Music games are dead — at least as we’ve known them since 2005. Plastic guitars sit on closet floors around the world, Rock of the Dead 2 is nowhere in sight, and even Activision was like, "OK, we’ll stop shoving Guitar Hero down your throat." But Rock Band Blitz proves that not every game revolving around music needs to be banished to the Island of Misfit Toys. With fast, challenging gameplay, the $14.99 download’s focus on high scores should get you and your friends list bopping to the music on your hard drive once again.
Rather than plug in all those unloved instruments, Rock Band Blitz takes the franchise’s note highways and connects them to your controller. You use the shoulder buttons to cycle through the drum, guitar, bass, mic and keyboard highways, and then tap the D-pad and the A button to play the descending notes. (Rock Band Blitz actually supports a number of control options, so feel free to just use the joysticks or whatever to play.)
And therein lies the rub: Rock Band Blitz is a pretty hardcore game if you want it to be.
The setup is a lot like PS2’s Amplitude, PSP’s Rock Band Unplugged and Rock Band 3 on the DS — if you’ve never played a music game like this, you’re missing out. Playing Rock Band Blitz is fun even if you’re cursing yourself for missing a long note you had no business missing. The notes are coming no matter what, so you have to be quick on the trigger and willing to jump around to master every track. When you’re on a roll, it’s easy to feel like god’s gift to gaming.
Even if you suck at rhythm games, you’ll get your rock star moment as you can’t fail out of Rock Band Blitz. No matter how terrible you’re doing, the song keeps going. Your only concern is getting the highest score you can, so you’re trying to nail the notes in order to score points and keep each highway’s individual multiplier growing.
Multipliers are one of the big tweaks developer Harmonix has brought to the gameplay of Blitz. When you hit the prerequisite number of notes on a given track, you raise its multiplier. However you can only raise it by so many in a given section of a song. Cross a checkpoint, and the max multiplier will increase giving you a new ceiling to shoot for — but your ceiling only increases as much as your lowest track multiplier.
If it sounds confusing in explanation, you just need to play a song to get the gist. If you have all your highways at 4x except for a 2x microphone track, you’re only going to have a max of 5x for the next section of the song because 2x is only one away from the lowest multiplier.
This system is equal parts ZOMG excitement and the frustration of hindsight. I love jumping between my tracks and trying to get everyone to the temporary ceiling, but how many times did I ignore a vocal track for too long only to not have enough notes to get it whipped into shape before the checkpoint? (The answer is: a lot.) To truly succeed in Rock Band Blitz, you need an intimate knowledge of the songs so that you’ve concurred the minimal keyboard notes before a bass solo takes you to a checkpoint.
Rock Band Blitz is doing for Elton John songs what Pac-Man Championship Edition DX did for pellets.
And therein lies the rub: Rock Band Blitz is a pretty hardcore game if you want it to be. Yes, there are pretty colors and poppy songs to entertain your roommate with, but when he goes to bed, you can sit there and nitpick your performance to death because the game is all about high scores. Before you even launch into a session, you’re presented with a song’s leaderboard so that you can see how your friends did. When you’re playing the song, a meter on the side shows you how your friends were doing at the exact point you’re at. When you’re done, you can fire off Score War challenges to online buds.
Rock Band Blitz is doing for Elton John songs what Pac-Man Championship Edition DX did for pellets. No matter how good you’re doing, there’s some way to milk Rock Band Blitz songs for more points, and that’s rather ingenious. The game isn’t about making music, it’s about making a place for yourself on the leaderboards.
Knowing that, allow power-ups to change everything. As you knock out songs, you’re earning Blitz Cred and coins. Blitz Cred is the game’s experience system, and as you hit milestones, you unlock power-ups such as double points for bass notes and bomb notes that clear off surrounding highways. Before launching into a jam session, you can equip three power-ups, but each time you use a power-up, it costs you coins.
You might see that I crushed Stephen and the Colberts’ "Charlene (I’m Right Behind You)," but when you try it, you can’t get close to my score. You’ll need to tinker with power-ups to find the combo that gives you the edge. On the flip side, I might see you embarrass me at a beloved Weezer song, but seeing as I’m fresh out of coins, I need to go farm some by playing Boston’s catalog. Rock Band Blitz is pretty great at keeping you playing and — if you dig the formula — loving every minute of it.
My problem is that I wish Rock Band Blitz called out to be played. You can link the game with your Facebook so that Score Wars are just a click away, but I’d rather a message to my console told me KingTut33 beat me at The Police’s "Can’t Stand Losing You." When I turn on my video game machine, I want updates about my video games — not when I’m trying to figure out if those two people from high school are still married. From a single-player perspective, I always loved building a band in Rock Band Unplugged, and that’s not in Blitz. That carrot on the end of the stick would’ve been nice, especially for players without Rock Band-lovin’ friends.
I did notice some framerate issues when Rock band Blitz got super-colorful and jampacked with notes, but for the most part the game ran well.
I’ve mentioned a lot of different bands in this review, but it’s important to point out that Rock Band Blitz only comes with 25 songs, and as it’s a hodgepodge trying to have something for everyone, the list is all over the place, which I dig but I know some who don’t. However, all Rock Band downloadable content is compatible with Rock Band Blitz. So if you’re like me and religiously bought tracks for the few years when music games were the bee’s knees, you’ve got a hard drive full of Rock Band Blitz goodies. And if you skipped the music game craze, the Rock Band store is bursting with tunes to make you happy.
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