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Band Hero (DS) review: Band Hero (DS)

The DS version of Band Hero tries to deliver the experience you get from the full console versions of Band Hero, but struggles to deliver a genuinely fun portable gaming experience.

Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is a freelance word writing machine masquerading as a person, a disguise he's managed for over fifteen years now, including a three year stint at ZDNet/CNET Australia. He likes cats, retro gaming and terrible puns.
Alex Kidman
4 min read

Readers of a certain age might recall an '80s action series called The Greatest American Hero. It concerned the adventures of a young bloke called Ralph Hinkley who fell into possession of an alien suit, and, as you might, became a super hero. The problem was that the manual for the suit was lost and as such, he lacked control. Sure, he had plenty of enthusiasm, and was very earnest. It's just that in the absence of control, he was effectively incompetent.

5.6

Band Hero (DS)

The Good

Mixed selection of music. Guitar strumming works a little bit better than previous titles.

The Bad

Guitar is still horribly uncomfortable. Drums are stupidly laid out. Singing is indistinct and embarrassing.

The Bottom Line

Band Hero for the DS tries very hard to mimic the success of its full console brethren. It fails very hard, too.

Band Hero in-game shot

(Credit: Activision)

That's exactly the problem that the DS version of Band Hero has. It tries exceptionally hard to deliver the kind of pop-based experience you get from the full console versions of Band Hero, with options for guitar play (already covered in the Guitar Hero: On Tour games), vocals and drums. But in the absence of good controls, all it can do is try earnestly and end up incompetent, rather than deliver a genuinely fun portable gaming experience.

Looking at each instrument in turn, there's problems a-plenty. Firstly, guitar. The issue that's always plagued On Tour was that playing for anything more than a minute or two introduced near crippling hand cramps. These haven't gotten any better at all, and like On Tour, Band Hero is only compatible with the DS/DS Slim, as the DSi lacks the slot 2 cartridge port to mount the guitar controls. Strumming on the DS/Slim touchscreen feels a little more responsive, but it's still a long way from being actually good. The final nail in the coffin here relates to why people play the Guitar Hero/Rock Band games in the first place. Yes, it's silly in the extreme, but there's undeniable fun in strumming a full size (albeit plastic) guitar. You can flail around the room like Mick Jagger on acid making a fool of yourself, and there's a simulacrum of the "real thing". Stroking a DS screen is just pattern recognition, not rock.

We should probably pause here and point out that Mr Jagger may or may not have taken illicit drugs in his career. We wouldn't want to get sued, or anything.

Band Hero in-game shot

(Credit: Activision)

On to the vocals, where again the size of the DS presents a problem. On-screen lyrics are small and unless you know the song in question rather well, you may struggle to read them from a distance. Not that you'd want to, as the pick-up from the DS' admittedly weak microphone means you've got to pretty much press your nose up against the DS in order to be picked up properly, at which point you can't read the text at all. Now, it's true that there's a certain spectacle to be had watching anybody scream the lyrics to Robbie Williams' Tripping into a DS on a packed train. It's not that much fun for the player, however, even when the transport police arrive.

Moving on to the drums, there's some good news. Drums work well as virtual instruments, the timing is OK and there should be some fun to be had here. Should be, except that the weird rubber "skin" that's provided fits poorly over the DS Lite's buttons. It won't fit at all on a DSi or original DS. Even if you do go without it, and just use the up/down and X/B buttons, there's another problem for seasoned drummers. The on-screen pattern covers the usual green/red/yellow/blue horizontal arrangement that these games have used since their inception, but the controls are stacked vertically on each side, with green and red paired on the left, and yellow and blue on the right. It works exactly contrary to how you might think it should. Given the DS has two screens, we're flummoxed why Vicarious Visions didn't just opt for touchscreen controls on the bottom screen and visuals/note flow on the top screen.

Band Hero

(Credit: Activision)

Finally, there's the track selection. As with the "full" Band Hero, it's a mixture of older and newer pop tracks, but unlike the full game, the 30 tracks you get with the DS version is all you're ever going to get. If it were DSi compatible, you could have potentially had tracks offered via DSiWare, but that's not an option here. Scrolling through the list of tracks is an annoying process, as it's very easy to accidentally select the wrong song, and the D-pad controls are disabled in the selection screen. There's also a serious lack of challenge, as everything pertinent to playing the game is unlocked from the start. On the plus side, that will save you a whole lot of hand cramp and annoyance, but it also means there's not much impetus to keep playing.

Ultimately, Band Hero DS tries to fly way too close to the sun. Even die-hard music game fans will find it alternately painful, embarrassing and confusing in its controls. For those new to the music game genre, it could be enough to put them off them for life.