|System: X360, PS3, Wii, PS2, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Vicarious Visions||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Activision||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 3, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Band Hero for DS is ostensibly yet another title in the Guitar Hero On Tour line. However, rather than solely relying on the Guitar Grip to keep you rocking on the go, Vicarious Visions and Activision have included mechanics for playing drums and singing - Band Hero for DS brings with it a new drums sleeve and utilizes the DS's microphone.
While I really enjoyed the expanded ways to play, I wasn't sold on the new instruments' implementation. Add to that a set list that made me want to reach in my head and tear out my inner ear and an important game mode that is only unlocked by owning the Wii version, and it's not nearly as compelling a package as it could have been. Still, I applaud the innovation and look forward to seeing how this off-shoot of On Tour will develop over the years.
Of course, just because I thought the music selection stinks doesn't mean you will. There are 30 songs after all from artists such as Black Eyed Peas, Kings of Leon, Spin Doctors, Vampire Weekend, Pink, and many more. Also, the sound quality is still surprisingly good on the DS. The crew at Vicarious Visions have mastered music compression to give players a nice experience even through the DS's built-in speakers, though slapping on a set of headphones is still the optimal way to experience this game. In terms of graphics, they are a bit different than what have come before, as they more closely mirror the pop-feel the game is trying to capture. The game does not suffer visually despite its cutesier look. In fact, I think the visuals are just a bit more polished than before. That being said, don't expect true pixel art like something you'd find in a topnotch Japanese or Strategy RPG on DS. Also, the menu layout this time around is a nightmare. Well, that's a bit strong, but options are not well arranged at all - getting around this title actually takes some getting used to.
Presentation aside, gameplay is high quality and clunky all at the same time. Naturally, using the Guitar Grip comes off without a hitch. All of the quality, portable Guitar Hero jamming that has been a hallmark of On Tour is still present in Band Hero. What's important to discuss here are the new additions: drumming and singing. Unfortunately, both new play modes aren't particularly well implemented. The drums utilize a silicone sleeve that snugly fits over the bottom of the DS Lite. At first the drums skin seems like a great, easy-to-use peripheral. However, once you spend a little time with it, its warts begin to show. For starters, who wants to carry yet another peripheral on the go?
Second, the drum pads are stacked on top of each other - this causes major brain-farts at higher difficulty levels because they don't match up to what is scrolling down the note tracks. Finally, the drums sleeve only fits the DS Lite. If you were hoping to pick this game up for the DS, or even the DSi (foregoing the guitar portions), you're out of luck. All of these complaints could have been ameliorated by simply doing away with the drums skin altogether and mapping button presses to the left, down, B, and A buttons. Alas, there is no option to toggle this feature, so drums are artificially handicapped by Activision's love for peripherals.
Vocals fair no better. In fact, they're practically broken. While I loved the idea of turning my DS Lite into a mini-karaoke machine, the microphone detection is terrible. In order to get the game to accurately register your singing, you'll have to belt out the tunes obnoxiously loud. Now I don't know about you, but if I were a kid on a family summer road trip and were singing as loudly as is necessary for vocals to register, my dad would've snatched me out the backseat bald-headed. Even now, you won't catch me making a scene in the airport or subway. Singing in Band Hero is meant solely for the privacy of your own room. Of course, you can sing at a much more reasonable level if you bring the DS Lite up to your mouth, but then you'll be starring at the screen cross-eyed, tearing up, and going blind because it's much too close for comfort.