It’s Disney Rock and Roll
but I Like it
A Disney-ish version of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Ultimate Band has a different agenda, and it kind of works. In this game, you can play lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass and/or drums – or get your friends to play some of them.
All of the instruments are accessed using the stylus. At its core, Ultimate Band is still a rhythm-based game, but the focus is not entirely on “showboating,” as it focuses on teamwork; the main concept integral to creating and maintaining a band.
Let us have no illusions, Ultimate Band is pure, out-and-out Disney. Everything about it is safe. We all know that the music business harbors some of the most unsavory characters that ever crawled out from their parents’ basement, but rock and roll is not pretty. It not only embraces these unstable rapscallions, it thrives on them. So, what we get is an entirely fictional account of the music industry. A business that’s safe, clean, and honest. Now this may seem like blasphemy, but consider that this game is aimed at a young demographic. Some of these innocents still believe in the Easter bunny. So let them imagine that boys in Oasis would love to come over and play Spyro with them.
Ultimate Band does offer a lot of variety. There is more to it than trying to keep up with falling icons. First of all, there is no need to buy any expensive peripherals, yet you can play lead and rhythm guitar, bass, and drums. The game also allows for connectivity to the Wii, in addition to online play that doesn’t involve competition so much as it emphasizes sharing and cooperation. A recording mode allows you to get creative with your own musical stylings. The online community is where you can exchange various musical ideas and acquire new skills. Ultimate Band has a lot of potential, not only as a fun game but as an educational experience. It may not be fair to think of Ultimate Band as Guitar Hero-Lite as it does have depth. Even the songs aren’t all that bad with selections from the B-52s, Wheezer, The White Stripes, and The Who. Not too shabby for Disney-approved rock and roll.
As the title implies, the name of the game sets the premise – to actually become the Ultimate Band. After reading about a battle of the bands contest in the local papers, the main characters get to work honing their musical chops one note and one beat at a time. Working your way up through the ranks is an experience that all musicians have to go though. It’s reward is to finally be deemed good enough to make it out of the garage to a gig where people will actually pay to hear you play. Rockopolis is the city where you will begin your musical journey. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. You’ll play various venues such as the Jamhalla, Aztec Palace, and the Dome Debut. The better you perform, the more songs you’ll unlock and the better venues you will play in. You’ll also collect points and receive tips from the audience on how to improve your performances. If you’re planning on a career in music, you will be advised to get used to this pretty darn quick because everyone’s a critic.
Lead guitar is played by plucking the virtual strings on the guitar with the stylus. The guitar neck takes up both the top and bottom screen. Notes cascade down the strings and when they get into range, on the bottom touch screen, you will have to touch them at the intersecting point while pressing the appropriate direction on the D-pad simultaneously.
Each note indicates which direction to press. Without question, playing lead guitar is the most difficult of all the instruments with the bass guitar coming in a close second. Rhythm guitar just requires strumming, and while that may be easier than having to press the D-pad in conjunction with the notes, it doesn’t always register each and every strum precisely. I could not find a way to compensate for this.
The drums are the most fun, but least challenging. It’s a welcome break from sweating over a hot lead guitar. Notes fall on the snare drum and it’s just a matter of hitting the snare to the beat of the descending notes. There’s a reason why the drums are so easy, so your friend can be in your band too. And that brings me to the multiplayer component of the game. There is a head-to-head challenge for those with a competitive streak, but it’s the co-op mode that really shines. Here you can actually put together a virtual band with people from around the world, or your own neighborhood, as the game supports local and wireless networks. Up to three other players can be a part of your band, and like I mentioned, your friend can be the drummer.
You can make tracks in the studio. Layer beats and add various musical patterns and progressions, as you add rhythm guitar, bass, and some lead. There are templates that you can use or go for total creative freedom. There are drum beats and loops that you can use as the foundation for your tracks or you can create your own. It’s all easy to use and fun to experiment with. You can share your tunes with the online community but let’s face it, unless you’re a musical genius, not too many people really want to hear your experimental noodlings. But it’s a great place to get ideas and feedback from.
Ultimate Band is not a looker. It’s colorful and cartoonish but it lacks personality. The characters look like Lego-people and the backgrounds are either generic or tacky. The instruments are well designed; they are big and take up both screens. The menus are easy to access as is the control scheme that will accommodate both left and right handed gamers. There are 15 tunes, but not performed by the original artists. The cover band does do a good job. Unlike the Wii, there are no vocals in this version. But you can connect to the Wii and use the DS to control the lighting production. It’s not a big deal, but at least it’s a deal.
Ultimate Band may not make you a star, but at least it will make you feel like one.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.6 Graphics
Generic and tacky-looking graphics. Characters look like Lego people. 4.5 Control
Good use of the stylus for all instruments. Easy to see onscreen icons. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Good covers of safe rock tunes. Headphones are a must. 4.4
Lots of gameplay variety in the musical vein. Play solo, with a band, or record your own creations.
4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.