Review by FinalAtomicBuster
Want to write video game songs? Here's your chance!
I'll try to keep this review simple and straight to the point. Here goes:
The Back Story
As everyone who is reading should know, Daigasso! Band Brothers ("Jam with the Band" is US version's name... when it eventually gets there) is a music rhythm game for the Nintendo DS. The game was apparently meant for the GBA, but Mr Iwata being the man he is decided he wanted it as a release title for DS instead and asked the developers to incorporate some DS features into the game - namingly wireless multiplayer, single cart multiplayer and best of all a song editor.
As far as music rhythm games go, its not exactly your average title. I haven't really played other rhythm games extensively, my experience really only goes to trying out most of the arcade counter parts (drum mania, guitar mania, keyboard mania, DDR etc) only once; I've played games like Bust a Groove and Pa Rappa a few times though and I've also recently gotten into Donkey Konga; so my knowledge on this subject isn't absolute. However, I can tell you that Band Bros is a lot of fun. Details follows.
Its pretty obvious that this game was meant for the GBA. Other than using both screens to almost full potential, there's not much more in the visual department that couldn't be done on the GBA. This isn't really a bad thing though, because outstanding graphics don't really matter for this style of game. What counts is that you can see what you need to see - the commands for what you need to press. The buttons have been designed well so that you don't easily mistake it for wrong button. The only times I've gotten the button wrong is either when I'm too uncoordinated to press the right one (the sequence was just too fast) or when I mixed up the D-pad buttons and the XYBA buttons. Both times its an error on my part, not the game, so its all good.
This category is pretty important considering the style of game, and this game doesn't disappoint. However, it should be considered a warning not to expect full DS quality audio. This is another area where you can see that the game was meant for the GBA - and had it been released for it, this wouldn't be a problem. Not that its a problem now, its just that I know some people will be expecting much more from it.
Personally, I love this style of music. Its essentially MIDI but with a SNES/GBA twist. Most of the sounds/instruments from the SNES sound set are here and once you unlock the full song editor, you have almost God like control over what you want to do with them. If you're like me and enjoy a lot of SNES soundtracks (think FF6 and CT) then you'll probably want to pick up this game just for the editor.
I'm making up this category because I think it's important to know if the developers are making a DS game, a GBA game, or something else. Think Robots or Retro Atari Classics and you'll know what I mean. Basically, I'm just rating the use of the DS' unique features on the game. Theoretically, if it was using the DS' features in full, then the game could not be ported to another system. Yoshi Touch 'n Go is a great example of this.
Band Bros uses most of the DS' features pretty well. The touch screen is used for all menu navigation and also as a command in some parts of some songs; the dual screens are used very well throughout, absolutely necessary in Score Maker Pro; the mic is used for the first song editor which admitedly isn't really worth using; the wireless multiplayer is used pretty much like other multiplayer games on the DS and the single cart has a surprising amount gameplay for one cart mutli.
What I'd like to mention separately though, is that Score Maker Pro uses the touch screen and most buttons in tandem. This isn't anything remarkable, and I can still see this game being ported over to GBA with a less intuitive interface. But that's just it, it is so much faster with the touch screen that this alone almost makes it worthy of being a DS only game. Add to it the above things and that pretty much makes this title a clear pass in this category.
Here's where it shines. I'll split this into two parts: the playing part, and the editing part.
Like most rhythm games, the objective is to press the right buttons at the right time. Sometimes you have to hold the button too. At first, you can only play in a somewhat "tutorial" mode or something. You only have to use either a button or a d-pad direction (I should have said this earlier, but I consider each of the 4 d-pad directions a "button" for the sake of this review) represented as either a left facing blue button, or a right facing red button. Pretty simple and I doubt many people will have much trouble with it.
You have 3 modes of play here: Practice, Recording, Multiplayer. The practice mode is where you have full access to each song and can learn the parts. You can also just go in here and do a recording of sorts where it will record your performance score for you to beat later. Think of time trials in racing games, it works pretty much the same way. Recording is where you make your progress through the game. You need to pass this mode in order to unlock more songs or the brilliant Score Maker Pro. Multiplayer is where you can play with a friend. Single or multi cart is supported. 8 players is the limit for single cart, which to me is not really a limit but rather a goal ;), and multicart apparently supports unlimited players... I'm not sure how this would even work because there are only 8 channels in each song.
As you progress, you unlock harder modes of play. You start with the 2 button config I mentioned earlier, then you progress to using 4 directions and 4 buttons, and finally in Pro mode, you use the L and R buttons too. Don't be fooled by only having another two buttons, what these buttons do is far from simple. L raises the note by a semi-tone and R raises it by an octave. You have to sort of hold it down to use it, once the corresponding note button (d-pad or XYBA) is pressed/held, you can let go of the shoulder button. This helps somewhat and allows you to concentrate on the upcoming notes. A chromatic scale will be the death of you.
Unlike most racing games, your performance here can be "maxed out" in a way like ten pin bowling is. 100 seems to be the best score you can possibly get, but that's really not a problem when you unlock Score Maker Pro. And besides, its pretty hard to get anywhere near that in some songs anyway.
What I personally consider to be the selling point of this game. If you are the kind of person who played Mario Paint a lot and only messed around with the song editor, or if you changed your Animal Crossing town theme song constantly, or even if you're the kind to write your own MIDI tune to upload to your mobile phone as a ring tone, then this mode is for you. Although it could be called level editor for a rhythm game, its just so much more than that.
At first, the interface will be daunting, but a few minutes of trial and error and you'll be writing epics in no time. I'll assume that the US version will be easier to get into because of the lack of Kanji everywhere. The top screen is used to display your stave, of which you can choose to be either treble or bass clef and the key signature of up to 5 sharps or flats (but no time signature change unfortunately - its 4/4 all the way), and the bottom screen is all your options for notes and editing. You'll essentially be using the touch screen here, but the buttons also play a part. Skipping a bar forward or backwards is done with the R or L buttons respectively, the Select button will cycle through channels, D-pad move forward a note or semi-quaver depending on what's selected, B erases and A enters a note (also done with the touch screen). For some reason X and Y aren't used, but there's not much missing from the controls as it is, so its not a problem.
The amount of control you have is quite astounding. Its not perfect, and if you're a pro at CuBase or some other PC based sequencer, you'll see what this is missing. You can't expect to have that kind of power on your hand held though. Actually, you can expect to have the kind of power you DO have in this game on any game.
Here are some of the limits I noticed:
No time signature changes
This is far enough, considering that every song is supposed to be played. Having time changes would constantly screw up with your timing on the main game. If you can fit what you want into a 4/4 bar structure though, then you may be able to work around it.
Only 2 octaves of notes per channel
Again, this is because of the game itself. Remember the buttons and L and R in playing mode? Here's how it works, down is Do, left is Re, up is Me, left is Fa, Y is So, B is La, A is Te, X is Do again an octave up. Add R to that and you've got your second octave. This means that in the main game, it is impossible to play anymore than 2 octaves (well, technically you could go a semi-tone up). The editor knows this and will restrict your highest note to be only 2 octaves up from your lowest note. Here's a simple tip, if your lowest can afford to be an octave up, then do it to raise your range of notes.
Quaver Triplets only
Use of triplets is limited to be displayed by quaver triplets in its shortest form. In other words, no semi-quaver triplets. Yet again, this is a limitation of the game's playing mode. You simply cannot see anything smaller than a semi-quaver, its also far enough. Besides the simple work around is to go double time.
120 bars of music
I was at first concerned about this, but when put into practice, found that it wasn't such a bad thing. I'm assuming this is place because of the memory limit on the cart, but its still enough. Let put it this way, I'm working on the theme to Monkey Magic and the full version of that is barely over 100 bars. 120 is fine.
One instrument per channel
I only bring this one up because I know a lot of SNES soundtracks used this trick. They would start a channel with one instrument then once that instrument isn't needed, would change to another one. I would have liked it in this game too, but again it would probably stuff around with the playing experience.
There's not much there that could be considered detrimental to the game. In fact, all the limits that I found have some pretty good reason to be there. Seriously, there's so much you can do I shouldn't really complain.
A very fun and progressively difficult main game, a fun multiplayer mode with just a single cart, and an absolutely brilliant song maker makes for one of the best games for any system. If you're even the slightest bit of a music enthusiast, then this game is definitely for you. Double that recommendation if you love SNES/MIDI music.
P.S. Sorry this review got so long, and thanks for reading :).
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
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