Bands review

Bands is a new Facebook game from German developer Newtracks. It’s available now for anyone to play via the social network.

Bands

Bands is a music-themed game in which players take on the role of an up-and-coming band attempting to grow their fanbase and eventually make it to high-profile concerts. Promotional materials have described the game as being akin to Guitar Hero, but this is in fact completely inaccurate; the game is actually more of a “time management” game in which players must respond quickly to the changing situation on screen. The music itself is almost irrelevant to the gameplay, but it does allow the player to personalize their experience somewhat.

The basic gameplay in Bands sees the player picking a song (or uploading their own) and one of the venues they have unlocked with their level. Once the concert begins, the player’s band appears on the stage and the song begins playing. At this point, various types of fan enter the concert area, and it is the player’s job to attract as many of them as possible towards the stage. This is achieved by using three different “technique” buttons, each of which cover a particular area and shape and cause fans to approach the stage. The bass technique attracts fans in a circular area, the guitar technique attracts fans in an arc and the drum technique attracts fans in a straight line. Each technique takes a moment to recharge after it has been used. If the player continues to allow it to charge after it is available to use, it enters “overcharge” mode, in which the area it covers is larger and the number of points for each fan caught in its area of influence is doubled.

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 12.08.00 PMFans that are near the stage occasionally spew out hearts which may be collected by the player. These add to a vertical graphic equalizer-style meter in the corner of the screen, and when this is filled the player may enter “Rock Out” mode, at which point all fans continually approach the stage and any who are already there spit out stars that are worth points. Conversely, fans that the player does not attract in time leave the gig and cause the Rock Out meter to deplete horizontally rather than vertically — if it depletes entirely, the gig is failed and the player must try again.

At the end of a song, the player’s score is tallied and they earn new fans, which are added to their level meter. Upon leveling up, the player earns access to new venues, items and types of fan who must be handled differently in the concerts — for example, some move quickly but are very impatient so must continually have techniques applied to them; others move slowly but are unlikely to leave. Every few hours, the player has the opportunity to play a “promoted” gig, at which point they earn additional fans, making it easier to level up.

The game monetizes through its hard currency of “pickles,” which can be used to purchase various booster items to use in the game. Only one booster may be equipped at a time, and there is a cap on the maximum number which may be on hand at any one time. All boosters may also be purchased using the soft currency earned through play. The combination of these factors helps keep the game balanced and away from being a “pay to win” scenario.

Social features include charts of the most-played and trending songs in the game as well as a leaderboard for each gig. Players may also allow their uploaded songs to be made public, which allows competition against others on favorite songs. There’s also a “friends” feed that is intended to show the last few songs the player’s friends have played in the game, but this is not yet fully implemented.

Bands is a great idea with some solid gameplay, but it has some significant issues at present. Most seriously is the fact that on certain combinations of OS and browser, the game simply does not work as intended. When tested on Google Chrome under Mac OS X, it was impossible to select any song other than the default, for example, and the game occasionally completely crashed the Flash plugin altogether. On Firefox under Mac OS X, it wouldn’t start at all. These issues were absent on a Windows 7 machine in the same browsers.

There are a few other smaller issues that could do with polishing up, too. The “level” meter that appears after a completed gig is often inaccurate, for example, beginning at the halfway point and then suddenly jumping forward or back to where it actually should be, giving the player the impression of either earning or losing more fans than they actually did. Also, if the player levels up after a successful gig, the level meter does not update as it fills, instead remaining at the same level and simply emptying itself. The level meter on the game’s main map screen is accurate, however. There’s also simply far too much in the game’s interface listed as “coming soon” — the game should have been kept in closed beta until more of its features were available. At present, it’s simply frustrating for the player to see a large number of interface elements that are completely unusable at present.

Bands

This may all sound rather negative, but the fact is if Newtracks can sort out the issues mentioned above, it will have a great game on its hands. It’s an original take on the music game genre — though the actual “music” aspect of it is almost irrelevant — and when it works, it plays well. With the incompatibility issues and the missing features, it’s tough to recommend in good conscience at this time, but check back in a month or two and it’s likely there’ll be a really good game here.

Bands is currently listed in the 1,500+ MAU tier with a rank of 46,770, and the 100+ DAU tier with a rank of 35,552 — it did only launch last Thursday and has not yet received any high-profile promotion as yet, however. You can follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for social games and developers.

Wait

A great idea that needs a bit of polishing up before it’s ready to hit the main stage.