Battle of the Bands is, as the title would suggest, a game about musical combat. One on one, eleven bands representing five musical genres -- rock, hip-hop, Latin, marching band (!), and country -- fight in a hybrid concert/war with missile-firing instruments. As the fight goes back and forth, the music being played (one of thirty popular songs) switches from one band's style to the other. It's an excellent concept for a music game, for a number of reasons. First, it emphasizes multiplayer combat. Rock Band handles multiplayer by putting each player in charge of an instrument. Battle of the Bands pits players against each other for control of the song. I haven't seen such an emphasis on attacks and defense in a music game since Bust a Groove -- and I like it.
Second, the genre-mashing neatly handles an issue that has been a black eye for many music games: lack of master tracks. Rather than merely a soundalike of "Insane in the Brain," you get one relatively close cover and four way off-the wall versions. As a novelty, it's hilarious, but as music, it's awesome. With the possible exception of a couple of the "Insane" remixes (which are played ad nauseam in the menus and title screen), I would gleefully listen to any of Battle's remakes outside of the game. The country version of the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" is unexpectedly catchy and natural-sounding, and Def Leppard's "Photograph" seems to have been written (unknowingly, no doubt) specifically for a hip-hop/R&B diva. I vastly prefer the cover to the original. You'll want to spend hours playing the game just to hear every song in every style, including the full Spanish lyrics in the Latin versions.
The contrast between musical styles carries over even into the design of the gameplay. Battle of the Bands
is a versus-only music game; even in single-player mode, there is an AI opponent and a second note chart. Players compete both to successfully hit more notes than the opponent and to score more points by launching attacks. Success during the song translates to a switch in the song's style to that of the dominant band. Occasionally, a "face-off" will start, in which players alternate attacking (by completing notes with attack icons) and blocking (by pressing B right before the attack connects).
Each band has an arsenal of three attacks they can choose from in a song; these attacks are chosen from a larger menu before each song. The power of attacks determines how many successive correct notes activates it; a weak attack (which awards a small amount of points to the attacking player, and moves a meter that determine's whose version of the song plays) may launch after every three successful notes, while the most powerful attacks (which have side effects like putting smoke over the opponent's playing field or making note markers move around) could take over ten notes. While the more powerful attacks have a more dramatic effect, the rapid-fire quality of the weaker attacks are almost always more strategically viable, and force the other player to block more. Still, it's fun to be able to customize your attacks based on your own strategy.
The emphasis on combat also contributes, unfortunately, to the game's biggest failing: the actual music-game component of Battle -- the rhythmic controller movements in time with music -- are extremely simplistic. The control scheme also contributes to the simplicity of the gameplay. You wave the Wiimote left, right, or down in time with a series of scrolling icons, with an occasional forward thrust. I think that, knowing that the game would be played with rhythmic waggle, and believing that the strategic layer would require much more concentration than a music game alone, Planet Moon pretty much nerfed the note charts. Even on hard mode, the songs are not difficult to play, ever.
While the ease of play and (ironically) the lack of a specialized controller reduce the barrier of entry (or did in my household, anyway -- others in the room were more willing to fire up the game and play with me because I didn't have to go get a guitar controller), they also reduce the fun. Even rhythm game neophytes will tire of the too-easy gameplay, and at no point was I happy to be playing with the Wiimote when buttons would have worked just as well or better. In the end, it's a matter of playing until you've heard all the songs. If THQ released a soundtrack collection, the game would be obsolete.
Final score: 6/10
We review games even when they don't feature marching-band remakes of Soundgarden's "Spoonman," which, as it turns out, is almost all the time!