. You can plow through the Adventure mode on medium without ever failing a song. There are only four "moves," and it gets boring real fast. You just end up waving the Wiimote around like a jerk, cursing the day motion controls were invented. The songs go on for way too long, too. Since these are cover versions they could have been abbreviated a bit to keep the boredom down.
Another problem with the control scheme is it isn't in any way related to the music. Nothing the player does is like performing a song. In Guitar Hero we press a button and play a note; if we miss, the note isn't played. Here, we aren't made to feel like we're part of the band. Rather, it feels like we're in the audience and we're being tested on our ability to wave our arms in time with the music. Guitar Hero has been a huge success on the Wii -- it would have been great if Battle of the Bands could have used the Guitar Hero controller.
There is an attack system that is used to get your cover version playing. If you land enough attacks, the song will switch from your opponent's genre to your own. There are also special attacks to trip up the other band, like a smoke screen that blocks their board or a reverse attack that switches their swing directions. You can upgrade your attacks and arm yourself before each song. This mechanic does little to deepen the gameplay, though. Multiplayer is slightly more engaging, but not enough to extend the experience past a couple songs.
The gameplay isn't the only area where Battle of the Bands treats the player like a child. After every single song the game tells us to take a break. Thanks, mom. Can I get some more juice in my sippy cup?
The graphics are decent, right on par with Guitar Hero. All of the bands and musicians have their own personalities and appearances, each performance space is unique, and the designers did a good job of differentiating them from one another. Right before a song starts, though, we have to sit through a totally phoned in diss match between the two band leaders. A still image is shown of each and we have to read their put-downs. These are the kind of production values we're used to seeing on the limited Nintendo DS. These days you kind of expect a little voice acting in your full-priced console game.
The track list is decent and the cover versions are rather hit and miss. Some are great -- the Latin and marching band covers are usually very well done. But some of the rock and hip hop versions are painfully cheesy. I realize it's supposed to be cheesy, but there's usually a way to pull off cheese without annoying people.
The coolest part of the game isn't part of the gameplay at all. The developers wisely included a music player that lets you play every song from the track list and switch genres on the fly. So you can play, say, "Jungle Boogie" and create your own little remix by switching between the five cover versions in time with the song. Pretty cool.
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