Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
The Rock Band franchise has gone from strength to strength since its debut in 2007. It is actually one of the few series that I think has only improved over time. This latest iteration follows in the footsteps of the 2009 PSP title Rock Band Unplugged, giving the player control over all of the instrument tracks at once.
The core gameplay as ever revolves around hitting buttons in time to the music. I’d love to say that there is some depth and how the game is a highly cerebral commentary on the pursuit of conformity in modern culture, but it’s not. It is however, a great way to get your rhythm action fix when you don’t have friends over or your plastic instruments are elsewhere. This is the first time I’ve played a Rock Band game with a controller because the game is simplified to make it easier. Unlike the full game where tracks have 4 to 5 notes depending on difficulty, the tracks in Blitz only have two notes, left and right. This causes the game to be playable with two fingers, I found the default control scheme to be rather clunky and awkward but there are options. I ended up using the ‘shoulders’ configuration where the left and right shoulder buttons hit notes and the triggers change tracks.
Ah yes, changing tracks. Because the player is responsible for every instrument at once, the game requires you to swap tracks multiple times in the same song. Playing a track well causes its multiplier to increase, which in turn gives you more points per note. This starts off with a maximum of x4 but it can be increased. Songs feature checkpoints that cause the multiplier cap to increase by 3 from the lowest current multiplier. This means that keeping all the tracks at the current cap is the only way to achieve maximum scores. Sounds complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. Once you raise a track to the multiplier cap it will stay there, at which point you should swap and work on another track. The challenge I faced was knowing the song well enough to choose the correct order to do this in. Some songs have very minimal keyboard tracks that are hard to get to the cap whereas others have the same with other instruments.
The song selection is excellent, yet initially a little confusing. Once you download the game you are prompted to then download the soundtrack. I believe this is due to what for some could be its major selling point. All the tracks in this game are playable in Rock Band 3 and any tracks from Rock Band 3 are playable in Blitz. The game handles the ‘Blitzification’ of tracks so I assume the ‘soundtrack’ download is a large Rock Band Track Pack. The game features 25 songs, 23 of these are new to the franchise whilst 2 (‘Give it Away’ and ‘Spoonman’) were featured in Rock Band 2 but could not be exported to Rock Band 3. The full setlist can be found here; my personal favourites being Kool and the Gang’s Jungle Boogie and Living Colour’s Cult of Personality (which you may remember from GTA: San Andreas).
The game also features close integration with the Rock Band marketplace. This was my first experience with the absolutely insane number of songs available for these games (3000+). I found the marketplace a little confusing to navigate at first but later found the ability to filter by artist and alphabet. As I had some points kicking around from ages ago, I decided to pick up a few tracks to add to my game. Having a very broad taste in music generally means a lot of the songs I like don’t make it into these kinds of games. Thanks to the Rock Band Network I found tracks by seminal Techdeath band Cynic along with an interpretation of Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor. How awesome is that? Answer – very.
There isn’t much to write home about when it comes to the graphics of the game, they’re not supposed to be earth shattering hyper-realism but the design of the tracks is really quite fun. Unlike previous instalments where the tracks are linear and superimposed on an animated backdrop, the tracks here take the form of a road that winds its way through a night time cityscape. It makes for quite a nice change and somewhat reduces the tunnel vision that these sorts of games tend to cause. Imported tracks from Rock Band 3 can influence the cityscape through their built in lighting cues.
To add some variety to the gameplay, players can utilise powerups that are bought with coins rewarded at the end of songs. These powerups include 2X multiplier that acts in a similar manner to overdrive and doubles the current multiplier for a short period of time. Using this I’ve hit 40x on some songs, which lead to some very tasty final scores. Another powerup is the bomb notes that when hit also clear notes on other tracks for extra points. Thirdly, another powerup gives you bonus points for changing tracks at the end of bars. On top of these, getting note streaks triggers ‘Blitz’ where notes are worth more and it looks pretty cool.
As a single player game, Blitz is a fun way to kill 30 minutes or more. The easiest way to explain how I feel abut the game would be to say that playing it for a short amount of time makes it a fun game to jump in and out of but playing it for a greater length of time makes it feel like an additional game mode for Rock Band 3, both of which I think are good things.
Yet the true strength of the Rock Band game has always lay in the social aspect, to get around this limitation in a single player environment, the game allows you to connect to your Facebook account where extra challenges are set by Harmonix and you can challenge other people to scoring competitions on songs. Challenges come in varying degrees of difficulty and length with the easiest being a solo genre challenge and the longest being the weekly community challenge.
In conclusion, Rock Band Blitz is a pretty fun game and an interesting deviation from the normal Rock Band gameplay. If you just want to blast through some tunes to kill some time or if you want to experience your Rock Band 3 library in another light be sure to pick this up.