Review: ‘Battle of the Bands’

A creative concept is ruined by lame gameplay and graphics in "Battle of the Bands," THQ's response to the rhythm-music gold rush set off by "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band."

A creative concept is ruined by lame gameplay and graphics in “Battle of the Bands,” THQ’s response to the rhythm-music gold rush set off by “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band.” Players may be intrigued by the ability to hear familiar songs in surprising genres, but they’ll be put off by a design that maximizes the Wii console’s worst traits — low-fi graphics and imprecise, fatiguing motion control. Combine that with character designs that aim for edgy but land squarely on obnoxious, and the result is a title that will strike a sour chord in a crowded market.

The developers at Planet Moon actually came up with a clever way to differentiate their game from other music titles that focus on perfecting one’s skills. In “Battle of the Bands,” it’s a competition between two genres of the same song. If the band of country musicians is trouncing a hip-hop team, players are treated to a Southern-style, banjo-plunking rendition of Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain.” Similarly, players can be privy to a disco “Blitzkrieg Bop” or even a surprisingly lovely Spanish-language mariachi version of Def Leppard’s “Photograph,” only to hear the genre flip again when the other team, controlled by a friend or the computer, has its moment in the sun.

Hearing genre mash-ups of 30 relatively popular songs is the only reason to keep playing this poorly designed title, however. “Battle of the Bands” features a familiar fretboard-style game screen where notes scroll past as a song plays. Rather than strumming a guitar or tapping drums as in “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band,” the player here moves the Wii remote left, right or down as indicated by the arrows on the screen. Chain enough accurate notes together, and an attack is launched against the rival band that raises the player’s score, unless the rival manages to push a button at the right time to deflect it.

Simple enough, except that the Wii’s imprecision in detecting exact movements and timing turns out to be “Battle of the Bands’ ” death knell. Missing notes because the console thinks you waved the Wii-mote in a different direction or at a different moment turns a game that, at first, looks like it’s accessible to anybody into one that’s playable for nobody.

“Battle of the Bands” feels forced as it tries to bring the music game trend-du-jour onto the hottest selling platform, proving that despite the console’s promise of universal appeal, only certain types of games make solid Wii titles. This one probably would have worked better as a timed tapper on the DS, along the lines of “Elite Beat Agents.”

There are an array of bands to choose from, including metal and goth rockers, country crooners, and some Latin musicians (a few of whom make up a skeleton-faced “Scaryachi” crew). Round it out with a couple of hip-hop groups and a prep school marching band, and the title sets up some interesting musical genre diversity.

The graphics, however, are terrible, even for the underpowered Wii. What might have been some cleverly cartoonish character designs aiming to ape the exaggerated, goofy vibe of “Guitar Hero III” are practically grating on the eyes. In addition, defining characters by their musical genre leads to some questionable portrayals of redneck country singers and bling-bling black rappers. Add in the stilted “trash talk” dialogue before each level’s faceoff and “Battle of the Bands” crosses the line into flat-out annoying.

A correction was made to this review on April 24, 2008.

Battle of the Bands


A THQ presentation of a game developed by Planet Moon for the Wii. Rated T. $50
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