The Hero franchise has suffered quite a bashing of late. In many ways a victim of its own success, the market has been deluged with sequels and spin-offs designed to milk the last drops out of this cash cow, and is now seeing sales leveling off. Widely touted as nothing more than a track pack for Guitar Hero, Band Hero is the latest addition to the franchise, so what does it bring to the table?
First, if you’re in any doubt as to Band Hero’s gameplay: it’s Guitar Hero. The gameplay is identical except that in Band Hero you can use the same instrument more than once in a band, which opens the door for 4-player karaoke, or if you have a peripheral-buying fetish, 4-player drumming. Band Hero is based on the Guitar Hero 5 engine so peripheral compatibility is the same (your Rock Band and Guitar Hero instruments will work in Band Hero on the PS3 and Xbox 360; the Wii is a bit more picky).
Band Hero is restyled to aim its sights squarely at the pop-loving casual gamer audience. Replete with blue and purple boxes, neon lights and a retro font that may leave teeny-boppers jumping with excitement and the rest of us looking for a bucket, the interface has been re-designed to be quick and accessible, and works well. Loading times are generally short. All the tracks are unlocked by default which is great for casual players who don’t want to slog through the game’s uninspired career mode. Trophies have received the same treatment and made considerably easier to acquire than previous Guitar Hero and Rock Band games.
Two minor tweaks also improve the game’s accessibility considerably: Singalong mode can be accessed with one button press after the game loads and drops you immediately into a quick fire karaoke mode with automatic track selection (individual tracks can be skipped if desired). Party Play is also accessible before the main menu appears and plays random tracks or your own set lists on repeat. You can jump into the game at any time you feel like playing with no failure; just pick up the instrument you want to use, set your difficulty level and off you go. This is great for use as a jukebox, and you can just dip in and out as you feel like it with no interruption to the music.
Further ease of accessibility comes from the ability to play songs in short mode, and to disable the drum pedal. The latter was made available for the first time in Lego Rock Band as an option; in Band Hero it is a cheat code which can be readily found on the interwebs.
The 65-song track list is meant to be pop, and includes tracks by the likes of Alphabeat, Duffy, Lily Allen, Taylor Swift and so on, but unfortunately in true Activision-style the smattering of good new tracks is diluted by a crescendo of American pop rock, which is fine if you live in the US, but for the rest of us we’re left with a real mixed bag and a fair number of songs you’re never going to want to play. This is a real disappointment when music games live or die by their track list. They could have done so much better for Europe.
This problem is exacerbated when you pop onto the online store to grab some DLC and discover that Band Hero fans have been immediately abandoned after the game’s release: the store is a combination of the Guitar Hero 5 and Guitar Hero World Tour stores, and provides no pop tracks whatsoever. The only DLC releases for Band Hero will be those released for Guitar Hero 5, which already aren’t too popular even with Guitar Hero 5 players. So, don’t expect anything exciting to download anytime soon in the way of related genre music.
The weak point of Band Hero is undoubtedly its career mode, which is a straightforward slog of 6-8 songs spread over 11 venues that gradually unlock as you earn more stars for completing each song. Each song has a bland additional challenge worth up to 3 extra stars (for a total of eight) such as hitting a certain streak, percentage of notes, only up-strumming and so on. These challenges add nothing to the gameplay and only a hardcore purist would bother trying to collect all the stars. The career mode is bland, boring, uninspired and stale. At least, you will be able to rip through it in a couple of days and feel a sense of satisfaction for finishing. One redeeming feature is that you can now save multiple progressions, which for example if you play like me, means you can have separate careers just for guitar or just for drums. This is a boon if you want to hammer through career mode with separate instruments.
On the multi-player side, things get more interesting. Online matchmaking is quick and easy, and you and your opponent or co-op partners can play at different difficulty levels. Offline local multiplayer is of course supported and here there are a range of new options – some good, some less so. Aside from the usual face off-type modes, there are various target-based competitive modes such as who can hit the most number of phrases, a strike out mode where if you make 3 mistakes you have to wait until the start of the next phrase before you can earn further points, and most interestingly a mode which starts at medium difficulty, and increases or decreases in difficulty automatically according to how well (or badly) you play. Some of the game types do not work well at all, but others are really fun to play with a friend.
Music creation fans will be pleased to hear Band Hero comes bundled with GHStudio 2.0 and GHMix 2.0, providing enhancements over those found in Guitar Hero World Tour.
Finally let’s turn to song imports. Band Hero allows you to import some but not all songs from Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero 5. For this you’ll need a free 288MB patch, followed by £3 and then a 1397MB download. The game doesn’t actually import; it just downloads the songs direct. All of your Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero 5 DLC will appear in Band Hero automatically with the exception of 3 Jimi Hendrix songs which haven’t been licensed. Band Hero songs cannot currently be exported.
- Lots of new play modes some of which add quite a bit to the game
- Easier accessibility, more options for playing the game the way you want, all songs unlocked at the start
- The same solid gameplay you’ve come to know from the genre
- Track list is fine for the US market but may be partially unsuitable for Europeans
- Lacklustre career mode
- No prospect of related genre downloadable content
Band Hero is an incremental improvement on the Guitar Hero series with a softer track selection. The acid test is whether the tracks will hold your interest long enough to make the purchase worthwhile. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Band Hero – it is a good game – however ultimately it is a tweaked version of more of the same. If you’ve never liked the series, there is no reason to buy Band Hero. If you are a fan of earlier games and have a preference for pop, you’ll probably love it.
Click here for the full track list.
Note: Images sourced via Band Hero website.
This review was written for TheSixthAxis by Katy Coe, the expert behind TotalMusicGaming. Visit her site for tracking and social networking around games like the Hero franchises, Rock Band, Singstar, Lips and Karaoke Revolution.