Battle of the Bands
- Developer - Planet Moon Studios
- Release date - 16th May
These days there's always an elephant in the room. If you're making an MMO it's World of Warcraft. If you're making a shooter it's Halo. If you're making a fuss it's Naomi Campbell. Pity poor Planet Moon, then, because Battle of the Bands is up against industry super-elephants Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
At a glance, it's 7/10 as usual. Instead of the icons moving down the screen and you matching them, they move up it and you match them. That should confuse the lawyers. Instead of doing combos to build Star Power for massive bonuses, you do combos to fire off attacks for massive bonuses. By now the lawyers have gone home.
But actually it is quite different. For a start, it's on the Wii, so forget button-matching, this is gesture-matching. Those icons with arrows on represent a direction that you have to thrust the Wii remote, with firm, Sooty-waving-a-wand movements the best. (P.S. Whatever happened to Matthew Corbett?) You also have to wiggle the remote left and right to match zigzag patterns - some as broad as the icon area, some much smaller, requiring precise hand movements.
The other actually-it-is-quite-different bit is that it doesn't just have adversarial layers, like Guitar Hero III, but, as the title suggests, battling is the whole point. Whether you're playing single-player or against a real-life friend, there's always another band on the other side of the screen trying to outdo your efforts.
This has several gameplay implications. Most obviously, before each round you have to pick from a range of possible attack moves that can be deployed. These will break up your opponent's moves, perhaps reversing his controls, and are activated by performing sequences of combos. When they're fired off, the person on the receiving end can block them by timing B-button presses to raise a shield, although if he or she can't keep the rhythm then the hits will rain down. The other implication, of course, is that failure is no longer missing too many notes and being shot down; it's not scoring as many points as your opponent.
But more noticeable than any of that is the stylistic implication: there are two bands on-screen, and the band who is performing the best is the one whose version of the current song is heard predominantly. There are over 30 songs (many licensed, from the likes of Keane, Gorillaz and many others), but they're not the original recordings or even "as performed by"; instead they are re-recorded in Country-and-Western, marching band, Latin, hip-hop and rock styles. Depending on which band you play as, you'll hear one of those styles when you're in front and another when you're losing. (See what we mean in the THQ Gamers Day video.)
In total there are 11 bands to choose from (each with its own strand of the Adventure mode for single players), and they're all made up of silly stylised characters. There are giant funky Afros and loud capes, sombreros and luchador masks, fire-breathing, suits of armour... Sometimes it's like watching Grim Fandango vs. Asterix and sometimes it's Army Men vs. Chili Peppers.
Overall it's clear that it's not trying to be Guitar Hero or Rock Band, really - it's a simpler, sillier game with a sense of humour and good old-fashioned abstract concepts rather than pretending to be in Almost Famous. It won't have as much hardcore appeal, but the controls work well and it plays a satisfying game. It's not an elephant-beater, then, but it's got some tricks up its trunk.