Version tested: Wii
To the tune of Blitzkrieg Bop, a gang of hillbillies bang double-barreled banjos against an undead Mexican trio known as "Scaryachi". Next, an edgy goth group trades the notes of Feel Good Inc. with a peppy, baton-twirling marching band. Bullet barrages, lightning bolts and grenades arc across either side of the stage, each products of timely Wiimote wagging on your end.
Battle of the Bands isn't meant as a serious competitor to rhythm gaming's recent heavyweights, but more a comic sidekick. A cartoony, casual approach to the floating note genre in place of plastic peripherals, players wave the Wii remote left, right and downward, with shakes and stab motions in between. Not just a showcase for your speedy joints, but a gesture palette tennis players should find comfortable.
For those not Wimbledon-bound, the setup will seem uninspired. Any gamer guitarist that's tasted the nuanced notes of Guitar Hero and Rock Band can breeze through anything Battle throws at them, and aside from erratic conducting, is wrist-shaking a proper or exciting analogue for actual music? Excluding Samba de Amigo advocates, nope. Thin motion template or not, we can say it handles relatively well, with little effort needed to pick up notes. Force feedback is integrated nicely, buzzing when you're tracing a jagged zigzag of shaky notes, and beeping through the built-in speaker when you block attacks.
But without appealing tablature, what's left? Gameplay-wise, it's weapons. Each of the game's 11 groups utilises three attacks to rack up extra points, activated by combos of varying length. Players can opt for safer combos to launch basic strikes for smaller scores, or try to string more notes together to deploy their special. These disruptive items can screen your opponent's playing area with smoke or make it scroll faster, shrink their notes or slide them about the board, mine their frets with bombs, or electrify the side rails of their beat board to deal damage. Swapping between weapons on the fly with the A button allows flexibility, as combos-in-progress can transfer to other attack types at no penalty.
Add in Battle's blocking mechanic, and songs become a bit like Pong - tapping out notes to send munitions your opponent's way; hitting the B trigger to repel theirs with a deflector shield as you're juggling Insane in the Brain with your right hand. Shielding factors in most during a face-off, sections where all notes launch attacks (in the form of a green skull, naturally) and bands alternate between offence and defence. It's easy, it's accessible, and along these lines we can appreciate Battle's emphasis on mini-combos over maintaining multipliers. Still: no Star Power stand-in, no solos to speak of, no customisable characters or instruments. Weapons do unlock upgrades as you clear adventure mode, but the depth is much too meagre to boost Battle above bargain party game status, we're afraid.