Let’s face it; at this point anyone with even a basic knowledge of the rhythm game genre is going to recognize the two big-name franchises over the competition. Since the start of the latest wave of the rhythm game explosion, kids have been clamoring for Guitar Hero and Rock Band like they were the last games on earth. Much to the dismay of parents around the country, the massive bundles of fake plastic instruments required to play either franchise come at a hefty price. Enter Ultimate Band – Disney’s attempt to pander to ailing parents seeking a cheaper music game alternative.
Ultimate Band won’t fool teens out of their aspirations of becoming guitar-wielding rock gods, but it might prove to be a useful tool for some parents to get their younger kids to quit whining over why they can’t have a living room full of instrument peripherals. Admittedly, the idea of playing a full-band rhythm game without having to shell out for over a hundred dollars worth of extra junk is an enticing one. All you need to enjoy the game is a Wii Remote and Nunchuk for each player, and that alone makes it an intriguing sell.
In the game’s story mode, you’ll form a youthful band that embarks on a rock-n-roll quest to win a glorified battle of the bands. Before your musical journey begins, you’ll have an opportunity to hand-pick the look of each person in the group. There are some cool options initially available for customizing each band member’s appearance and attire, and new goodies are unlocked as you progress. From there, you’ll head out to a series of gigs at a variety of different venues, unlocking new songs and places to play along the way.
Keeping in line with Disney’s family-friendly vibe, the tone of the game’s overall presentation, including fully animated cutscenes and dialogue, is generally upbeat and cheerful. Dialogue is smattered with youthful lingo, and the content is clearly aimed at kids. It’s reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon-like attempt at being hip. Younger players will eat this up, and parents won’t have to worry about their kids being potentially exposed to offensive content. Hell, you can’t even name your band inappropriately; Disney is watching.
The best way to describe gameplay is it closely resembles playing air guitar – an often humorous and surprisingly fun way to enjoy a rhythm game. Most of the time you’ll be swinging, twisting, pointing, and shaking the Wii Remote and Nunchuk in time to on-screen rhythmic cues along to the music. Four instrumental styles utilize the Wii Remote and Nunchuk controls in different ways, offering distinctly unique play modes. You’ll intuitively mimic strumming the guitar and bass, swinging drumsticks in the air, and executing dance moves and poses. It’s highly likely most players will gravitate towards the guitar and drums, but playing as the vocalist (thankfully there’s no singing involved) and the bassist also offer a good change in pace.
Three difficulty levels make the game easily playable by the youngest gamers yet provide a reasonable challenge for folks already familiar with the genre. That said, most of the game falls on the easier side. Lower difficulty settings simplify the entire process by subtracting buttons, so let’s instead discuss how the game plays on hard mode. For the basic guitar controls, you’ll strum with the Wii Remote while hitting four different combinations of the C and Z buttons on the Nunchuk to enter different notes that scroll right to left across the screen. Bass controls are similar, though you’ll switch between six note options that rely on the Nunchuk being tilted to the left or right – a neat idea that doesn’t work as well. Both offer subtle variations like poses, whammy note grabs, modifier moves, and special maneuvers.
Drums are played by wielding controls like sticks and swinging in different ways to match notes that move vertically down the screen along a two-lane runway. As the vocalist you won’t worry about singing. Instead you’ll execute punches, jabs, poses, and other moves separately with your right and left arms. The basic controls for each instrumental style are tight and responsive, while some of the advanced moves don’t always work as planned. You have the option of going solo or playing with three other pals. Ultimate Band does manage to pull off the rock simulation experience in a way that’s still enjoyable to play. It’s no real replacement for the gameplay possible with a plastic instrument peripheral, but it’s fun and somewhat of a challenge regardless.
At a glance, Ultimate Band has a similar flow to Rock Band and Guitar Hero titles; each venue offers a handful of tunes to play through, and you’ll have to do well in each song to unlock the next tier. Instead of an encore, you’ll face a band battle at the end of each song grouping. Beyond that, the game’s progression differs noticeably when it comes to objectives. For every song, you’re given the option of playing as the guitarist, bassist, singer, or drummer. Instead of playing each song once and moving on, you’re forced to earn a pre-determined number of accolades in a particular venue before the next one is unlocked. This means you have no choice but to replay the same three songs in each location as different instrumentalists in order to move on. While it encourages players to test out and become familiar with the four different ways to play, this mechanic really bogs down the flow of the game. It unnecessarily lengthens the game, perhaps to make up for a meager set list.
The poppy, rock-heavy track listing contains more than 30 tunes. There’s a good mixture of older and new songs; the only problem is every track in the entire game is a cover performed essentially by the same band (with an option to have either male or female vocals). Quality-wise, the mostly-catchy covers aren’t too bad, and young players won’t care much about whether they’re performed by the original artists.
Ultimate Band won’t live up to the high expectations of most players who’ve already had a taste or Rock Band and Guitar Hero, but it’s a perfect fit for families on a budget with younger kids who are just looking for something music-oriented to play. Not having to lay out huge sums of cash is a big bonus. However, the fake instruments are part of what makes the current generation of rhythm games so enjoyable. Playing tunes with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk can be challenging and entertaining. It’s just not the same and all but the youngest crowds will notice the difference.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.9 Graphics
A great presentation with sharp graphics. 3.6 Control
Interesting control scheme is fun when it works. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
For being 100 percent covers, it’s not too shabby. The voice acting is a little over the top. 3.6
30+ songs aren’t many for a full-blown game nowadays, but there are a lot of ways to play – for better or worse.
3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.