Band Hero is the sixth member of the Guitar Hero family to be released this year, joining its brethren Guitar Hero Metallica, Guitar Hero Smash Hits, Guitar Hero On Tour: Modern Hits, DJ Hero and Guitar Hero 5 and soon to be joined by Guitar Hero Van Halen. That's a lot of Hero flooding the market, so what makes Band Hero different to all those other entries? After all, you do play in a band in most of those other games. Well, here we have a title that, like its fellow Lego Rock Band, is aimed at a different audience - if not children, then perhaps people who enjoy light-hearted pop music like Taylor Swift and Spice Girls. Which may be you, but it's still a step away from the rock and metal that the series has made its name on. So does the change in genre make for a refreshing instalment, or is this simply a paint-job on a tiring series?
As mentioned, this is a pop music compilation, and you get 65 songs from the last thirty years or so of the genre. To the game's credit there's a real mix of music here, so while you do get Taylor Swift and The Last Goodnight, some Roy Orbison and Jackson 5 are thrown in. Your enjoyment of this title will most likely entirely hinge on how much you like this track list, and for us... we actually don't think it's too bad. There's a bunch of recent popular hits that have been cycling on the radio infinitely, but there's also some classics like 'Kung Fu Fighting', 'Honky Tonk Women' and 'Happy Together' mixed in - songs which were probably too light fare for the main Guitar Hero series, but feel well at home here. There are some strange edits, such as the word 'gun' has been omitted from 'Pictures of You', that don't really affect the music that much but just seem odd.
Band Hero is also the first game since Guitar Hero World Tour to come in a full band pack, with guitar, drums and microphone. Of these, the only instrument which has changed are the drums, which have had adjustments made to combat the criticisms of the World Tour set. The cymbals are more circular than the last set, giving the drums a more Rock Band feel, as does the the bar connecting the two legs of the stand, which has been lowered so the kick pedal is now supported by it. Finally, the sensitivity of the drums has been adjusted after a tidal wave of complaints from World Tour. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to put these new drums to the test ourselves, but Activision appear to have been listening to the feedback they've received and improving their instruments accordingly which is never a bad thing.
Looking now at gameplay, Band Hero is Guitar Hero 5. The progression in the Career Mode is the same, the short animated cutscenes you get at the start of every venue, the way when you start up the game it instantly starts a song you can just 'jump' into, the GHStudio for making music, it's all the same. You can have up to four players at any time, and they don't have to just fit the standard roles of a band, with one person for guitar, bass, mic and drums - you can have up to four players on the same instrument. While this takes away from feeling as though you're part of a real band, it does add a feeling of being able to just 'pick up and play' at a party, which is another setting this game is obviously aimed at. Players can jump in and out at any time, and choose whatever difficulty they like, which is very useful.
How about if you're a Guitar Hero veteren looking to test your mettle in a new barrage of blue and orange notes flying past you faster than the eye can see? Yeah, this isn't the game for you. Most of these songs, while popular, are not going to tax your fingers as much as, say, Guitar Hero Metallica. On the bright side, gamers who've been casually playing Guitar Hero for a while may be able to just jump straight into expert mode without much of a problem. On lower difficulties, the highways can sometimes seem sparse, with boring progressions and repetitive sections. For the casual crowd, who'll be happy just to hit a few notes before the end of the song, this is fine, but it's a little disappointing for the rest of us.
The game also comes with modes such as 'Sing Along' which allows up to four players to sing through songs karaoke-style, without having to worry about drums, guitars, or even points. It's not scored, and you can't fail while playing it, so it's not so much of a game as it is a low-grade karaoke machine, but that's just what some groups of teenage girls might be after so it's a reasonable inclusion. You can import your DLC from World Tour and 5 as well, although the game ominously stipulates that there are some exclusions. On Xbox 360 and Wii, you can use your Avatar or Mii in-game, which is a fun inclusion. We were going to say that they do look a fair bit worse than the characters in Band Hero, but they've all been redesigned for the emo/punk rock crowd. Oh, Clive Winston, what have they done to you?
The game's presentation is something of a mixed bag. It's all pinks and purples, so obviously aimed at girls, and the game's main menu is pretty spartan with its layout, although it does make getting to the songs fairly easy. During the songs, your band is pretty well rendered, and the animations for all the members are very high quality. The lead singer's syncing is very well done most of the time, and there are some amusing little crazy flourishes such as the singer's slow rise at the start of 'Kung Fu Fighting'. The stages are colourful and vibrant, but the crowd is just a collection of sprites yet again. The audio quality is also great. Overall though, it feels like a paint-job over Guitar Hero 5.
Band Hero is not a challenging entry in the series, nor is it one that is going to be enjoyed by the hardcore members of its fanbase. It's aimed at the teenage crowd who play Guitar Hero at parties, and they'll most likely enjoy this new entry. With a lighter track-list, vibrant visuals and mechanics such as the 'Sing Along', it's a young casual gamer's game, and it's a sensible extension of the Guitar Hero brand. After seeing the track-list, most of you will have already decided whether you're picking this one up or not, and if you are rest assured that it's a pretty good game, if not the most challenging or original.