Battle of the Bands
Anyone here ever heard the version of Snoop Dogg's 'Gin and Juice', as performed by Vemontian folk rockers Phish? Or maybe Bill Bailey's renditions of a Metallica medley in the style of a barn dance? Perry Como singing 'Smells like Teen Spirit?' No? Well, if you haven't yet had the pleasure of any of the above, there is actually something strangely compelling and listenable about taking a familiar tune and going in a completely different musical direction. That doesn't just mean adding one extra bass layer either, and yes I am looking at you Junkie XL. Sometimes it comes off as just an amusing novelty, sometimes a marked improvement on the original, but either way this one gag is certainly not enough to form the backbone of a Wii game, as Battle of the Bands for Wii sadly attests to.
The surreal but shallow plot of the game sees you select one of eleven bands from five genres, to whit: Rock, Hip-Hop, Country, Marching Band and Latin. If your thinking that Marching Band is the odd one out, you would be right - it's easily the most tedious genre, and by far the least well characterised against the easily lampooned Hip-Hop'rs or Rockers. Your group of cartoon idiots selected, you will then engage in musical combat with the others, for reasons that remain opaque.
The main feature of Battle of the Bands, and the only element that has some lingering appeal, is in the mixing of musical styles. Hearing Insane in the Brain flickering between its original style and a Country & Western version is good for a giggle, and in the spirit of reciprocation you can also hear Man of Constant Sorrow re-imagined for hip-hop. The standard of the conversions is actually very good, with each of the 30 or so songs having a full re-write in each of the genres. The Latin mariachi band's covers are particularly impressive, and I can only hope that the bulk of the money from this project went into music producers pockets. Using the Marching Band teams is a let down however, as whatever they play immediately becomes the brass version of elevator music and a thorough chore to endure. There is a menu option to simply play the songs, enabling you to change style on the fly, which I can't quite work out if it amounts to tacit admission that you are more likely to enjoy listening to the tracks than having to bother with the gameplay.
The fight mechanic is directly lifted from Guitar Hero's boss battles, with both sides trying to hit the most amount of notes, and launching de-buffs at each other to make the process that much harder. The background animation of the fight, which quickly becomes repetitive, features the bands launching grenades and other lethal brick-a-brack from their weaponised instruments at each other. The first time you see each band, the Whacky Races style weaponry is amusing - flame throwing pan pipes, blunderbuss banjos, 50-caliber turntables, etc. - but it's a visual gag that works exactly once, and you will be seeing it quite a lot. Unlike Guitar Hero where the animations gave the sets atmosphere and jollied you along into your own little world of rock and roll make-believe, the background in Battle of the Bands is entirely ignorable.
Battle of the Bands is at heart a rhythm game that looks and operates a lot like any of the other rash of musical titles popular at the moment, but without the actual accessories. Tunes will play, prompts for appropriate musical actions will slide along a guitar fret, and the player will try and nail the prompt at the right moment to be the funkiest. Unfortunately, whereas guitars have been acknowledged as cool as ever since an unknown minstrel in the 12th century noticed all the maidens swooned when he played his lute with his teeth or set fire to a mandolin at the end of the show, waving the Wiimote has no such iconic charm. There are only four movements that can be asked of you - wave left, wave right, wave left and right quickly, and stab at the screen like an inept swashbuckler. This at best can make you feel like an embarrassingly superfluous orchestra leader trying to conduct Cypress Hill, at worst like one of Paul McCartney's witless audience minions waving your hands back and forth mechanically for the 400th extended 'naa-naa-naa-na-na-na-naa' refrain of 'Hey Jude'. You get no sense of being actually connected to the music as the tune will roll on irrespective of how good or bad your mimicking is, and the actions themselves rarely have much to do with the rhythm of the track.
Battle of the Bands makes the regrettable decision of borrowing from games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero (hell, even Donkey Konga) but only emulating all the really tedious or secondary bits without having worked out which elements actually make them engaging experiences. There is an online and a same-screen versus mode with which to battle your family and friends, but the shallowness of the experience doesn't give any scope for the game to be any the different when playing a human, aside from being bit harder.
Battle of the Bands is lazy game-making based around a briefly amusing idea. The producers seemed to have a general concept and a few character designs lying around, but no idea whatsoever how to implement them, until they figured that the motion controls of the Wii remote could shore up the gaping holes in development. Waving our arms around isn't actually intrinsically much fun. A fair few Wii developers would benefit from grasping that we don't just want to wave our arms to enjoy a good Wii game - and we don't pay for Wii games just as an excuse to flail about like a merman asphyxiating on the shore.