When we visited THQ last week, we were given the opportunity to play the upcoming Wii exclusive Battle of the Bands. If the name sounds unfamiliar to you, it's because it was previously announced as Band Mashups a couple of weeks ago. After getting used to the name change, we grabbed a Wii remote and had a crack at the Guitar Hero style music rhythm game, and we were pleasantly surprised. While it may come off looking like a clone, we're happy to say that Battle of the Bands has enough unique qualities to stand out and make a name for itself.
After jumping straight into a multiplayer game, we were given the option to choose the band we wish to play as. The choice isn't just cosmetic, however - each band represents a very specific music genre, including rock, R&B, country, latin, marching band and more. Whichever song you choose to play, you'll experience it in the style of your particular band, as long as you remain in control of the contest. This means that there is a lot of re-recordings done for each track in the game, and it's quite fun to experience the differences in style. Hearing rock band AFI played with a latin twist is a very strange and fun experience, to say the least. If you hit combos in the game, the song will play in your band's style, so you'll usually know when you're in control just by listening to the music.
In terms of controls, the game works similarly to Guitar Hero, with the notes scrolling in one direction, requiring you to hit them in succession to get the highest score you possibly can. Because there are no extra peripherals here, this is all done with the Wii remote, by swinging it either left, down or right in time with the music and notes. This may not sound like much, but it certainly gives the game a much more casual appeal and is very easy to pick up and play for first-timers. Switching things up a bit are certain notes that look like zig-zags, and when these notes come at you, you're going to have to shake the Wii remote. Different sizes of zig-zags will require you to shake the Wii remote more or less, which adds another element to the gameplay apart from the basic swinging from side to side.
The most important element of Battle of the Bands, however, is the actual 'battling' aspect of the game. As well as worrying about hitting all the right notes you can, at the beginning of the match you'll be given a selection of weapons that you can use in the song. This could be anything from shooting bullets, fireballs or other projectiles at your opponent, distracting them and lowering their score, along with other more interesting weapons that may force your opponent to hit every note perfectly or avoid land-mines that are sitting on some notes at the risk of being penalized if they make a mistake. You can't just use these weapons whenever you like, though - the more effective the weapon is, the more notes you're going to have to hit in a row without missing before you can use it. This actually makes the selection of the weapons themselves more interesting, as even though some weapons are weaker, they require a much smaller combo so can be used more often.
You're not defenseless against the weapons, though - by simply tapping the B button and timing it correctly with what your opponent throws at you, you can block your opponents attacks. While it will prevent the opposing band from doing damage to you, you'll also actually gain points for successfully blocking, so it's definitely worthwhile taking the time to master your defensive skills. It's a lot to take in at first - using the Wii remote to hit the notes, use your weapons and block attacks, but after a few play-throughs it becomes quite natural. While your scores might not be so great to begin with, as you master the attacking and defending mechanics, you'll find yourself on those scoreboards in no time.
Players will also be able to compete in Face-Offs during the song, where only one side gets to hit notes while the other watches on. Every note that you hit during the Face-Off will send a flying green skull towards your opponent, and each one that hits them will give you some extra points. The 'defending' player in these moments will have the opportunity to block the skulls much like the other weapons in the game, and they'll be rewarded points for successfully stopping the skulls from making contact. It adds an extra dynamic to the game, and not surprisingly, as players take it in turns during these Face-Offs, the song will change to suit their style.
Battle of the Bands is entering into a crowded genre, there's no doubt about it. The competitive notion of being able to constantly attack your opponents and defend against them works well; combine this with the switching back and forth between music styles with a variety of different tracks to choose from, and the game has some serious party potential. The fact that you can use the Wii remote without any extra peripherals is certainly a selling point over the competition, and most importantly, the game is simple, has great pick-up-and-play value, and is a lot of fun.