Conspicuously absent in games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero III, weaponized musical instruments are going to take "Battle of the Bands" to a whole new level later this year if THQ and Planet Moon Studios get their way. Officially announced for the Wii today, Band Mashups is a competitive rhythm game that will see fictional bands going head-to-head in musical battles played out with sniper violins, flamethrower guitars, trombone missile launchers, and other instruments of mass destruction. We had an opportunity to spend some time with a work-in-progress version of Band Mashups recently, and we're pleased to report that it's looking very promising.
Band Mashups' story-driven single-player campaign is set in the fictional city of New Cadenza, where disputes are settled with band battles and everyone looks like a character from an animated Tim Burton movie. The city is ruled by an evil guy known simply as Mr. Hong, who sees off anyone daring to challenge his authority with the aid of his powerful Violent Orchestra. You can choose to play as any of 11 bands determined to put a stop to Hong's reign of terror, and each purportedly has a different storyline. Each of the playable bands has a unique appearance and unique weapons at its disposal, but falls into one of five genres that determines which version of a song they actually play during battles. The genres are rock, marching band, Latin, country, and funk/hip-hop.
Playing a song in Band Mashups works in much the same way as it does in the aforementioned music games, but in the absence of a plastic guitar you'll be hitting notes by making gestures with the Wii Remote. There are five different types of notes to hit as they travel up toward the middle of the screen, and the gestures to play them include moving left, moving right, moving up, thrusting, and shaking. Assuming that the two battling bands are representing different genres of music, the version you'll hear is always the one being played by whichever band is currently winning, and it's not uncommon for that to change quite frequently once the weapons start coming into play. Before we talk about the weapons, though, here's a list of 15 of the 30 songs that will be appearing in the game to give you some idea of the eclectic selection. None of these songs are performed by the original artists, but all have been recorded in the styles of all five genres, with language translation where necessary. That's a total of 150 playable recordings for those of you keeping score.
"Adios Mexico" - Texas Tornados
"Blitzkrieg Bop" - The Ramones
"Brick House" - The Commodores
"Dum Diddly" - Black Eyed Peas
"Master Exploder" - Tenacious D
"Feel Good Inc." - Gorillaz
"Insane in the Brain" - Cypress Hill
"Jungle Boogie" - Kool & The Gang
"That's The Way (I Like It)" - KC & The Sunshine Band
"Mama Said Knock You Out" - LL Cool J
"One Thing Leads to Another" - The Fixx
"Photograph" - Def Leppard
"Man of Constant Sorrow" - The Soggy Bottom Boys
"Spoonman" - Soundgarden
"Whoomp! (There It Is)" - Tag Team
At the start of each battle, you'll get to equip your band with three weapons chosen from a selection that's determined by your band of choice, as well as by how far into the game you are and what extras you've unlocked. You get a light weapon, a heavy weapon, and a special weapon, and while playing through a song you'll hit the A button to switch between them. After selecting a weapon, you'll need to hit a certain number of notes in sequence to fire it. You'll need to hit just three consecutive notes to pull the trigger of a gun with the firepower of a peashooter, but you'll need as many as 20 to activate some of the stuff in Band Mashups' endgame arsenal. It's worth noting that most of the weapons have a cooldown timer as well, so you can't just settle on a favorite and spam it over and over again.
Light weapons and heavy weapons hit the opposing band where it hurts and score you points in the process. Incoming attacks can be blocked with a well-timed press of the B button, but that's not always an easy thing to do when you're waving the Wii Remote around in time to music. On the other hand, special attacks are designed to hamper your opponent's ability to play by messing with his or her controls or the area of the screen where his or her notes appear. Special weapons we put to good use (or were victims of) during our session had effects such as obscuring note tracks with smoke, reversing the left/right controls, setting the onscreen cursor on fire so it can only be put out by shaking the Remote, and charging the sides of the note track with electricity so that any overly energetic left/right gestures are punished with a shock as the cursor hits them. There are plenty more, and we can tell you that a favorite during our session was one that simply made the opponent's notes come at them much faster.
Regardless of whether you're playing the single-player story mode or a two-player versus match, Band Mashups offers three difficulty levels that appear to cater to genre newcomers and experienced guitar heroes alike. In versus mode, each player can choose a different difficulty level. As we learned while playing against a Planet Moon representative who was on a harder difficulty level than us, it's an adequate handicapping system that will let players of varying abilities enjoy some closely contested battles.
Band Mashups is currently scheduled for release in April. We'll bring you more information on the game as soon as it becomes available.