On the DS, Band Hero is compatible with existing Guitar Hero DS grips and also comes with a smart silicone sleeve that transforms the face buttons into four drum pads. Apart from the long-forgotten Daigassou! Band Brothers - which was supposed to materialise as Jam with the Band in the West, but never did - it's the first full band game for the handheld. It supports guitar, bass, drums and vocals through the DS microphone. The peripherals don't fit the DSi, which makes it incompatible with the game, but with 82 million DS Lites in the world Activision doesn't seem too worried about that. More troubling is the lack of any single-cart multiplayer at all; for the full band experience, you need four copies of Band Hero, which would cost almost as much as a set of Rock Band instruments
Most interestingly, Vicarious Visions is taking advantage of the DS and Wii's inexplicably neglected connectivity for those versions of the game. Without the need for a game card, the DS can function as a setlist editor - so people who aren't playing can choose and rearrange songs whilst waiting their turn, like a karaoke touch-screen. It'll also show stats from the current song, like the difficulty and each player's performance data. As a way of keeping people involved when they're not performing, it makes a lot of sense.
There's also a four-player Wii/DS multiplayer mode for cartless download called Roadie Battle. Two guitarists can play head-to-head on the Wii whilst two players with DSes play a series of frantic mini-games trying to sabotage each other's equipment; unscrewing things from amps, setting things on fire, cutting strings, switching wires around. That all has an effect on what's happening on the Wii screen, turning on lefty flip or making the notes flash crazily like in GH's sometimes-detestable Battle mode. The guitar players then have to shout instructions at the roadies telling them what to fix, and the DS players have to split their time between sabotage and repairing. Vicarious Visions sees it as a way of, for instance, involving parents who'll happily play games with their kids but can't get to grips with plastic guitars.
The game plays exactly like Guitar Hero, which means that there's absolutely nothing to complain about. Band Hero won't be plagued with the basic problems that less scrupulous rip-off music games suffer from, like terrible note charts or a stupid interface. By using the Guitar Hero engine, Band Hero ensures a measure of familiarity, but the track selection and general attitude couldn't be further removed. It's a clever attempt at expanding the music-game audience beyond the college boys and mid-thirties men with whom Rock Band and Guitar Hero's music selection strikes a chord.
Band Hero is certainly a canny product. Anyone whose rhythm-action needs are already well-served by Rock Band and Guitar Hero would be tempted to dismiss it as a shallow cash-in attempt, but that's not a fair assessment. It identifies a huge section of the primarily Wii and DS-owning market that isn't already buried in excellent rhythm-action games, but unlike other worthless band game shovelware on those platforms, it's a quality, well-thought-through release that has the gameplay depth to match its hard-rocking stablemates, if not the soundtrack.
Band Hero is due out for DS, PS2, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 in November.