Band Hero Review

By Michael Thomsen - Posted Nov 03, 2009

Though you can't blame Activision for wanting to extend one of their most valuable brands to as many platforms as possible, they've done a disservice to both the brand and the unique strengths of the DS in this shoe-horn job.

The Pros
  • Drum pad peripheral works
  • Karaoke on-the-go
  • Multiplayer modes are good, if basic
The Cons
  • Awful song selection
  • No real structure
  • Gameplay doesn't really work for portables
  • Only 30 songs

In all my time playing Guitar Hero and Rock Band games throughout the years, I’ve never once thought to myself, “You know, this would be awesome on a handheld.” Band Hero on the Nintendo DS is a great example of a game that no one asked for and few will bother to remember after a few hours of play.

Band Hero (DS)

The Same But Worse

Music games are perfectly suited for handhelds, but Band Hero asks far too much of the DS while trying to translate the full console experience into an on-the-go version. Like Rock Band and Guitar Hero World Tour, Band Hero lets you play guitar, bass, drums, or sing with a track list that skews towards pop familiarity instead of hard rock fantasy. Swap in Black Eyed Peas for Black Sabbath and Avril Lavigne for At The Gates, and you’ll start to get an idea of the Band Hero track list.

The guitar and bass modes work with the Guitar Hero On Tour peripheral that plugs into the Gameboy Advance port. With your hands criss-crossed you’ll strum on the touch screen while hitting notes on the peripheral. It’s an inelegant design that works, but without being satisfying in the full-bodied rock star way you get on a home console.

For the drum section, Band Hero comes with a rubber cover that fits over the lower half of the DS. It covers the D-pad and face buttons with four drum pads that you mash in time with the notes coming down the highway. It’s completely functional and feels better than the mixed up guitar and bass, but playing some of the more complicated beats with your thumbs isn’t much fun. The singing part is the most fun, but the DS mic just isn’t very accurate and that makes the scoring feel arbitrary.

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”She Doesn’t Love Me, Why Should Anyone?”

There isn’t much to Band Hero if you’re playing alone. You can customize your characters and unlock new instruments by earning 5 star rankings on each song, but there isn’t any real structure. All 30 songs are unlocked from the start and there aren’t any tours or storylines to guide your play.

There is a good multiplayer mode that allows for up to four DS connections and you can play cooperatively or competitively. This multiplayer mode offers another hour or two worth of distraction; however it doesn’t cover up for the fact that the gameplay in each segment is a compromised adaptation of a game design that should never have been brought to the DS.

The song list has shrunk, too. While it’s an attempt to bring a more mainstream sensibility to the Hero brand, the songs feel like a hash of left-over tracks. In 2009, who really wants to play a game that puts KT Tunstall, Queens of the Stone Age, Sum 41, and Avril Lavigne into the same package? Not me.

Band Hero (DS)

It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing

Playing Rock Band and Guitar Hero isn’t just about hitting buttons in time with the music. Both games are full body experiences that work best when you’re moving in time with a group of friends surrounding you. Band Hero DS has translated the button-pushing function in a workable, if compromised way, but the exuberant joy of rocking out just doesn’t come through.

Though you can’t blame Activision for wanting to extend one of their most valuable brands to as many platforms as possible, they’ve done a disservice to both the brand and the unique strengths of the DS in this shoe-horn job. The DS is home to some brilliant music games that make wonderful use of the touchscreen and microphone features, including games like Electroplankton, Elite Beat Agents, KORG DS-10, and Rhythm Heaven...just to name a few.

Band Hero might hold the attention of some younger gamers for a few hours, but it’s a game that deserves to be forgotten. Odds are strong that it will be forgotten in 3, 2, 1…