Harmonix takes their music franchise back to consoles, but hangs up the instruments.
Back in the last console generation, Harmonix Music Systems created a game called Frequency for PlayStation 2 that laid the seeds for an entire sub-genre. Using only a controller for its input, Frequency established itself as a unique rhythmic arcade-style title where you played notes on a multi-layered track, using multipliers to boost your score. Indirectly, it birthed the Guitar Hero series, which in turn gave birth to the Rock Band franchise that came along a couple of years later.
In a way, Rock Band Blitz is both a throwback to Frequency and a super-sized version of Rock Band Unplugged for the PSP. None of your plastic guitars, drum sets, or keyboards are supported with the game, since it instead focuses on controller-only gameplay and score attacks. But while there’s a lot of interesting new features packed in with the downloadable title, your enjoyment is going to be directly dictated by how much money you spend (or already spent) on the extra DLC packs and songs.
To its credit, Rock Band Blitz has a good gameplay concept that’s easy to grasp yet hard to master. Using only two buttons on the controller for the beats, the main goal is trying to rack up points in each song by “jumping” from instrument to instrument, with no restrictions on when and how often you can go from bass guitar to drums and back. It’s more open-ended than Frequency, Amplitude, or Rock Band Unplugged, but still different enough that it feels distinct.
However, that gameplay is slightly hindered by the fact that there’s hardly any penalty for messing up. No matter what, you can’t fail a song, and missing beats only sets back your score multiplier and super meter on the track’s “road” a few notches.
Seeing the track’s “road” on a full HDTV screen is actually one of the best things about this game’s console fit, though. Being able to see multipliers and beats far ahead of where you are in each song really helps out when planning a score attack, and adds a new level of strategy that runs a bit deeper than the game’s various predecessors.
But where the challenge comes in is climbing the leaderboards—manipulating your instruments to get high multiplayers will net you scores in the hundreds of thousands, easily. Additional power-ups can help you artificially boost those scores even higher, and you’ll unlock more power-ups as you burn through the game. Everything done here is directly tied to leaderboard challenges, and the game will constantly remind you which of your friends or rivals is ahead or behind you on the charts.
But even with that much innovation, the game highlights a core problem each time it asks you for more money. From the get-go, Rock Band Blitz only comes with 25 songs, and you’ll only have access to more through DLC purchases on the Rock Band Network. It’s handled easily enough through the game itself, which charges a few bucks or less per song, but the game’s constant pushing to buy more music gets especially annoying, particularly when it’s woven into most menu options.
If you’ve bought music for Rock Band 3 or previous Rock Band titles, you’ll get the benefit of an easily-navigated library that supports over 3000 songs. Everyone else who’s starting from scratch is out of luck, though.
It’s indicative of the way the industry is heading, but the heavy reliance on DLC for a $15 title makes the experience extremely skewed for anyone buying the game without owning any previous Rock Band content. In that sense, Rock Band Blitz is mainly for people who’ve been spending money on DLC packs already, as their already-purchased songs come as an extra benefit.
As a standalone product, Rock Band Blitz just isn’t a satisfying investment on its own, even with features like “Rock Band World,” which adds Facebook-specific messages, friend-to-friend challenges, and extra leaderboard content. To get the full experience, you HAVE to own a good chunk of DLC tracks in order to get the music that suits your personal tastes.
Strangely enough, Rock Band Blitz feels like it would be a better game with a higher price tag and a bigger built-in song list. That’s a shame, because the controller-only multi-instrument concept is actually fun in short stints. Rock Band Blitz is also really smart about the way it encourages you to compete against other players—at least when it’s not telling you to shell out more money. But even so, the gameplay isn’t nearly as deep as previous Rock Band titles, especially since it doesn’t feel like playing music.
If you’re been picking up Rock Band DLC here and there with most installments so far, it won’t hurt to give Blitz a try if you’re curious about how it handles without a giant plastic faux instrument. But if this is your first introduction to the series, you’re better served backing off and playing Rock Band 2 or Rock Band 3 instead.
SUMMARY: Rock Band Blitz manages to improve on its predecessors’ concept and control schemes, but the harsh monetization of its music and repetitive controller-based gameplay ultimately doesn’t measure up to the feeling of a real Rock Band experience.
- THE GOOD: Easy-to-play control scheme, smart leaderboard structure.
- THE BAD: No multiplayer, crummy starting song list, extremely heavy reliance on DLC tracks.
- THE UGLY: “Moves Like Jagger”—every time I hear it.
Rock Band Blitz is available on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. Primary version reviewed was for XBLA.