Rock Band Blitz – Review

Platform | Release Date
360, PS3 | August 29, 2012
Developed by Harmonix
Published by Harmonix

The Pitch:

Rock Band Blitz brings the excitement of a full band into your hands, transforming classic Rock Band gameplay into an addictive single player controller-based experience – no instruments needed! Compete with your friends on over 20 amazing new tracks, which are also instantly playable in Rock Band 3. Or add your own favorite music: Rock Band Blitz is compatible with the 3,500+ songs in the Rock Band library. With an endless combination of power-ups, instrument multipliers and more, Rock Band Blitz makes every song a replayable rock explosion! Not compatible with instrument controllers/Rock Band Pro upgrades.

For a time, I was a plastic rock god.

About 5 years ago, amid the initial frenzy of Guitar Hero, I found it almost impossible to walk into a gathering of friends where someone wasn’t plugging away on a plastic guitar. I’d wait patiently, not wanting to seem too eager to play, and when I got a chance to step up I’d slide the difficulty to expert and melt some faces. Soon after the release of Rock Band, I purchased a gig bag so I could transport my drums and guitars wherever I went. I wasn’t as good as those videos you see on YouTube – I wasn’t gold-starring Run to the Hills or anything crazy like that – but I was the best fake rockstar I knew, and that was enough for me.

Heedless to Def Leppard’s advice, the peripheral-based rhythm sub-genre never quite burned out – it simply faded away. I tried to hold on, long past the point where friends had stopped sending party invitations addressed to my drumkit, but the dream was over. Anyone with a shred of musical ability will tell you – repeatedly if your experiences are anything like mine – that playing music games doesn’t come close to playing music. That may be true, but slapping those plastic buttons connected me to the music in a way 20 years of fiddling with a real guitar never did. When I stopped playing, music became just music again.

If Rock Band Blitz is the music genre’s reunion tour, it has come back more streamlined, all grown up, and less reliant on spectacle. One player jams out alone using five buttons on a standard controller: Two for tapping along with the beat, two for switching between instrument tracks, and one for deploying powerups. To progress through a song, the player needs to manage progress on all instruments by dabbling a bit in every track. It’s a familiar concept if you’ve played FreQuency or the PSP’s Rock Band Unplugged, with a few notable improvements.

The most evident change is the simplified note charting. As the tracks roll forward, they never get more complicated than two buttons. Three controller layout options give you adequate flexibility to map these to suit individual whims, so it’s quite a lot like tapping your thumbs along with the beat. It’s no surprise this works best with the percussive instruments: the drums, keyboard, and occasionally bass feel immersive enough to keep you engaged. The guitar tracks don’t handle this “Blitzification” quite as successfully, and it feels particularly weird to tap along to vocals. Overall the controls feel like a necessary evil. The complex charting in Rock Band Unplugged made it a near guarantee that players would miss notes when switching tracks. In Blitz, it’s almost impossible to get caught with your fingers in the wrong place, and a heavy emphasis on finding the perfect path across instruments makes this crucial.

Pathfinding lies at the heart of Blitz, and at times it feels as much a racing game as a music game. As you nail your timing, you improve the score multipliers on individual tracks. When you hit checkpoints throughout the song, you need to continue to increase these multipliers or instruments will drop out, dramatically affecting your end score. You’re kept ever-aware of this score’s relation to other players through the omnipresent leaderboard features. Though represented by just an arrow on a bar, the leaderboard is a lot like racing against ghosts. You’re always pitted against a friend’s best efforts, and watching their progress sometimes helps you figure out where they’ve amassed a huge amount of points.

Finding that golden path through the notes doesn’t just stop with multipliers. You’ll need to know what powerups to equip and when to unleash them. You can increase point values for all notes on individual tracks, rake in double multipliers for a limited time, or even fire rockets that blow away huge chunks of notes to score big points. With Blitz’s reliance on besting your friends’ scores, powerups become the most important aspect of competitive play. Winning without them is as difficult as winning a Rock Band 2 Score Duel without using Overdrive. Thankfully, they do bring a lot to the experience, and require timing, forethought, and often lightning reflexes to use optimally.

Despite these improvements to the Unplugged formula, there are still a few minor annoyances buzzing about. The inability to jump directly between leftmost and rightmost tracks continues to feel like an unnecessary roadblock, something FreQuency’s cylinder-like playing surface got absolutely right. This limitation in Blitz incentivizes players with fully boosted multipliers to hang out in the centrally located guitar track as opposed to drums or keyboards, which is a drag in songs with killer backbeats. In a confusing move, guitar solos no longer automatically move your focus to their track like they did in Unplugged. This can cause further potential point loss for avid thumb-drummers as they hurry to switch tracks when they realize they’re missing notes. Finally, the minor volume amplification for the current track that worked so well with headphones doesn’t come across as well with standard TV speakers. It would have been nice to hear a more pronounced difference between the track I was playing, and all those I wasn’t.

If you’ve already purchased a significant catalog of Rock Band tracks, Blitz gives them a second life that’s drastically different than previous iterations. From Iron Maiden to Kelly Clarkson, the 25 included tracks span genres and generations broadly enough to ensure there’s something here for everyone to love and hate. Rhythm game fanatics will be enamored with the surprising depth Harmonix has layered over these simple note charts. Anyone who’s drummed their fingers along with their favorite songs will find the base gameplay accessible, natural, and just-one-more-song addicting.

As for my fellow one-time plastic rock gods, we may not be selling out arenas anymore, but it’s nice to get back to playing just for the love of the music.

About Adam Bash

Adam Bash was the host of the Fall Damage podcast and is currently a contributor to Splitkick. He helps make the site do things.
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