|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Novarama||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Dreamcatcher||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 3, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
If you go by the slick box cover featuring silhouettes of a band rocking out - while backlit with a flood of lights and pyrotechnics - in front of a cheering crowd that's pumping their collective fists in the way as if to say "rock on," it's quite possible to mistake Monster Band as a direct handheld competitor to the rhythm game crowds that gravitate towards Guitar Hero: On Tour.
The more serious, rock star imagery plastered on the game's exterior couldn't be further removed from the silly, kid-friendly presentation you'll find when booting up the game, but DreamCatcher's strange little music title actually has some catchy gameplay buried beneath its cushy interior.
Curiously, Monster Band is all about juxtapositions. Its mature outward presentation contrasts sharply with the actual game you'll find yourself playing when turning your DS on; the gameplay initially seems skewed to the younger crowds but quickly yields an engrossing challenge capable of testing experienced rhythm game addicts; and the music strangely flip flops around amongst an odd selection of tunes ranging from Depeche Mode to Pachelbel's "Canon." Is Monster Band a portable Guitar Hero-killer? Not by even the farther stretches of the imagination. But, it is just quirky and solid enough to be fun for a short time.
Unlike the cover artwork suggests (that the game is a rock-heavy affair chocked full of flaming codpieces, shredding solos, and glorious mullets), Monster Band's true presentation offers a more literal take on its title. You'll play as an actual monster in an up-and-coming band that performs instrumental elevator-music-style renditions of the broadest range of tunes you'll likely find in a music game. In the game's career mode, your shady band manager will shove song-after-song at you to play through. Aside from performing well enough to keep from failing, you'll have to complete a specific goal to move on to the next song. These range from building up lengthy combo multipliers and playing with a certain percentage of accuracy to simply attaining a certain minimum score. The interface is pretty bare-bones, and you'll essentially just play through a song, read a short blurb from your manager, and plow through the next. Short of turning off your DS, there doesn't seem to be any way to go back once you've begun.
The stylish and colorful presentation is definitely geared towards younger players, but it's generally pleasant nonetheless. On the top screen, you'll see the lyrics to the song displayed karaoke-style, and one of several strange monster critters will frantically spazz-out in-time to the music. Backgrounds and monsters change once in awhile, but you'll see a lot of the same stuff over and over again. The instruments you'll play at different points in a song appear on the touch screen, and the monster/spooky theme is incorporated into their design nicely. The game does lose a few marks for recycling much of the same sets of visuals throughout.
Monster Band's simplistic rhythm gameplay won't give Guitar Hero a run for its money, yet it's easy to pick up on lower difficulty settings and tough to master on the hardest. In each song you play, circular beat indicators will appear at specific note locations on whichever instrument - guitar, drums, or keyboard - you happen to be playing. They'll slowly shrink as the right beat approaches and light up when you're meant to tap them with the stylus. A moving marker spins inside the circle and reaches the top to indicate precise timing. The note or rhythmic hit is triggered whenever you tap it, regardless of proper timing, which makes the gameplay feel slightly different from other titles where elements of the music drops out when you miss. Most songs will alternate between different instrument screens at different parts in the song. You'll sometimes find yourself tapping out beats on a drum kit, playing melodies or vocal lines on the organ, or alternating between guitar and bass lines. This keeps the gameplay varied enough to stave off staleness at least until you've tackled all 21 songs - a task that's easily done in a single sitting. It also possesses a certain addictive quality that sets-in after the first few songs.