A Bizarre Musical Journey
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.
Musically, Monster Band is a mixed bag in the broadest sense of the phrase. The instrumental Muzak-style covers are catchy and enjoyable, even if they’re a far cry from the material you’ll find in other rhythm games. The inclusion of pop hits like Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” and Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” sort of make sense, but they seem a little out of place next to a classical tune like Pachelbel’s “Canon” and timeless, well-known jingles like the “Can Can,” “The Entertainer,” and even “Pennsylvania Polka.” Even stranger, you can also rock out to Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” Queen’s “I Want to Break Free,” and the theme from Ghostbusters, among others. The musical selection is downright bizarre, though it’s a surprisingly entertaining mix and the sound quality is very good.
After tackling the main game, you can noodle around with any of the instruments in Free Play Mode. Here, you’ll apply different sounds and styles to the main instruments that you unlock throughout the main game. The variety isn’t huge, but there are enough unique sound styles for the piano, drums, and guitar/bass to find some you’ll enjoy playing with. A simple clicking or drum track can be applied (or other instruments when playing drums) to give you something to play along to. This mode is essentially just a musical toy. If you’re feeling creative, a limited composing mode lets you record and save your own custom-made songs in three different slots. Each tune has four possible tracks you can record on using any instrument, and it’s relatively easy to use. Single and multi-cart options let you jam with friends or face-off in competitive play.
Monster Band certainly has its limitations, both as a musical toy and as a rhythm game. Unsuspecting buyers might pick it up expecting one thing only to realize they’ve been given something completely different when they get home and actually try it out. Older players may very well find the game’s kiddie vibe irritating, but the gameplay is solid regardless. This is a good pick for the younger gamers or casual players in your life. Beware, you just might find yourself enjoying it too.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
The nice, colorful presentation suffers from some serious repetition. 4.0 Control
Playing the various instruments with the stylus is simple and fun. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The song selection and elevator-music covers are strange, but the audio quality and instrument play are strong. 3.0
Though entertaining and even addictive, the main game is terribly short. The extras are nice to play around with, but don’t substantially extend the gameplay.
3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.