Developer: Harmonix / Publisher: Harmonix / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: 1200 MSP ($15) / ESRB: Teen [No Descriptors]
Be honest: when was the last time you sat down and played a Rock Band/Guitar Hero game? If you’re like me, and undoubtedly countless other gamers, then your plastic instruments have been collecting dust somewhere, not nearly getting as much love as they use to just a couple short years ago. Well Harmonix, the creators of Rock Band, had that in mind when coming up with the newest iteration of their music simulator. Rock Band Blitz is a dramatic change for the series that gives gamers a different approach to the rhythm genre.
When one thinks of Rock Band they’d inevitably think of the guitar and drum peripherals required to play the game. The fact that you do not use said peripherals with Rock Band Blitz is easily the biggest change with the franchise. Even without the instruments that made the series popular, the game is still all about the music and still manages to feel like Rock Band.
Instead of picking lead or bass guitar, drums, or vocals for each song, Rock Band Blitz has you performing all parts of a song. Notes for each part of the song will fall simultaneously just as they would in past Rock Band games, but it is now your job to switch between each part and play the song. Hitting the drums for a few measures will ensure beats are loud and proud, but if you want to pump up the lead guitar or vocals you’ll need to switch over to that track and hit those notes as well. Neglecting one part of the song isn’t necessarily bad, but playing them all equally is the only way to get a high score. Replacing the complicated note patterns of previous Rock Band games is a much more simple two-button layout. For each track, be it drums, guitars, vocals, or keyboard, there are only two note varieties to play: left notes and right notes. If a note is on the left side of the track, you must hit any direction button to play the note, and if it’s on the right side of the track you have to hit any of the face buttons to play the note. The gameplay feels very similar to Harmonix’s pre-Rock Band games Frequency and Amplitude, which featured a similar gameplay pattern of hitting notes and keeping rhythm, but Rock Band Blitz is distinct in its execution and feels original.
With no multiplayer option available, Blitz is all about getting a high score. Replacing the point boosting Overdrive are a multitude of power-ups to help along the way. Before each song you can choose up the three power-ups. Bombs and bottle rockets blast away notes, pinballs bounce around the level, and for the nostalgic there are still point multipliers to ensure a five star performance. After completing a song you earn coins which can be used to purchase power-ups for a new song, as well as blitz cred. Cred acts as experience for the game, and accruing more unlocks more power-up options. The more songs you play, the more coins and cred you earn. The more coins you have, the more power-ups you can buy. And the more creds you have, the more power-ups you unlock. It is a simple play/reward system that works very well and gives you that, “just one more song” feel.
While the lack of multiplayer is a huge downer for a Rock Band game, the included Score War option is the game’s attempt to fill that hole. You can challenge a friend to a Score War for any song, and once one is initiated you both have a specific amount of time to complete the song and get the highest score. You can play the song as many times as you want, but only the highest score will win. Score War seems like a gimmick and façade for true multiplayer. Playing for a high score can have its moments, especially when playing against someone you know, but in place of the excellent multiplayer of the original, Score War doesn’t even compare. Perhaps a split screen option for two players would have sufficed, but as it stands I felt the omission of any true multiplayer functionality takes away a lot from the total package. There is, however, a Facebook application called Rock Band World that links the game with your Facebook account and could arguably give more credence to the Score War, but at the time of this review the application was not ready for use.
Perhaps the greatest thing Blitz has going for it is the incorporation of any previously purchased Rock Band DLC. The game supports all Rock Band songs, meaning if you’ve imported songs from the first two games or downloaded any tracks in the past they are automatically ready to play in Blitz. On top of that, Blitz comes with two dozen new songs to play through, and these songs can be used in Rock Band proper as well. This is the best value the game has to offer, as gamers with an extensive library of Rock Band content are essentially sitting on a wealth of new gameplay options. If you take that away, though, and look at what Blitz alone has to offer, the game is much more streamlined and low on content comparatively. The draw to the original Rock Band was its novelty and party potential; Rock Band Blitz, while fun, doesn’t have the staying power as the original.
A music game wouldn’t be worth much of anything if it didn’t sound good, so it’s good that Rock Band Blitz sounds fantastic. Each song is presented in excellent quality, identical to past Rock Band games. Missed notes on the guitar track still result in twangs, while skipping over the other sections eliminates them from being heard until you get around to playing them. Like the original games, playing the notes and hearing the crowd cheer louder and louder is exhilarating and is the closest most of us will get to being rock stars. Well, Rock Band Blitz a little less so, without the use of instruments. Overall Harmonix has delivered another means to enjoy your collection of superb sounding songs.
Rock Band Blitz might seem easier to play than Rock Band because there aren’t crazy note streaks to play through or tons of finger movement on the neck of the guitar. Don’t let that fool you though, as there are plenty of trick sections to play through in each song. Thankfully the controls are top notch, so if you miss a note it’s your own damn fault and not the game’s. Pressing the direction buttons or face buttons is responsive and somewhat forgiving: if you’re off by a small margin the game will still register you hitting the note properly. Playing notes, using power-ups, and switching between tracks will take some getting used to, but once you’ve got it down and are seamlessly transferring from drums, to guitar, to vocals, you’ll feel like a one-man-band for sure. Players looking for a game as challenging as Rock Band won’t find it here, because Blitz is a simpler game and caters towards the more casual gamer.
Rock Band Blitz is a dramatic change of direction for the Rock Band franchise. I applaud Harmonix for trying something new with the series, and on the whole the new system works. The game sounds great and handles flawlessly. Rocking out to your favorite band is a blast, and the ability to instantly use all past DLC is a very smart move, but the game doesn’t have the same wow factor as the original. Rock Band Blitz is a fun title that deserves to be looked at if you’re a rhythm gaming fan, but those looking for something new and exciting with the Rock Band series will have to keep waiting.