Battle of the Bands (Wii) review
"That will then send your chosen projectile toward your opponent, who should deflect it. If he doesn't, you score a lot of points and bragging rights. You're also rewarded by the sound of your own band singing. In heated matches, gangsters and hicks might be struggling back and forth to keep the twang in and out of a rousing rendition of “Whoomp (There It Is),” and that's just one of many interesting situations."
Battle of the Bands is blessed with the sort of concept that sounds pretty stupid when first you hear it. It goes like this: a bunch of bands are competing to be the best, only instead of the usual musical instruments, they've brought along some killer guitars and drum sets augmented by automatic weapons. Now it's a duel to the death as the bands fight for dominance in a variety of environments ranging from a blimp to the depths of hell to a farm way back in the sticks. See what I mean? It sounds stupid.
When you start playing, though, you'll find that it's really not. At least, the concept is tolerable and it allows Battle of the Bands to stand nicely apart from the other entries in what looks like it will soon become an overcrowded sub-genre.
Play begins when you choose one of eleven bands. These range from country acts (like the one I opted to use for my first trip through the game) to some funk-fueled aliens to more traditional rock bands, marching bands and even a Latino group. The selection you make here is important, as it affects the remainder of the game.
Let's say you go with one of the two country acts, like I did. Doing so will doom you to hearing the music from a decidedly hillbilly sort of perspective, plus your taunts--written out and placed in dialog windows rather than spoken aloud--will be suitably flavored. Each group has a few lines of nonsense one of its members will spout off before a showdown. For example, my saucy little country girl listened to an emo freak talk about depression and sorrow, then informed him coldly that her pa says she has ringworm. Later, there was banter about her pa being her cousin. Stereotypes abound.
A more substantial effect of choosing one group over the other also happens to tie into one of the main reasons you might play the game: to hear fresh takes on popular songs from yesteryear. These are not mega-hits like you'd find in a Guitar Hero or Rock Band outing, but a lot of them should sound familiar to you if you've watched a lot of movies or listen to the radio a lot. There are selections from the likes of The Ramones, Korn, Rick James, The Gorillaz and more. None of them are the original studio recordings, which at first might seem like a bummer but is at least a cloud with a suitable silver lining.
Because the developers weren't tied into static recordings, songs are now more dynamic. When a competition begins, your two bands will each take up their own halves of the screen and then directions will start flowing up from the bottom. As they pass over a bar, you have to swing your Wii Remote in the manner instructed. There's actually not a lot of variety here. You'll just zig-zag it back and forth, make quick stabs up, left or down, or thrust it toward the screen like a sword (in rare instances). That's all it takes to do your part as you work to manage a stellar performance.
Of course, I already mentioned that the instruments are augmented by weapons. Where that comes into play is that sometimes you can launch an attack on your rivals. This is mostly handled by itself. You pick your special weapons before a round, then you just play your song and sometimes you'll hit notes that are linked to an assault. That will then send your chosen projectile toward your opponent, who should deflect it. If he doesn't, you score a lot of points and bragging rights. You're also rewarded by the sound of your own band singing. In heated matches, gangsters and hicks might be struggling back and forth to keep the twang in and out of a rousing rendition of “Whoomp (There It Is),” and that's just one of many interesting situations.
At the end of a round, the winner is simply the person with the most points. Thus, clever players will get good at not only busting out the right moves but also pressing the 'B' button to stall attacks sent their way. Throughout each song, there will also come a few places where 'showdown' events occur and you either have the opportunity to send a few shots at your rival--which he will know are coming and is working to avoid--or you have to tap the button at just the right moment to deflect a barrage of green skulls headed your way. Such moments are a nice little diversion, but they do little to mix up the core gameplay.
There are just over 30 songs in Battle of the Bands and once you've heard them all, there's not much reason to begin a new 'Adventure' campaign and give them another listen. I couldn't find any convenient high score tables to speak of, and you can listen to the various compositions directly from the 'Extras' menu. It's even possible to mix things up in the middle just as happens during normal gameplay.
Another concern is the lack of unique game modes. You can play the main story as one of the 11 bands (which is just a series of competitions before the game unceremoniously concludes) or you can select a single match against a human or computerized opponent. No matter how you look at it, that's a lot of the same thing, repeated indefinitely. It can get monotonous after a time, which is perhaps one reason the game rather frequently suggests that maybe you should take a break before resuming play.
Despite its obvious faults, Battle of the Bands really is an enjoyable game. It's a hoot to hear a hip hop group singing “Man of Constant Sorrow,” and some of the country interpretations of popular rock songs made me laugh. Each group is represented by talented performers, so that even if there are times when the game is visually underwhelming, the audio is first-rate. With all of that said, there's still no escaping that the true appeal will wear off for most players in around 3 or 4 hours of play. After that, there are only the differing difficulty levels--which in their defense seem to be perfectly adjusted--and the multi-player versus matches to keep you going. Battle of the Bands is the ideal weekend rental. At $50, though, it's not quite an ideal purchase.
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 24, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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