Does anyone remember Eagle Boys Pizza?

I sure do. Their pizza was fantastic. It was lovingly crafted, beautifully presented and you didn't need to sell a kidney to afford it, unlike other devilish pizza brands out there. Unfortunately, Eagle Boys was a victim of its own success, because like so many other excellent small-scale franchises, once once they became serious competition for the larger, more aggressive Pizza Hut, it was simply easier to buy them out and fold the existing operation into their own brand, thereby giving the fingers to the loyal customer base who will probably continue to buy their products anyway.

Guitar Hero isn't too far removed from this corporate reality. From modest beginnings in 2005, the brand shot to superstardom under the watchful tutorship of RedOctane and Harmonix, who were both later acquired by Activision and MTV Games respectively. Activision have come under fire recently for what many are bemoaning as an attempt to squeeze every last dollar out of this franchise by flooding the market with endless sequels and track packs, and it's certainly becoming difficult to tell most of the Guitar Hero titles apart.

Perhaps Activision sensed public opinion, because the series has now been split in two directions - Guitar Hero 5 was designed primarily with guitarists in mind, although there's nothing stopping drummers and vocalists from participating. The flagship title that focuses more on the co-operative experience has now been launched as Band Hero, and it features more lightweight pop-orientated tracks whilst projecting a family-friendly aura.

From the outset, it's not immediately obvious why this split has occurred, because Band Hero and Guitar Hero 5 are awfully similar. Both feature the same redesigned guitar with the non-slip strum bar and improved touch pads. Both have the same gameplay features such as drop-in, drop-out party play, online leaderboards, bonus challenges and a decidedly light career mode. Both have the same fretboard, the same gameplay style, and both have "Guitar Hero" stickers all over everything. If Activision are serious about starting a new franchise in the form of Band Hero, they've done a pretty lukewarm job of kicking it all off.

There are really two major attributes that set Band Hero apart from previous titles. The first is the redesigned drum kit, which features improved cymbals, a sturdier base that allows the pedal to attach in exactly the same manner as Rock Band, and a completely new controller panel that has been relocated to the front of the kit, and equipped with the ability to detach completely. This is presumably to allow PS3 and Xbox 360 versions to be mass produced together and separated out at the last minute by simply slotting in the necessary panel, which is pretty clever when you think about it.

The other glaring difference is the track list. You can see the complete list on the second page of this review, but suffice to say it's firmly focussed on the pop music market, with artists such as Taylor Swift, Hilary Duff, Duran Duran and The Culture Club making an appearance. It's not all lightweight however, there's some Rolling Stones, Poison, Everclear and Fallout Boy too, but despite featuring artists known for some great rock numbers, the chosen tracks are more likely to be pulled from the softer side of their discography. You do get to unlock playable avatars in the form of Taylor Swift, Adam Levine of Maroon 5, and No Doubt, if that's your sort of thing.

Had Band Hero been launched instead of Guitar Hero World Tour, it would make a lot more sense. The problem here is that there is really nothing new to encourage existing players to upgrade. If you already have Guitar Hero 5 and you're not much of a vocalist or drummer, you'd need to be particularly enamoured with pop music to look seriously at this latest release.

On the other hand, if you're new to the franchise, or you'd like to get your family involved over the Christmas break, then Band Hero is a polished title that still offers a great deal of entertainment, even if it's not exactly revolutionary. After four years of continual development, Activision and RedOctane have ironed out pretty much all of the hardware faults and software bugs, so if you have been holding off on buying until these problems have been sorted then now is a good time. In addition, if you pick up the bundle, you'll get instruments that are compatible with Guitar Hero 5, Guitar Hero: Metallica, Guitar Hero Greatest Hits, and Guitar Hero World Tour. Not to mention a guitar that is compatible with the original Guitar Hero titles back to day one, which are going for a song in bargain bins all over the country.

I can't really rate this game any different than Guitar Hero 5, because despite the addition of the new drum kit, it really feels like a track pack. I don't personally care for most of the tracks either, but it would be unfair to rate a game down based on personal taste. It's highly advisable that you check the track listing carefully before deciding to purchase this game, because it's definitely the most family-friendly Hero title to date. But at this time of the year, that's not a bad thing at all.

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Continue to the next page for a full track listing.

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