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Band Hero
Score: 89%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4 (Local); 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Rhythm/ Party/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Band Hero is the latest release in the Guitar Hero family, continuing the tradition of band-centric rhythm games which include not only singers, but guitarists, drummers and bass players - just like what Rock Band started. However, Band Hero reaches out to a slightly different demographic - the tween/teen set. Instead of the edgy and gritty background story of your band that you'd typically see in the iterations of Guitar Hero, you'll see something more along the lines of Flash animation, with bold colors and a cutesy appeal. Yes, I know Band Hero "offends" you hardcore Guitar Hero rockers out there, because everything is a little more pop star than rock star, but what's here is good and will be enjoyed by the target audience. I do wish that the animations between the levels included nods to the band that you created, but instead, they aren't personalized in any way and you'll see the same band with its neon pink-haired lead singer each and every time. A slight disappointment. However, one really cool thing that I noticed was that during certain songs, your avatar will do specific dance moves, such as the Y.M.C.A. moves during that song or air-karate during Kung Fu Fighting. It was hilarious to watch and was an extra treat.

What really makes Band Hero stand out is the music selection. Yes, I know, another collective groan from the hardcore rockers out there, but Band Hero has something for everyone contained within its shiny Blu-ray disc. There are songs from the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's and modern hits as well, which makes this game perfect for pulling out at holiday family get-togethers. Mom can sing to The Turtles "So Happy Together" or Wings' "Band on the Run," while your little sister can jam to three different Taylor Swift songs and No Doubt's "Just a Girl." There's "Y.M.C.A." by the Village People and "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas, both of which are always fun. You've got Spice Girls, Fall Out Boy, Maroon 5, Santigold, Cheap Trick, Duran Duran and The Rolling Stones. The list goes on and on and includes 65 songs from a wide variety of artists. There truly is something here for everyone, well except for the metal heads. Not only that, but the game will make songs available to you from Guitar Hero World Tour, Guitar Hero 5 or Guitar Hero Smash Hits or ones that you've downloaded through those games. This expands your library greatly and allows you access to those via Quickplay or when doing a challenge. However, only family-friendly songs will be available, so there may be one or two that you won't have access to.

I do have one complaint about the music - the song "Take a Picture" by Filter. All of the songs are supposed to be master tracks, but this song plays like no version of "Take a Picture" that I have ever heard. It's terrible and very different from the radio version we've all come to know. Aside from that, the music was great.

Ok, so you know about the music, but there's also the ability to customize your character. You can choose from old Guitar Hero faves likes Izzy Sparks and Judy Nails, but you can also customize your own character right down to their tattoos and nail color. In fact, you can draw your own tattoos and even t-shirt designs. Geck0 recreated a favorite t-shirt of his, a silhouetted Spider-man, and it looked hella cool. In fact, another neat aspect is that once you create a character in your band, even if that person hasn't been selected to play (for instance, when I would just sing with no one playing the band instruments), there Geck0's avatar would be, slappin' da bass in his Spidey tee. It was yet another nice touch.

If you've played Guitar Hero World Tour or Rock Band for that matter, you know what to expect here. Anywhere from 1 to 4 people can play locally and up to 8 online. Each person jumps in selecting their instrument of choice (mic, drums, guitar or bass) or just 4 singers if you prefer, and they rock. You can play the Career Mode, where there's a little backstory and you work your way through different venues starting off small and eventually going big time. You'll start with a mere 4 songs to play in the first venue, but as you earn stars and points for a great performance, you'll unlock more venues which means more songs, plus you'll unlock more songs in the venues you are already in, as well as instrument-specific challenges. These challenges earn you additional stars over and above the maximum of 5-6 stars you can earn in a given song and usually a cool unlockable like a playable character (No Doubt, Taylor Swift and Adam Levine of Maroon 5), new clothes or accessories, or even new equipment and accessories. The equipment is usually rewarded when your challenge comes from a specific music equipment company.

In Quickplay, you and your bandmates can simply jump in to play and have all of the songs open to you, plus songs from Guitar Hero World Tour, Guitar Hero 5 or Guitar Hero Smash Hits - a playlist of up to 128 songs! There's also a Party Play Mode, which is non-competitive with no scoring so it's the perfect choice for family gatherings where those new to the rhythm game genre might be scared of making a fool of themselves. No getting booed off stage! There's also a Sing-Along Mode, similar to Party Play, but just for singing karaoke. In fact, as a side note, if you were a fan of the once-excellent (when developed by Harmonix) karaoke series Karaoke Revolution, you'll love Band Hero.

If you want to get competitive, there are a number of selections in Competitive Mode: Pro Face-Off is a duel where the drums, guitar and bass battle using the same note chart to see who can be the best. Momentum is where your difficulty level changes on a sliding scale depending on how well you are doing. Streakers is where you win by getting the longest streak of notes and Do or Die is a "3 strikes you're out" type of a deal where missing notes could spell doom. Elimination is what it sounds like, last man standing and all, Perfectionist is where you strive not to miss a beat and RockFest encompasses any mode, where players can vote on which mode to battle in. Naturally, if you need to brush up on your skillz, there's a Practice and Tutorials Mode. If you are more the type to tinker, spend some time in GH Studio where you can create your own instrumental music and post it online for other players to download.

There are 5 basic difficulty settings in Band Hero, plus an additional unlockable setting. Beginner is for the uninitiated. When singing, you don't even have to worry about pitch and for the instruments, just worry about timing, not which button to press. However, on Beginner you are not eligible to win any awards in the bonus challenges. Easy, Medium, Hard and Expert just get progressively more difficulty and stringent. On the Hard and Expert modes, while singing, expect for your timing to be absolutely perfect and your pitch to be dead-on if you want to increase your multiplier at all. While playing instruments, there's little or no room for error. Finally, Expert+ is an unlockable difficulty setting for double bass drumming. Expect your ass to be handed to you.

That being said, I found Band Hero to be considerably easier than Rock Band or Guitar Hero. While Hard and Expert offer a healthy dose of challenge, they are definitely not impossible. When I played on Medium, it felt more like an Easy setting on one of the other rhythm games, so I'd regularly score the 4X multiplier and keep it throughout the song. Considering this game is geared more towards family gatherings, that makes perfect sense and shouldn't alienate anyone at all. In fact, just dial things up if you want more of a challenge.

Game Mechanics:
To those who have been playing rhythm games for years, this section might be boring. Band Hero uses the same basic mechanics as Guitar Hero. For singing, you grab the mic and when the words come on screen (you can choose Static like SingStar or Scrolling like Rock Band), you sing at the appropriate times, maintaining proper pitch which is conveyed by where the words and pitch bars fall on the music scale in the background. For playing instruments, you will have what looks like the neck of a guitar running from the top of your screen to the bottom, with the appropriate list of colored buttons at the very bottom. As the music progresses, notes will appear from the top and they will approach the bottom. When they cross the "finish line," you will have to hit the appropriate button or drum pad (depending on your instrument of choice) at the right time, making sure you hit the correctly colored button/drum pad. If you do, you will earn points which lead to earning stars. Doing so in succession, you will build your Star Power meter and your Multiplier meter. Getting the notes right earns you Star Power and when you have built that up enough, you can deploy it by hitting any of the face buttons while singing or the appropriate button/pad for your instrument. If you are already up to your 4x multiplier, then you jump to 8X until the meter depletes. If you are on a 2X multiplier, then you jump to 4X, so there is some strategy as far as when to deploy it. You also have a Rock Meter which tells you how well you are performing as a band. If one member starts to fail, the others can use Star Power to pull them back up in rank. Finally, the Stars Earned meter is right under your score and tells you how far you are from earning your next star, which is important because stars open up new venues, songs, etc.

Band Hero is an all-around party rhythm game that will be fun for the entire family. If you already have the equipment from Guitar Hero World Tour and are looking for a way to expand your musical library with tunes that more members of the family can get into, Band Hero is a good way to go. It's an added bonus that you can access songs from the previous installments, which will help cut down on disc-swapping during your parties. If you are unsure as to whether you want to make the investment, below is a link to the song list. One look at that should tell you all you need to know. But if you've got a tween girl who is a big-time Taylor Swift fan, it's a no-brainer.

-Psibabe, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ashley Perkins

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