If you've ever spent time forwarding goofy things you found on the Internet to your friends, you probably remember the bluegrass version of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" that was a staple of the file-sharing community in the late '90s. Hearing The Gourds warble about the life of a West Coast gangsta was immensely entertaining--and the song wasn't half bad, either. Planet Moon Studio, which may have been influenced by that song, took the concept of different styles of bands performing the same song and turned it into the game Battle of the Bands. Unfortunately, the great ideas stopped with the music because the gameplay isn't particularly good. As a result, you'll probably enjoy hearing the game's crazy versions of popular songs more than you will enjoy playing the game itself.
Battle of the Bands places you in the role of one of 11 different bands, each of which plays a certain type of music: rock, hip-hop, marching band, country, or Latin. The soundtrack consists of 30 songs in a variety of genres. Some of the noteworthy songs are: "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Insane in the Brain," "Keep Your Hands to Yourself," "Man of Constant Sorrow," "Photograph," and "Spoonman." Having covers of popular tunes is nothing special in and of itself, but what makes Battle of the Bands different from other music games is that there are five versions of each song. That's right--you can not only hear a hip-hop cover version of "Whoomp! (There it is)" but also hear it done by a marching band, a rock group, in Spanish by a Latin band, and by a country group. You'll occasionally come across a few duds, but most versions are pretty good, or at least entertaining. Hearing a song like "Insane in the Brain" change from hip-hop to country and back again is the most interesting part of Battle of the Bands. It's also something you can do with the game's music player that allows you to pick any song and switch genres on the fly. This means there's little point in enduring Battle of the Band's gameplay, which isn't very interesting to begin with and quickly gets repetitive.
After picking your band, you'll go up against other bands in what the game terms "musical combat." There's a bit of a story that's told via short, static cutscenes. These are pretty pointless, and their humor relies heavily on the use of racial stereotypes, so it's a good thing you can skip right through them to focus on the game. You can also go head-to-head against another person in a one-off battle in the game's offline Versus mode.
Battle of the Band's gameplay has a lot in common with Guitar Hero, as well as EA's recent (and not very good) dancing game Boogie. The cartoony bands do battle with instruments that also double as weapons on the top half of the screen. There are some funny animations and creative weapon/instrument combos, but you'll be so busy playing, you'll hardly get a chance to notice them. The bottom half of the screen is devoted to gameplay. Your band's beat scroll is on the left and your opponent's is on the right. Icons scroll across the beat board, and you must make the appropriate movement with the Wii Remote in time with the music. Most of the icons have you snap the controller left, right, or down, but occasionally, you'll need to shake the Wii Remote or perform a stabbing motion. You'll earn points for every correct movement, and the amount of points is based on how close your movement was to the beat.
Hitting beats is your main goal, but you'll also have to worry about attacking and defending as well. If you hit enough consecutive notes, you'll be able to perform an attack. Your opponent can also launch attacks so you'll need to be quick with the B button, which--if properly timed--will deflect the attack. You can have three attacks equipped, and you can choose from them by pressing the A button. Attacks can have a variety of effects; some will set your opponent's cursor on fire, electrify the sides of his or her beat board, make his or her notes smaller, or even obscure his or her board with smoke. Successfully attacking the other band not only improves your score, but also gets your band's version of the song playing. Although, truth be told, the versions almost seem to switch at random a significant portion of the time. There are also specific sections of every song where one band will be on the attack launching skulls, while the other band will be on defense trying to block the skulls. This probably wouldn't be difficult on its own, but for some reason, the game's frame rate, which is generally smooth, tends to stutter here. This adds an extra degree of difficulty.
The biggest problem with Battle of the Band's gameplay is that it just isn't much fun. Hitting or missing notes doesn't have any aural effect on the song, and the repetitive waving of the Wii Remote will almost put you to sleep, so it's difficult keep your focus once you've gotten a big lead-- especially during some of the game's longer songs. Not only does the gameplay get boring, it can also be painful, thanks to the precise snapping motion required to hit the beats and the lack of variety to your movements. At first, you might wonder why the game implores you to take a break after every song, but after 30 or 45 minutes, you'll find yourself heeding the repeated warnings to rest.
Battle of the Bands is a missed opportunity. The idea of pitting bands against each other and recording zany versions of popular tunes is a good one, but it's poorly executed. Waving a Wii Remote back and forth through each of the game's 30 songs simply isn't engaging, especially when compared with other, more immersive music games. If the soundtrack is ever released on its own, it's worth a listen, but don't spend $50 just to hear a marching band play "Mama Said Knock You Out."