Review by doktorsquidd

Reviewed: 01/04/05

A unique new contender in the rhythm gaming genre.

If you are one of the 500,000 or so lucky Americans to receive a Nintendo DS this holiday season, you may be thinking to yourself, "what now?" The system launched in November, but it won't be another two months at least before a respectable number of games are released for the handheld. In the meantime, Daigasso! Band Brothers may be just the thing to tide you over. It's quirky, it makes good use of the DS technology, and it has lots of replay value.

Daigasso! (Japanese for 'Great Orchestra') Band Brothers is a music game in the style of BeatMania or Frequency. The game scrolls along a track and you press corresponding buttons in time with the music. On the introductory levels the songs play very slowly and you only have two buttons to concern yourself with. Once you work your way up to amateur mode, you have eight buttons to contend with, and the songs get faster. On Pro mode, you use all ten buttons at once, and the songs run full-speed. Occasionally the word "touch" will appear in the musical score, and mashing the touchscreen with your thumb at the appropriate time will automatically complete a series of notes for you. It's a basic use of the technology, but adds variety and challenge to the gameplay.

Another unique feature of Daigasso is the ability to select which part you wish to play in a given song. Each song is composed using up to eight different instruments, and you can choose a different part each time you play. It's just like being in pep band all over again!

Unlocking difficulty levels is done by completing Special Event mode. In a Special Event, game mascot Barbara Bat throws three songs at you in sequence, and you don't get to choose which instrument you play. A meter appears on the bottom screen, and it drains every time you make a major mistake (for instance, missing consecutive notes, or button-mashing aimlessly). Make it through three songs without depleting this meter entirely, and you unlock the next level of difficulty. These events can get really challenging, but they're not really the core of the gameplay.

The only bad thing I have to say about Daigasso is that the learning curve is really uneven: when you first start playing, the game is so easy that you WILL absolutely become bored. After a few songs, amateur mode is unlocked, and you'll find a mix of songs that are extremely easy, and songs that are extremely hard depending on which instrument you choose. Even if you work your way up to Pro Mode you'll find that you are ill-prepared, as the game makes you handle all ten buttons and multi-button combinations that will strain the relationship between your left and right brain. That the tempo is influenced by the difficulty level doesn't help either. My point is that Daigasso always feels either too easy or too hard.

This is the official selling point of Daigasso! Band Brothers: an edit mode that puts Frequency and Dance Dance Revolution to shame. The basic mode, "It only sings toward a microphone" (I <3 Engrish) allows you to hum a melody into the DS microphone, which then transposes your notes into a synth track. It doesn't appear to work that well, but once you unlock Pro Edit Mode ("Making an Orthodox Score is Here") you can take this basic melody and tweak it in a ridiculous number of ways.

Pro Edit allows you to pick any of the [several dozen] MIDI instruments used in the game, and make your own song. It's a portable multi-track sequencer! You can adjust tempo and do all sorts of fun things with your composition, and when it's done, you can save it (up to eight songs total) and even trade with your friends (if they coincidentally imported their own copy of Daigasso).

Even though Band Brothers is pretty import-friendly, Pro Edit mode is the part of the game that will give you the most hassles if you don't know any japanese. You can figure most of the functions out through intuition (it's a pretty logical interface) but the language barrier is strongest here. Another consideration: the edit mode is really powerful, but it may be intimidating to people who can't read music, as you sequence your songs on a musical score using actual musical notes and sharps and flats and that sort of thing. Still, with a little experimentation everything will make sense.

It's a rhythm game. Graphics don't count. The art and design of the game, however, are really nice. Cutscenes are sparsely animated but very well-illustrated. Menus and options screens are done in the psychedelic style of a 1960's concert poster or something to that effect, it's all very nice for what it's worth.

You get a good selection of songs: JPop, Anime Themes, world music, classical, and video game favorites round out the selection of over 30 tunes. Some of the instruments have an irritating nasal quality about them, but it's MIDI, so what do you expect? The playlist is obviously not tuned to american sensibilities, but the ability to make your own music should practically negate this fact.

The game allows for 2-8 players on a single cartridge, or "infinite" if everybody has their own. I've seen footage of over a dozen people playing at once, so I'm guessing infinite really is "infinite", although logically you'd be limited by the signal strength of the DS proprietary wireless signal.

LANGUAGE BARRIER: Most of the game's text is in katakana, the japanese phonetic alphabet for foreign words. It translates neatly into Engrish, which most of you speak as a second language. There's a lot of kanji as well, which is more of a language hurdle, but every critical aspect of the game can be figured out through trial and error--you won't be missing out on 'story' or any such nonsense, I mean, it's a rhythm game for crying out loud. If my experience is typical, you will struggle with the interface for maybe ten minutes and then everything will become second nature to you.

DS TECHNOLOGY: The touchscreen is used sparingly for the actual game, only when the "touch" icon appears in a musical track. Pro Edit mode is driven almost entirely by the touchscreen, and it works very well with the stylus, but I had some difficulty using my thumb or the thumbstrap to navigate menus. The onscreen 'buttons' didn't react as well to my thumb as they did to the stylus. Wireless multiplayer is hot, and the ability to trade custom tracks with your friends is also pretty neat.

FINAL SCORE: 8/10. It's a great import if you're a fan of rhythm games or composing music, and the language barrier isn't what I'd call significant. The sound quality is a bit meager, but the ability to add whatever song you feel like to the game extends the gameplay significantly. The learning curve is steep, but not enough to make you stop playing. That, plus the multiplayer options, should seal the deal for you. It may not be for everybody, but it's definitely worth importing.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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