Band Hero (Xbox 360)
Posted by Kuang on Mon, 02 Aug 2010.
The Guitar Hero franchise has been a runaway success story across multiple platforms since its debut in 2005, and has spawned endless variants and add-on packs. The next title - Warriors of Rock - is due this year, so until then let’s take a look at progress so far in the form of Band Hero.
This represents a change to the established format in that the game is focused mainly around pop songs rather than the rock and alternative setlists of previous titles. It still uses the Guitar Hero 5 engine so there are no surprises in store for anyone who knows the series. This means you get four instruments at once (duplicated among players if required), extensive character customisation and the ability to jump directly into playing a random song from the opening screen.
As with previous games you can take advantage of the practice modes, enter a band or single player quickplay or tackle the career mode which will see you travelling around the world and through various unlockable venues. There’s also a party play mode that allows players to join in at will, although as before it’s questionable how much use this will see.
So that’s the background. There’s nothing you haven’t already seen structurally, so we have to judge the title by the setlist. That’s where it all starts to go a bit wrong.
The problem is that rock music naturally lends itself to air guitar and drums, and that’s where the Guitar Hero franchise brilliantly tapped into an existing aspect of culture. With pop music, the band is always in the background (if they even exist) and you’re more likely to find pop fans singing into a hairbrush in front of the mirror than rocking out. When you produce a wholly pop setlist you alienate your existing fans, and I find it hard to believe that anyone wants to pick up a real instrument after listening to Alphabeat. This may well have been better as a karaoke simulator, but that’s a market that’s already as saturated as it needs to be.
Following on from the strange setlist choices of previous titles, you have a mix of pop from the sublime to the well and truly ridiculous and beyond salvage. You’ll get Marvin Gaye, the Jackson Five, Duran Duran and Davis Bowie, but you’ll also have to put up with Aly and AJ (who?), Lily Allen, the Spice Girls and the appallingly dull Santigold. There are tracks by N.E.R.D and Styx that really don’t belong anywhere, let along in a music game; show me anyone who gives a stuff about ‘Mr Roboto’ by Styx, and I’ll show you the president - and only member - of the fan club. Three Taylor Swift songs is at least three too many.
To be fair there are some good tracks in there including the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Counting Crows, Ben Harper and surprisingly Big Country, but there’s so much dross that you’ll be gritting your teeth if you’re a career completionist. The good tracks should probably have gone into a Guitar Hero game because they fit that market far better, and the rest should be relegated to Lips. It’s not just that they’re dull, but endless repetitive synths do not make a good music game and offer little in the way of challenge. When a track doesn’t even appear to have a real instrument in it you know that something has gone horribly wrong.
Just as a final dig, your unlockable characters are the singer from Maroon 5, possibly the most terminally dull jazz-pop dinner party combo in existence, Taylor ‘why write more than one song?’ Swift, and each member of No Doubt as they were years ago. Joy. The likenesses are actually pretty good, but that just means the perpetrators are more recognisable. Don’t expect thrills.
So, we have a game that really doesn’t know what it wants to be.. or if you’re a cynic, a cheap attempt to cash in on the family market whilst providing a multi-genre/generational setlist that ends up not really appealing to anyone. Band Hero should really have been a series of downloadable content rather than a full price re-release of an existing title with worse songs, and if you already have any of the other titles I suggest you give it a miss. One thing is definitely clear though - if Activision are blaming the lack of music game sales on changes in the market, they’re way off the mark. The Van Halen, Green Day, and Aerosmith titles were already poor, and Band Hero just tops it all off.