Band Hero has long been lurking at the bottom of the Activision Blizzard release list in perplexing proximity to the more self-explanatory DJ Hero and Guitar Hero brands, but until last week I had absolutely no idea what it was. It doesn't take much power of deduction to conclude that it's another peripheral-based music game, but why? Surely that could only serve to dilute the Guitar Hero brand? I'm not sure how many more plastic instruments my flat can hold. I can count seven guitars without even exaggerating for comic effect.
Activision believes that there's a section of the market that grungy, 'tude-packing Guitar Hero doesn't cover, though, and that's girls and families. The best way to describe Band Hero is as a pop version of Guitar Hero 5. The peripherals and interface are the same, but the tracklist looks like a female student's drunken SingStar download history - Maroon 5, Spice Girls, Avril Lavigne - and the characters and venues have all been given a colourful, family-friendly pop makeover.
If the worlds 'family-friendly pop makeover' in connection with Guitar Hero struck fear deep into your heart there, you're not alone. I was quite convinced that Band Hero was going to be a heartbreakingly cynical, focus-group-determined bastardisation of my favourite game series of all time, dressing Johnny Napalm and Lars Umlaut up in boy-band t-shirts and jeans and having them sing Robbie Williams like monkeys dressed in tutus and forced into a grotesque facsimile of ballet. The horror. Thankfully it's not like that - it's actually a valid expansion of the brand, with enough new ideas to justify its place on the shelves and distance it from Guitar Hero. Particularly, it does some innovative things with DS/Wii connectivity, a feature which developers to date have completely neglected.
On the PS2, PS3, 360 and Wii, Band Hero is built on the Guitar Hero 5 engine, but made super-accessible. You can jump straight into a random song in no-fail mode with any combination of instruments from the title screen without even having to go through any menus. In addition to all the quickplay and career modes you'd expect, there's a singalong mode which dispenses with scoring altogether, temporarily turning it into a casual karaoke game.
It's a feature that would be pretty redundant in any other music game - why pay money for plastic instruments if you're not going to play them, after all - but the 65 songs on the Band Hero disc are all vocals-focused chart-topping hits. There's nothing to excite rhythm-action gamers who prefer playing instruments to singing, but then the game isn't aimed at them. The DLC will be cross-compatible with Guitar Hero 5, though, so you can download a guilty pleasure or two from the Band Hero selection without buying the disc.