While the game may have only been announced a few weeks ago and its name changed completely, Planet Moon Studio's action rhythm game remains a mashup at heart. The title--previously dubbed Band Mashups and now going by the name Battle of the Bands--is a little bit Guitar Hero, a little bit Wiimote arm flailing, and all rock and roll fun.
The best way we can describe playing it is that it's in the same vein as many of the multitude of other rhythm games on the market. The real difference here is the control system, and rather than drive with a stylus or custom musical instrument peripheral, you'll wave your arms in a pom-pom-esque movement to hit notes. Points are scored by successfully hitting the directional icons as they scroll up the screen with the appropriate gesture. You'll need to wave left, right, down, or thrust towards the screen when target icons appear. Added to this is a weapon system, chosen by the player before the match begins and connected to your chosen band's musical play style. Hitting a predetermined correct number of notes unleashes your arsenal of attacks, some of the advanced versions of which require long note streaks to activate. Attacks scale with difficulty, and at the hard difficulty you'll need somewhere in the 20-30 correct note ballpark to unleash your character's fury.
The B button on the underside of the controller is used to activate your shield, bubbling you from the other player and their damage dealing attacks. Target attack moves that require thrusts at the screen seemed to frequently appear for both players simultaneously, meaning that in addition to hitting the your own notes and launching attacks, you also need to have the presence of mind to block incoming assaults. Luckily, blocks and attacks work at the same pace and rhythm as the music, so you'll never need to offbeat block and throw your timing.
The game features 30 licensed tracks to play, each re-recorded in not only their original style, but in four other versions, giving you unlikely musical combinations such as marching band versus hip-hop versions of classic rock songs such as The Ramones' Blitzkrieg Bop and Soundgarden's Spoonman. Even if you're not the biggest music buff around, some of the odd match-ups make it hard to concentrate, let alone stop from laughing at their absurdity. The song bounces back and forth between the two musical styles as players deal damage, leveling the field and meaning if you're the better player you won't exclusively get your version of the song played.
While in this hands-on we didn't have a chance to sample the game's single-player career mode, we're told that the learning curve is gentle enough for even first time rhythm gamers to get up and running, while the harder difficulty setting should give virtual virtuosos a run for their money. That said, as a group of players tackling Battle of the Bands for the first time, it's anything but a complicated experience. Some gentle sideline coaching on weapon choices was helpful, but once up and running the gameplay took care of itself and we were conducting our pseudo-symphony without hassle. Power-ups such as the smoke bomb which covers your opposition's playfield with a thick haze is a tactical move, while the rapid fire of the machinegun increases the frequency of your target icons to deal damage.
Our demo also showed off some of the varied environments available in Battle of the Bands, showcasing locales such as Mr. Hong's Castle, and what may have been some kind of dirigible arena. The sheer concentration required to hit notes, attack, and defend means you won't have time to eye off the landscape. While it won't be winning any awards for graphical proficiency, it's looking good, with a solid framerate.
For a game announced so late in its development cycle, and with an anticipated North American release of April this year, we're eager to see how it fares in an already competitive rhythm game marketplace. Does it have the cajones to knock staples like Guitar Hero off the Wii, or will it slink into the corner with the other cover bands? We'll be following with great interest.