One of 2007’s guiltier DS pleasures was Hannah Montana: Music Jam. The pleasure came from several different well-realized instruments and a robust recording studio, all on a DS cart. Not even the Guitar Hero games do that on DS. The bad? It was full of Hannah Montana songs and couldn’t have been much girlier if it had forced us to paint our toenails pink and giggle into the microphone to start playing. Any male over the age of 10 was hard-pressed to find an explanation for playing it in public. Or at all, really.
Luckily, publisher Disney Interactive has followed up with Ultimate Band, a much more manly – or at least unisex – music simulation. Basic gameplay is mostly unchanged, though there are now fewer trips to the mall and hairdresser.
The impressive thing is that there are four instruments in play here (although three are guitars), and they all feel pretty solid. We’ll start with guitar. Whereas the DS Guitar Hero titles require a hand-cramping attachment to choose your notes, Ultimate Band gets the job done with just the touch screen and the d-pad. You see your guitar onscreen, and notes slide down the strings from the top of the string. Once a given note hits the target area on the lower screen, you strum the appropriate string or strings with the stylus, sometimes also holding the d-pad in one of four directions.
If you’re playing bass, there are four strings to manage. With a lead guitar, you get six. And if you’re playing rhythm, you’ll strum multiple strings at once instead of tapping individual notes, which actually does feel different. Granted, you still never buy into the idea that you’re playing a real instrument, but that illusion is pretty much shattered as soon as the giant plastic guitar-shaped controller is taken away anyhow.
The fourth instrument is drums, which you play by literally tapping the various parts of a drum set shown onscreen as notes fall from above and “land on” the drums. It’s a straightforward mechanism, though it took us awhile to get used to the different drums being at varying heights. The kick drum is much lower onscreen than the snare or toms, let alone the cymbals. You can’t just look for the note closest to the bottom of the screen and assume it’s the next one you need to hit.