Battle of the Bands

Battle of the Bands

Written by Dave Gamble on 5/5/2008 for Wii  

Not every idea that looks good on paper actually works as well as anticipated once implemented. Just as Edna Morris. "Who?" you ask, "is Edna Morris?" Edna is the person that looked at the success other restaurants were having with the all-you-can-eat business model. Olive Garden seemed to be doing well with the bottomless pasta bowl, didn't they? So Edna, seeing something that was working very well for someone else, adopted the idea for her own use without, as it turns out, fully understanding exactly what made it successful. And thus was born the Red Lobster all-you-can-eat Snow Crab debacle that ultimately cost Edna her job as the president of the Red Lobster chain. Edna failed to realize that it was not as simple as copying certain elements of the program, and that equal attention needed to be paid to the foundations that made the Olive Garden program possible. And saddest of all, it should have been blindingly obvious: you don't need a Harvard MBA to know that a bowl of pasta costs pennies, while a snow crab is might darned pricey.

Through history, many have fallen into what I now call the "Edna trap". Another, far more common, term is "get rich quick schemes." People looking to make a quick buck by leveraging the ideas of others without making the effort to understand what made the idea work will sometimes be successful. But usually not. Sometimes they look at the innovative elements of a couple of things and combine them into something else, thinking that the end result will be more than or equal to the sum of its parts. And it is often the case that they end up something that is actually inferior to the sum of the parts. Consider such hypothetical examples as screen doors on submarines, or cell phones built into cordless power drills. And having done that, let's talk about THQ's Battle of the Bands for Wii.

I'm a recent convert to the Wii, said recency being far more a factor of their availability than desire. I was hooked on the Wii the moment I bowled a strike in Wii Sports. Well, actually that was my moment of initial attraction. I was actually hooked when I learned about the relatively low cost of the console in relation to the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. After I finally got one a full six months after deciding I wanted one, my love affair only grew deeper. It all comes down to the controller, of course. Even Madden football is more gratifying. Sure, I get intercepted on 3 out of 4 passes still, but it's still more fun to actually throw the ball than to smash around buttons whose locations and functions I can never seem to remember when under pressure. When shopping for a Wii game, one of the most critical things I look for is whether or not it uses the Wii controller in a satisfying way. There has been one major exception to that rule, though, in the form of Guitar Hero. The controller (the guitar) is, of course, a large (critical, really) factor in the global success of Guitar Hero, but it is common across all platforms and not really an exclusively Wii thing. What makes Guitar Hero work for me is that it allows me to pretend that I am playing in bands that I have been listening to for my whole life. I can shred with ZZ Top, Heart, Kiss, the Stones, and a bunch of others. These are the songs and bands of my impressionable youth, and here I am playing them myself! Albeit in Beginner mode, but hey, at my age, Medium is the most I can ever hope to attain.


So, if one were to look at the controller-based success of the Wii, and the musician-emulation success of Guitar Hero (and it's superset, Rock Band), one could attempt to create new titles that leveraged the most identifiable facets of both. At least one comes immediately to mind: Jazz Band, with saxophone, trumpet, and drum controllers - I'd buy that in a heartbeat. Of course, the developers of Jazz Band might be facing expensive lawsuits due to the small amount of differentiation between the products. In order to avoid that, they might take a wider view. Something like Bagpipe Hero? Well, no, there probably isn't much market demand for that. That would be akin to Red Lobster offering all-you-can-eat sea cucumber. Ugh. Or you could come up with Battle of the Bands, which takes each part of the equation and differentiates it enough to ensure that it's not an encroaching copy. The music? Change it to a copy so pale that Muzak directors the world over cringe at it. The custom controller? Ditch it. People seem to love the Wii controller after all, Game play? Don't make it about the music; make it all about distractions from the music. In essence, make it so far removed from the Guitar Hero/Wii experience that maybe people will find it so ugly that it becomes appealing. You know, the same thought process that went into the Honda Element or the entire Scion line. Hey, what could go wrong?? (Hint: the Pontiac Aztek!)At its very core, Battle of the Bands is like Super Mario Kart, except without the fun. The hope was apparently that it would be viewed as Guitar Hero for the Resident Evil crowd. "Like, whoa man, it's music but you get to attack the other player with incendiaries and projectiles! I am sooo there, Dude!" The idea is that you use Wii Remote motions such as left, right, down, and stab to match the movements as they come up the screen (not down the screen, mind you, that idea has been done to death. Our amps go to 11 and all that...) and every so often, hitting a note will launch an attack on the other player. There's not much feedback when you miss a note, though. Rather than the irritating screech or the uncomfortable silence of Guitar Hero, a missed note only results in a lack of vibration in the controller.

If this all sounds eerily similar to the Battle Mode in Guitar Hero, well, that's certainly just a coincidence, or you're reading too much into it, Dude, or so they'd have you believe. There's much more to it than that, see. You get to choose the type of band you want to be (Rock, Country, Marching Band, Mariachi) and your band will play the song in that mode. Your opponent also chooses a type of band, and that band plays the same song, but with the flavor of its type. The competition between the bands is to determine which version of the same song has primacy at any given time. For example, you may be playing as a marching band against an opponent who is playing as a hard rock band, and the song may be Man of Constant Sorrow. If you are winning the battle, the marching band version is what you will hear, and vice-versa. Can you see the problem here? Well, until you have experienced it, possibly not. The problem is that you end up with something like the current Democratic primary: no matter who you are, you eventually end up wishing that both could lose. At some point, it ends up being just noise. I suppose it's possible to find a song that sounds equally good as a rock, country, or marching band song, but I haven't come across it yet.


Which would be ok, I suppose, if the immense fun of the game play offset the burden of having to listen to such butchered tunes. Sadly, that's not the case. You launch attacks pretty much automatically. although you can choose various types of weaponry. In my experience, it wasn't like choosing the M-256 or a sniper rifle in Battlefield 2, where a decision like that can have serious ramifications. I couldn't really tell one attack from the other. And I had to hit each note anyway, so there wasn't a whole lot of strategy involved. It's also possible to block the other player's attacks on you by using the B (trigger) button to bring up a shield which I suppose you would do if you really cared who won, but I never seemed to be able to develop any emotional interest in the outcome of the battles. I really just wanted the whole thing to be over. Contrast that with Wii games that I can't seem to quit no matter what kind of pressure is being put on me to "put that damn guitar down - we're going to be late!" and you'll see why I don't think Battle of the Bands will capture the attention, devotion, and enjoyability of the games that inspired it.
Battle of the Bands takes the best elements of some recent hits and tries to combine them into something new and fun. Unfortunately, it misses the mark.

Rating: 7 Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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About Author

I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.

My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.

While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.

My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.
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