Platform: Xbox 360
Rock Band Blitz Review
No plastic peripherals necessary in this new look music rhythm game
Though Rock Band Blitz is another Rock Band game from the series developers Harmonix, it is not Rock Band as we know it. It requires no plastic instruments, and there’s no option to use them. Having seemingly admitted the rather drastic demise of the music rhythm genre, Harmonix have wisely opted for a less ambitious XBLA and PSN release that requires nothing more than a single controller. It’s certainly a more concise package compared to Rock Band 3, but the core gameplay is enjoyable enough to call this new venture a success. However, although it can’t be denied Blitz is fun, how long the game will hold your attention is a separate issue.
The first thing that will strike veteran Rock Band players is the new layout. Instead of focusing all your efforts on one instrument, you are now in charge of all five - a shoulder button press switches you between drums, bass, guitar, vocals, and keyboard. While it can initially be overwhelming taking care of all aspects of the song, it helps that two alternating button presses is all it takes to keep in time with the music. A simple tap of A and the D-pad (or whichever control scheme you prefer) along to the beat gets you points and raises your multiplier. It’s surprising how effectively this works, and even though the instruments are boiled down to their most basic rhythms, this simple mechanic rarely gets boring.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. This is Rock Band, and points, multipliers and bonuses are everything. Rather than aiming for a perfect streak to hit the maximum multiplier, the main crux of your success depends on your ability to multitask each of the five instruments equally. If you manage to hit enough notes on each instrument, your multiplier level increases. Songs are divided into sections which give you the opportunity to raise the multiplier cap, but only as high as your lowest instrument. So if you focus all of your efforts on guitar and vocals, but leave drums down at the x1 multiplier, the multiplier cap won’t go up and your score won’t significantly progress.
Yes, at first, it’s as complicated to play as it is to explain, but it soon becomes second nature to balance your play. When you master the art of flicking between tracks and hitting the max multiplayer, just as you reach the next section, the satisfaction is immense. And still that’s not all. You earn coins with each song which you can spend on various bonuses to help boost your scores even more. These bonuses vary from doubling the points that a single instrument gives you, to shooting rockets at distant notes or even letting the computer take over when you’re a bit behind. In terms of getting the highest scores, using the best combination of these many bonuses is crucial, and you will fail to get a 5 star rating without some experimenting.
So all in all, Blitz is deceptively complex. It gets pretty hectic and requires a surprising amount of concentration. “Oooh, strategy”, the game’s tutorial teases, and it does all seem a bit foreign for a franchise that used to be purely about reflex responses. But this is a good change of direction for a genre that seemed to have run its course. With Blitz, Harmonix have done more with less, and their innovation in the face of a dwindling audience is to be commended. There’s enough going on to make you really think about your approach, in which case knowing the songs is a big advantage. Anticipating if the guitar track is about to go quiet, whereas the drums will soon pick up the pace, changes which instrument you prioritize, giving you even more to consider.
But there is an area where Rock Band Blitz might fail to meet your expectations. There are only 25 songs included with the download, and though there is a varied selection of music, right up to recent releases, it just isn’t enough to keep you going for more than a couple of hours. This all changes if you’ve played Rock Band before, as the songs from all the previous games, including all downloadable content, are available to play in Blitz. If you’ve had a long and committed attachment to the franchise, this makes the game a must buy. It’s a joy to go back and play your old favourites in a new way. The game increases the volume of the instrument you’re currently playing, so it’s supremely satisfying to time your play with the highs and lows of songs, from The Who to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and, potentially many, many thousands more.
Unfortunately, this almost gives Blitz a pay-to-play structure, which is unacceptable when you’ve already paid 1200 Microsoft points. It sometimes feels like the included content is just the demo, a taste to get players hooked then to spend real money. At least if you really want an excuse to dust down your mini Gibson, there are 25 songs here that can be exported to Rock Band 3, where you can play with three other friends... Which you can’t on Blitz. That’s right, there’s no multiplayer, local or online, which came as a surprise given that Rock Band pioneered one of the most popular multiplayer experiences of recent years. Sure, the screen would probably get a bit cluttered with anyone else sharing it, but it would have been nice to take out my competitiveness on someone other than a leaderboard. The use of social networking through Facebook, that is so in fashion these days, does add something a little extra. The so-called ‘score wars’ pit you against others in a high score competition, but they are actually little more than an asymmetrical substitute for multiplayer, and only really interesting if you have friends who own the game. The lack of a true multiplayer mode is unfortunately very apparent.
But these problems don’t detract from the satisfying and deep gameplay that, at its best, can be exhilarating. It’s simple really - if you’re a big Rock Band fan, this game is probably for you. If not, you really need to consider whether you’re willing to spend the cash and commit to buying chunks of music from the vast Rock Band library. The joy of playing Blitz will only last as long as your music library, and all things considered, this seems a bit devious from Harmonix. It’s lucky, then, that some people can’t resist furiously tapping along to the rhythm of their favourite songs.