When THQ announced Battle of the Bands, the first thing that came to mind was a Wii-exclusive “me too” band game a la Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Yeah, yeah, it would use the Wii Remote rather than a peripheral … whatever. Add on top of this unoriginality the confusing concept of “musical combat” and songs that dynamically changed genre in mid-level, and THQ was sure to have a stinker on its hands, right?
Not even close. Having now played and enjoyed Battle of the Bands, we now understand that THQ knew what it was doing the entire time. Yes, the game still has issues, one of which makes Battle of the Bands unplayable in some instances, but the core game is really quite fun, particularly with friends.
Battle of the Bands has a simple enough premise: select a band from one of five genres (rock, hip-hop, country, marching band and Latin) and go on stage to compete against another band for points. At the end of the Guitar Hero-like versus round, the band with the most points wins. Points are accumulated by shaking the Wii Remote as indicated by the notes’ position on the scrolling bar (left, right, down or a stabbing motion), and of course the notes must be hit at the correct time. However, points are also accumulated by successfully unleashing attacks on the opposing band’s screen.
Attacks happen automatically as players hit notes, with each attack requiring players to hit a different number of notes in a row. The initial attacks, which range from missiles to grenades, require players to hit three or four notes in a row before the barrage heads for the other side of the screen. The attacks later in the game, including smoke screen and electrified side rails, require upwards of 11 and 14 consecutive notes to be hit with the Wii Remote. Miss a note anywhere between attacks, and the counter resets for that given attack.
Before each round begins, players can select which of the three attacks they want to enter the round with. In the first few stages, players have only three attacks to choose from, but as they defeat bands and progress through the various “tournaments,” new attacks open up, allowing players to “select their loadout,” if you’ll pardon the use of Rainbow Six Vegas terms. Switching from one attack to the other mid-song is accomplished either by hitting the B button or pressing up or down on the d-pad, and although the selection is technically nice and graphically diverse, the attack types really end up more cosmetic than anything else.
With the combat fun but somewhat meaningless, the big draw with Battle of the Bands quickly becomes the music variety, which is where the game really shines. THQ has licensed 30 songs from various artists and genres, from Def Leppard to LL Cool J and The Commodores to Cypress Hill. In a game like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, 30 songs wouldn’t amount to much, but with the combative nature of Battle of the Bands and the diverse makeup of the bands themselves, 30 songs turns into 150 almost immediately.
See, in Battle of the Bands, the point meter and attacks take a back seat to a momentum meter that shows which of the two bands has the best streak going at that time. If the winning band is a Latin one at the beginning, you’ll hear “Insane in the Membrane” sung in Spanish and played like a mariachi song. As the tide shifts mid-song, and if the competing band is a marching band, the song will shift dynamically and immediately to sound as if a college marching band were playing the song. This back and forth is hilarious, and it’s an immediate competitive indicator that doesn’t require players to look up at the point totals between each note. Of course, that’s probably a good thing, because the momentum meter has no relation whatsoever to the point total, and it often appears to switch the momentum randomly just for the sake of keeping the songs “scrambled.” From a gameplay/technical standpoint, this lack of apparent correlation is pretty dumb. From a “fun factor” standpoint, it’s an ingenious move.
The only problem with Battle of the Bands, other than the seemingly arbitrary momentum meter, is the Wii Remote itself. On the Easy setting, the songs are slow-paced enough that moving the Wii Remote back and forth to hit the notes provides plenty of leeway for inaccurate movements, maybe even a bit too much. Put the game on Medium or Hard, though, and you’ll immediately see why the leeway was there in the first place: the control are incredibly shaky. Watching the cursor bounce around wildly, even you’re your hands aren’t moving, is an exercise in frustration, particularly if the opposing band throws a smokescreen or fast-forward attack at your side of the screen. This is less of a problem in the game’s multiplayer mode, but only for the simple reason that both players will experience the same trouble.
To solve the problem, it’s best to play on Easy or Medium while navigating the Versus mode, selecting the songs you most want to hear and the bands that correspond to the genre you most want to test with each given song. Believe me, once you’ve heard “Brickhouse” performed by an undead mariachi band, you’ll never want to hear the normal version again.
Battle of the Bands may have some control wobbliness, its momentum meter may be faked entirely, and its attacks may be more bark than they are bite, but dang it if the game isn’t still fun. Get a few people together, grab the kids, and pop the game on Easy for a night of laughs and fun entertainment. Rock Band and Guitar Hero 3 are bound to have their sim-tastic fanbase, but Battle of the Bands takes the music/rhythm genre in a completely fresh direction, one that’s perfectly suited both for the Nintendo Wii and for people who just want to have some fun.
- Score: 7.5
- Battle of the Bands may have some technical issues, but they seldom get in the way of having fun or interfere with the creativity of the musical premise itself.
— Jonas Allen