Version tested: PlayStation 3
If you're still wondering what Band Hero actually is - and I certainly was until about two months ago, when Activision started giving demonstrations - it's a pop-centric, family-friendly reskin of the excellent Guitar Hero 5. It's presumably been given a different name so that it doesn't encroach upon GH5's already-vast audience, or the image of the brand, because it's a bit like an evil twin - it's got all the features and all the technical quality of its sibling, but none of the soul.
It puts all of Guitar Hero 5's best and most time-saving features on proud display. Jump-in, jump-out Party Play is still in effect, and you can still create your own playlists for it. The game still remembers everyone's instrument, difficulty level and preferred character so that you barely have to spend any time in menus. The unified career is still structured around different arenas, opening up five or six songs at a time to try your hand. There are still Challenges that motivate you to play all the different instruments rather than sticking to one, and to experiment with your technique.
Good as all these features are, though, and as crucial as they are to the Guitar Hero 5's enjoyability and integrity, they make rather less impact second time around. Band Hero brings absolutely nothing new to the table save a rather perplexing makeover. The menus are all enveloped in neon pinks and purples, bright and clean-looking without so much as a smear of Guitar Hero's likeable scuzz. At the end of a song, YOU ROCK flashes up in diamanté. It's so plainly For Girls that it's faintly embarrassing - as if women who haven't picked up a plastic guitar before are going to be convinced that the idea isn't so ridiculous after all thanks to a change in colour scheme and the inclusion of Avril Lavigne.
As a by-product of this makeover, the on-stage performances have lost all of their verve. It's quite, quite horrible to watch Judy Nails simpering along to No Doubt in a mall, or Johnny Napalm strumming amiably away to Big Country, mohawkless and emasculated. The dudes on-stage, apart from the singer, do practically nothing except stand there and play instruments; the singer, meanwhile, prances left and right of the mic and makes the occasional hand gesture. It's not as if you'll be exactly mesmerised by the toned-down note charts, either, so you can't help but notice the lack of life.
Activision has craftily packaged Band Hero with the nicest set of plastic instruments yet made. If you want a nice new plastic Strat with a sunburst faceplate, metal pretend tuning pegs and a much-improved tap bar with little grooves to guide your fingers, or a new metal drumkit with a detachable control panel that's much more solid, reliable and aesthetically pleasing than World Tour's, the only way to get them is to buy a Band Hero kit. Asking people to pay upwards of £130 for a band kit they almost certainly don't need just for the sake of improved instruments that can't be bought separately really is taking the piss out of consumers. At least you can access the Guitar Hero: World Tour DLC store.