Band Hero is a spin-off game to the Guitar Hero series of music video games, released by Activision on November 3, 2009 for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii and Nintendo DS consoles. The game is structurally similar to Guitar Hero 5, and supports full band play (lead and bass guitar, drums, and vocals) including the drop-in/drop-out and in-song instrument and difficulty change menus, and additional multiplayer modes as Guitar Hero 5. The console versions use instrument-shaped game controllers, while the DS version uses either the "Guitar Grip" introduced with the Guitar Hero On Tour series or a new Drum Skin that come with the game. Like previous games, virtual avatars of Taylor Swift, Adam Levine, and the band No Doubt are presented in the game.
Band Hero received mixed reviews from journalists. Some considered the game to be an appropriately flavored version of Guitar Hero 5 for the "Top 40" pop rock hits, while others felt the game was strictly aimed at teenage girls. They also contested the cost of the full game, featuring only 65 songs compared with 85 songs in Guitar Hero 5, and considered if the content would have been better in downloadable form. A day after the game's release, the band No Doubt sued Activision, citing similar misuse of their avatars as the Kurt Cobain avatar in Guitar Hero 5.
The game is functionally similar to the features of Guitar Hero 5, including bands composed of any combination of four instruments, drop-in/drop-out play, in-song menus to change difficulty and instrument, and additional multiplayer modes compared to Guitar Hero 5's "Rockfest". Taylor Swift, Adam Levine (of Maroon 5), and the band No Doubt have been confirmed to be playable avatars in the game. Artists performed motion capture for their in-game avatars.
A new drum kit controller will be introduced with the game. While it features the same five-pad design as the Guitar Hero World Tour drum controller, many changes were made to address weight and size concerns that made assembly difficult. The cymbal pads are more circular than the previous triangular shapes, and the stand's crossbar has been lowered to its base as to allow for the bass kick pedal to be supported by it. Some adjustment to drum head sensitivity has been made based on complaints from the World Tour set, and the game will include a sensitivity adjustment feature. In the United States the new controller will, for a limited time, remain exclusive for the Wii version of the game and will be packaged in the Band Hero game and instrument bundles. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the controller will arrive later; Band Hero bundles for these platforms in the US will include the World Tour drum controller. In Europe, Band Hero Band Kits will ship with new drums on all platforms.
The Band Hero Drum Kit will be compatible with other guitar hero games.
Band Hero for the Nintendo DS will feature the ability to play the same instruments as the console-based versions. Though the game is compatible with the DS, DS Lite, and DSi, only players on the DS Lite will receive the "full band" experience due to the nature of the hardware extensions for the unit. Guitar and bass parts will be played with the same "Guitar Grip" previously created for the Guitar Hero On Tour series, though this unit will not work on the Nintendo DSi due to lack of a GBA slot. The gameplay for guitar and bass is considered to be the fourth iteration of the Guitar Hero On Tour design by developers Vicarious Visions, and have further improvements to meet with different strumming styles. A new "drum skin" that fits over the bottom half of the DS unit will provide four "pads" for drumming that map to the unit's directional pad and face buttons; this design was selected over use of the touch screen due to the inability of the touch screen to recognize near-simultaneous taps, a factor that would have interfered with the drumming experience. The drum skin is limited to the Nintendo DS Lite due to the skin's form factor. The decision to design towards the DS Lite rather than the newer DSi was due to the much larger volume of DS Lite units that have been sold relative to the DSi. The DS microphone will be used for vocal parts. The DS will have 30 of the songs from console versions. The game also supports up to four player multiplayer in a similar manner as Guitar Hero 5 using the DS's local wireless connections, allowing any combination of instruments. However, there is no support for the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection nor plans for additional downloadable content for the DS game.
A television advertisement, featuring Taylor Swift, Pete Wentz (Fall Out Boy), Travis Barker (Blink-182), and Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), was created for the game by director Brett Ratner in the same manner as previous ads for other recent Guitar Hero games, initially paying tribute to the scene in Risky Business with Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear to the song "Old Time Rock and Roll". Though it appears as if all four performed together, Wentz stated that Swift performed her parts separately using a green screen to impose her into the footage of the other musicians.
A three-song demo was made available on Xbox Live on October 15, 2009, and included "Paralyzer" by Finger Eleven, "Picture to Burn" by Taylor Swift and "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves. The demo was solely the Party Mode, with the three songs playable in random order.
On release of Band Hero, 35 of the songs from World Tour and 21 from Smash Hits are importable into Band Hero for a small fee (approximately $0.10 per song), and are treated as downloadable content for the game playable in all game modes. Furthermore, 69 of the 85 tracks from Guitar Hero 5 will be importable into Band Hero. All transferred songs will also be playable in the Guitar Hero 5 and will be free if downloaded in either games. However, Guitar Hero 5 or Band Hero is not backwards-compatible with World Tour nor any other Guitar Hero game. The transfer process requires the player to enter a unique code from the World Tour or Smash Hits manual to be able to redownload available songs in a pack (on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3) or individual songs (on the Wii) that have been updated to include the new features. Players on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 can delete individual songs after downloading the pack. Some songs are not transferable because of licensing issues—not technical issues—according to Bright. Tim Riley, the head of music licensing at Activision, stated that the company will continue to seek licenses for more songs from previous games and downloadable content to be exported into Band Hero, but cannot guarantee that these songs will be licensed for future Guitar Hero games.
While Band Hero does not have its own separate library of downloadable content, it supports downloadable content from the Guitar Hero 5 DLC library. In addition, 152 of the 158 available downloadable songs for Guitar Hero World Tour are forward-compatible with Guitar Hero 5 and Band Hero; the existing content is automatically upgraded to include all features new to these games and was immediately available to players upon release of Band Hero. Downloaded songs can be used in all game modes, provided all participating players have the song, including in the game's Career mode when players are given the option to select any song to play. The entire Band Hero DLC library is also available in Guitar Hero 5, and vice versa, so both games embrace the same DLC library. But, some download songs have specific focus on Band Hero, like the "Celebrity New Years Track Pack" which includes Taylor Swift, Maroon 5 and No Doubt songs.
Band Hero has received mixed reviews from gaming critics. Most recognized the game as having the same feature sets as Guitar Hero 5, including any benefits or flaws that may come from that. Reviewers praised the reuse of the Guitar Hero 5 features such as the Party Play mode that allows for players to jump in and out, the improved Career mode, and the improved GHTunes. Some identified that the target market of the game appears to be towards teenage girls, such as the featuring of Taylor Swift, the color schemes used in the game, and other parts of the song selection. Reviewers noted that setlist would be the strongest measure of whether players should purchase the game. It contains a diverse mix of songs, including some that reviewers think only teenage girls would appreciate. The reviewers also commented on the smaller setlist, which contains only 65 songs compared to Guitar Hero 5's 85.
Review did note that the "Top 40" songs do not always make for challenging songs, as many featured simple chord repetition throughout the song or simply following pre-programmed electronic keyboard or drum beats. However, most songs were found to feature at least one difficult instrument portion that would be fun to play. Reviews also noted that the censoring of songs in order to affirm a family-friendly rating is awkward, such as censoring the word "whiskey" from Don McLean's "American Pie" (8 times), and can ruin the enjoyment of some songs. Greg Miller of IGN further noted that these censoring are at odds with the straight-up inclusion of other songs such as "Gasoline" by The Airborne Toxic Event which, Miller claims, is about sex.
Some reviews saw Band Hero as a good addition to the Guitar Hero franchise, and pointed out the strength of the game is improved in part due to the ability to import and export songs between Band Hero, Guitar Hero 5, and content. Justin Haywald of 1UP.com, in consideration of the equivalent nature of featured, considered that players now had a choice of "'Top 40' Band Hero or 'Hard Rock' [Guitar Hero 5]" skins to select for playing the music on, and positive direction for the series. However, others saw the simple rebranding of the game, and that some may see the product as little more than a "full-price track pack".
Lawsuit by No Doubt
A day following Band Heros release, the band No Doubt filed a lawsuit against Activision. In a similar manner as Guitar Hero 5, where the avatar of Kurt Cobain could be used to play any of the songs in the game and leading to questionable virtual performances, the same was found to be true for the No Doubt avatars in Band Hero. No Doubt's lawsuit claims their contract limited their performance to the three songs within the game, and were never told their avatars would be used in that manner. Activision has stated they believe that the manner of use of the band's avatars in the game is within the bounds of their contract. The publisher has since filed a counter-suit against the band, alleging contract breaches; Activision claims that it was "publicly known" that in-game characters in the Guitar Hero series, once unlocked, could be used for all game modes, and that No Doubt's request came well after the game's code was finalized.
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