Band Hero - Xbox 360

Such has been the success of Guitar Hero that publisher Activision has begun to roll out the series in serious bulk. This year, the company has released Guitar Hero 5, Guitar Hero: Metallica, Guitar Hero: Van Halen, Guitar Hero: Smash Hits, Guitar Hero On Tour: Modern Hits, DJ Hero and now this - Band Hero.

Band Hero is a spin-off from the original Guitar Hero series which focuses on pop music, rather than the rock, punk and metal that are more often associated with the games. Like the other titles it allows a player to use a variety of plastic instruments to play along with songs, awarding points based on how closely you match it.

Having been released relatively soon after Guitar Hero 5, there's very little difference between the two in terms of gameplay. Aside from the songs and licensed characters, there's almost no change in how the game plays in single-player and multiplayer mode.

There's the same four instruments - guitar, bass, vocals and drums - the same building up of "Star power" and the same execution of that power to boost points. The "Band Moments" introduced in Guitar Hero 5 are here, and so is the excellent "party play" mode that lets new players drop in and out and change difficulty mid-song.

The one addition over Guitar Hero 5 is called Sing-Along and is essentially a non-interactive karaoke mode. Pick it, and you'll get a set of scrolling lyrics, just like a karaoke bar, with your choice of song. It'll play anything it gets through the mic over the speakers, but at the end won't offer a score or any feedback.

While we're talking choice of song, we should address the fact that Band Hero contains just 65 tracks, compared to Guitar Hero 5's 85. It feels a little sparse, and although you can download additional songs, and import them from other games in the series, the options are considerably more limited than in the rival Rock Band games.

The tracks themselves are an odd mix of all-out pop, country, RnB, very light rock, pop-punk and some older tracks. Some will go wild over No Doubt and Taylor Swift, but even as ardent pop fans we found the selection to be both a little lacklustre and one that'll date very fast.

Some songs, like the Spice Girls, Alphabeat, Katrina and the Waves and Duran Duran tracks, were tonnes of fun to play in a group, but others - we're looking at you, Corinne Bailey Rae, were dull as dishwater. It felt more like Session Musician Hero than Band Hero when we ended up on "Put Your Records On".

Happily, there's no need to play anything that you don't want to. All tracks are unlocked from the moment you crack open the case and slot the disc into your console. Completing the single-player Career mode offers a range of customization options instead, like licensed instruments, costumes and unlockable characters.

One particular bugbear that had us cringing was the censorship in the lyrics, forced by the supposedly family-friendly appeal of the game. We're not talking F-bombs here. The word "Whiskey" was removed from American Pie's lyrics. "Them good ol' boys were drinking (silence) and rye" just doesn't scan as well.

Lastly, we'd be remiss not to mention that the game does look great. It's a slightly generic flavour of great - pink and blue sparkly lights, with the complete removal of Guitar Hero's trademark grungy look. The characters are animated excellently and look good, though the audience still appears to consist entirely of robots.

Verdict

Band Hero is fun, but there are a number of caveats we need to place on that. It won't be fun if you don't like pop music. It won't be fun if you want more than the relatively slim 65 tracks on offer. It won't be fun if you get irritated by censorship. If any of those apply, go pick up Rock Band 2 or Guitar Hero 5 instead.

But it will be fun if you enjoy karaoke. It will be fun if your music tastes don't reach to Children of Bodom. It will be fun if you harbour a secret desire to be Gwen Stefani or Adam Levine. There's loads to enjoy in Band Hero, especially if you have an inner 16-year-old girl who's yearning to be set free.