Band Hero Review

By Russ Fischer - Posted Nov 03, 2009

Love music games but think Rock Band has too much rock and Guitar Hero that nasty guitar? Then Band Hero, so named because "Pop Hero" sounds a bit funny, might be for you. The art is shiny and friendly, the songs are (mostly) culled from the pop charts, and there's even a karaoke mode for those times when plastic instruments just aren't appropriate. But does Band Hero hit the mark for its target pop audience or fall flat?

The Pros
  • Good, accessible presentation
  • Sprinkled with fun music biz satire
  • Slightly more forgiving vocals
The Cons
  • May not be compatible with all previous DLC
  • Can't easily switch difficulty before each song
  • Hilary Duff. Got a problem with that?

Love music games but think Rock Band has too much rock and Guitar Hero that nasty guitar? Then Band Hero, so named because “Pop Hero” sounds a bit funny, might be for you. The art is shiny and friendly, the songs are (mostly) culled from the pop charts, and there's even a karaoke mode for those times when plastic instruments just aren't appropriate. But does Band Hero hit the mark for its target pop audience or fall flat?

Band Hero

More Hits than a Street Fighter Tournament

The playlist is designed to appeal to younger players and fans of easy pop tunes, featuring  some Hilary Duff, Santigold (formerly Santogold), Papa Roach, Hinder, Maroon 5 and Janet Jackson. A few songs featured in Band Hero should have hit music games long ago, such as Styx’s “Mr. Roboto” and Big Country’s “In a Big Country”. Most of the track list, however, is drawn from recent pop hits. Rock fans will be unimpressed, but it's not like Activision is trying to put one over on them -- there are no major gameplay advances beyond the Guitar Hero 5 template. This is essentially GH5 reskinned to be more family-friendly. If the song list isn't to your taste, just move on.

Notably though, Band Hero's song selection is about 20% leaner than GH5’s. Sixty-five real songs are joined by six Neversoft compositions.  Out of these, 61 (sadly not “Mr. Roboto”) can be exported to GH5 for five bucks, while 69 of GH5's 85 tracks can be imported to Band Hero for six bucks. Some GH: Smash Hits and GH World Tour songs will be importable as well, and most (that's what Activision says: most) of your DLC will work with this game. Confused yet? Blame the lawyers!

Guitar Hero: Bedazzled Edition


As in GH5, the catalog layout screens are easy to read, playlists are easily created, and players can drop in and out at will in the cool party play mode. Karaoke Mode, known as Sing-a-long mode, lets up to four people sing together in a pure karaoke interface. Nothing special, but it's a nice little touch.

While all this is great, a few Guitar Hero complaints still linger.  In Rock Band, the ability to set the difficulty for each player in the startup menu of each song is a huge help when rotating players at a house party. In Band Hero, you pick song difficulty before picking your character and instrument, which makes for plenty of menu backtracking when playing with guests of various skill levels. Also, activating Star Power while drumming still requires hitting the yellow and orange cymbals simultaneously, a pain for less-experienced players struggling just to nail the notes on-screen.

Presentation is positively sparkly, favoring pink and neon. It benefits from GH5's advancements in animation, and the characters and venues all look better than in Neversoft's previous attempts. A satirical spirit is still at work in the cutscenes, with Neversoft poking fun at “We Are the World”-style celebrity philanthropy and the willingness of fans to be part of the show no matter what. There are also a few dinosaur rock references buried in the game. The Montreux Smoke and Water festival, Career Mode's second venue, is named after the same festival that led to Deep Purple's “Smoke on the Water”.

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Sparkly Doesn't Mean Easy

If you're thinking that pop songs translate into easy instrument parts, think again. Sure there are some easy songs, just as in every rhythm game, but try Expert drumming along with “Whip It” or “Love is a Battlefield”.  Five-starring those tracks takes serious robo-skills. Compare the drum parts in “Bad Reputation” and “Rio” with the Rock Band versions and you'll see that they're just as demanding. Guitar and bass get some workouts too, but in general though expert players might not be challenged, but they won't be bored either.

As in Guitar Hero 5, here the one instrument that seems to get a pass is the human voice. I saw people passing “Under Pressure” by Queen and Bowie on Expert who wouldn't be able to pass the Hard version in Rock Band.  Poorly warbling through a track on Expert won't cut it, but it takes a lot more suckage to fail. You might squeak by with two stars (which never really happens in Rock Band), all in the spirit of keeping the rock rockin’.

Band Hero

Unleash Your Inner Animal?


It’s worth noting that with Band Hero, Activision had a convenient excuse to slightly revamp its drum hardware. The new kit is smaller and lighter, has a crossbar to which the kick pedal connects (finally), and features round cymbals rather than the triangular ones from World Tour. Only Wii owners get the new skins at the outset while the new 360 and PS3 drums will drop shortly. Buy a 360 or PS3 bundle on launch day, and you're getting Guitar Hero World Tour drum hardware inside.

Band Hero

Saturation Point


In a better world, Activision would just come up with an online store where you could download a song collection and choose from a few front ends and character sets. Instead they keep pumping out various alternate editions of the Hero franchise.  Within six weeks, Guitar Hero: Van Halen, DJ Hero and Band Hero have all hit. That's madly confusing to the casual audience.

But for that same casual audience, Band Hero is a good package. It combines pop hits for younger players with classic tunes for their parents. It contains many of the mechanics that made Guitar Hero 5 a much-improved sequel. Although it has some of that game’s quirks, it adds some charm of its own. It's almost impossible to please everyone all the time with a music game, but for the less hardcore just looking for hits, Band Hero nails all the notes.