Review: The Naked Brothers Band: The Game (PC)

The Naked Brothers Band: The Game
Developer: Barking Lizards
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Rhythm
Release Date: 10/15/2008

A while ago, site owner and fellow writer Alex Lucard told me “Guy, we have received The Naked Brothers Band game and you are going to review it.” Woah, wait a minute. Who are these Naked Brothers, and why are they in a band? After looking it up on the net, it turns out that it is only the newest Nickelodeon TV series featuring kids making music. Think of Hannah Montana, only with an entire band instead of a single singer. Not only is an entire band starring in the show, but its manager and the rest of the entourage are also there. And guess what? The manager is a kid too! This is all so cute! I was being overwhelmed by the whole cuteness of the idea to the point where rainbows where starting to shoot out of my ears.

I had no previous exposition to The Naked Brothers Band since I don’t make a habit out of watching kids shows by myself (single and without kids here, hey ladies). Therefore, I approached the game without any real prejudice towards the source material. The game box promised me that I would be able to play my favourite Naked Brothers Band songs with the members themselves, and that I would also be able to customize them to my liking. This sounded totally inoffensive and even quite neat actually, as I have become a fan of rhythm games in the past few months. As soon as it arrived at my apartment, I installed the game and started playing it immediately.

I have never been the same man since.

What I found was some kind of cheap Guitar Hero knock-off starring a cheap Hansons knock-off. Seriously, Mmmbop was at least charming and even catchy the first few times I heard it. The Naked Brothers Band, from what I have gathered, performs nothing but inane songs about banana smoothies and cheesy love ballads. As if that wasn’t enough, the singer’s voice could actually qualify as one of the most irritating sound in existence. No, I did not become a fan The Naked Brothers Band despite being bombarded by twenty-five or their most famous “hits”, but rest assured that it will not interfere in my review of this game. After all, I understand that there is a public for this type of act, and that they are the people that the developers were aiming for.

Unfortunately, this game would have sunk even with a soundtrack made exclusively from The Beatles’ extensive library of songs.

Where do I start? The game welcomes you with the main menu over a background of 3-D reproductions of the main characters sitting on a couch. The choices are Tour, Jam Session and Party. The first two are quite obvious, with them being the game’s career and quickplay modes respectively, but the third option caught my attention. Party? I guessed that this is where I get to “live” the life of rock star, or at least, a pre-pubescent one. How does a kid party? I expected to sign autographs and eat ice cream, but it didn’t end up quite like this. As it turned out, “Party” was just the game’s way of saying “multiplayer”. As it is, there are only three modes of play in this game, and they are all basically the same thing with restrictions being added or taken out depending on your selection.

The “Tour” mode puts you in the shoes of The Naked Brothers Band as they get annoyed by their manager on a daily basis. Seriously, the character might be the most obnoxious kid I have ever seen. He is a total nerd, but not a fun one. Instead, he is the kind of guy who probably gets a wedgie twice a day in junior high. He gets excited about the most mundane things and even the band members seem to dislike him somewhat. Still, he doesn’t play much of a role other than appearing in the cut-scenes (which I will talk about in details later on). Anyway, the whole point of the “Tour” mode is to play songs in increasing difficulties in order to unlock more songs, venues, instruments and outfits for your band. The structure of the mode is good enough, and quite frankly, it’s even expected of such a game since it’s a template that has been followed by every game from the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series. The problem is when it comes to actually playing the songs.

Since this is a PC game and it doesn’t come with any plastic instrument of its own, the developers had to come up with their own ways of using the keyboard to mimic playing an instrument. On the bright side, there are many instruments to choose from, including guitar, drums and even a cello. On the other hand, each and every one of these instrument fails to feel like the real thing, which is an illusion that needs to be perfect in order for this genre of game to be fun. An example would be the drums, which is the first instrument you encounter when starting a Tour. You use the left and right “shift” and “ctrl” keys to play green and purple notes, respectively. These notes come from both sides of the screen in a scrolling pattern. Two problems arise from such a set-up: first, I fail to see how tapping four different keys is supposed to make me feel like a drummer. Instead, it just makes the experience feel like a tedious exercise to make you a better typist. The second problem is the way the notes scroll at you. They scroll horizontally instead of vertically as in every other game of that genre. Why? Do Activision and MTV have a joint patent on vertical scrolling? Horizontal scrolling is the most unnatural way to look at a note chart that I have seen in a rhythm game, a fact that is made even worse because there are actually two sets of notes scrolling from both edges of the screen towards the center. This game is basically asking you to go cross-eyed for a couple of minutes while you finish the song, which makes playing the drums uncomfortable. I guess it would be easy to look past that fact if it ended up being fun, but pressing keys alternately is not.

Another example would be the cello. This time, you use the “a”, “s”, “d” and “f” keys to place your virtual fingers on the different chords, and then press the spacebar to play the note. Again, there are two big issues with this. The first one is that once again, it feels nothing like playing the instrument. The second one is a variation on the scrolling issue. Look at the keys used to play the cello on your keyboard. The way they are placed, it would be natural for them to be in the same spot on the screen while notes scroll from top to bottom. It looks like the developers didn’t agree, or felt that it would be too easy. Instead, the keys on the screen are placed from top to bottom while the notes scroll horizontally. It is needlessly confusing and brings the fun factor even further down, as if it wasn’t bad enough by this point.

I previously mentioned the cut-scenes that appear during the Tour mode. To be blunt, they are probably the worst I have ever seen. Every scene consists of jagged 3-D models of the characters being totally immobile and lifeless while the text appears at the bottom of the screen. When I say “lifeless”, I do mean that they look literally dead. Their posture changes from scene to scene, but once they are in a certain position, they are stuck there until you press the left mouse button to get to the next line of dialogue. The face of the characters is always sporting some kind of weird smile or grin, which is actually almost scary and makes the cut-scenes look like a visit to the creepiest of all wax museums.

As you can guess, the Jam Session mode is more of the same, but without the creepy cut-scenes. As for Party mode, which serves as the game’s multiplayer mode, it is also the same, but even worse. If you think that alternately tapping keys is boring, wait until you have to do it with two players using the same keyboards. It was extremely cramped and uncomfortable when I did it with my friend’s kid. It was even worse when I did it with my brother, but I’ll cut the game some slack for that one. I don’t think that two grown-up, 6’1” guys with giant hands were supposed to play this.

So, with all the negative things I have said about this game, just who could enjoy The Naked Brothers Band: The Game? Honestly, I don’t even think that fans of the music will enjoy this product. The gameplay is absolutely atrocious and has no redeeming quality. If you are thinking about buying this game as a gift to a fan of the band, please don’t. A CD would be a much better investment as it is basically the same thing as the game, only without the bland, boring gameplay tacked on. Even someone with a blind devotion to the movies or TV show would get tired of this software after about ten minutes. I’m pretty sure that if you are so inclined to put some money in the Naked Brothers Band’s pockets, there are better built products out there sporting their faces.

I would hate to finish this review on a bad note, so I will conclude with the only good thing I managed to find about the game: the sound is crystal clear. The songs sound good (at least if it is your kind of music) even at full volume. Still, 25 songs is a pretty thin selection when it comes to a rhythm game, but I guess it is offset by the fact that there are so many instruments to play on each of them. But then again, the instruments selection is itself offset by the fact that none of them are in the least enjoyable.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Poor
Graphics: Poor
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Dreadful
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Bad
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Dreadful
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Worthless

FINAL SCORE: PRETTY POOR GAME

Short Attention Span Summary

I can’t help but feel like this was quickly put together to suck money away from kids while the latest fad is still profitable. I fail to see any reason why anybody would want to buy that game. If you wanted to buy this for a fan of the Naked Brothers, chance are that the person you are thinking of already has all of these songs in another form. This game manages to take a simple formula that has been proven successful time and time again, and completely waste it with ridiculously clumsy controls. Avoid at all costs.

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