It was only five years ago when plastic instruments were the hottest things in the game industry because of Harmonix. The Rock Band franchise took the rhythm genre into another level in 2007 building on the fundamentals that were first established in the first two Guitar Hero games. The days of rocking out are pretty much over since dance games have taken over the genre in the past couple of years. However, Harmonix still has love for what made them the company they are today, and it shows in their new downloadable effort, Rock Band Blitz. Blitz is a completely new game in the franchise, but takes familiar elements from Rock Band and even Harmonix’s PS2 classics for Sony called Frequency and Amplitude. Unlike the Rock Band games, this game is only played with a controller and no instruments are required. At first glance, the core gameplay mechanics may seem too much to grasp, but once you’re able to get a hang of it, you’ll be addicted to pulling off high scores on leaderboards and against your friends. Even though there are some gripes, Rock Band Blitz is a great downloadable entry for both fans of the genre and the franchise.
If you ever played any Rock Band game, the goal is still the same of hitting notes on a highway in Blitz, but there are five lanes to worry about than one. The multi-lane concept specifically will be familiar if you played the PSP game, Unplugged, where you have to switch around lanes with the triggers to hit notes. The major difference with Blitz compared to Unplugged is that there are only left and right notes in the note patterns, which are pressed by the d-pad and the X button respectively. Yes, the control scheme sounds weird at first, but it makes sense at the end of the day even though there are other controller configurations if the default one is not your cup of tea. For example, I tried this with a Mad Catz Tournament Edition FightStick and it works with the typewriter layout.
With the basics out of the way, the scoring mechanics are the heart of Rock Band Blitz in terms of doing well or not. You can hit a perfect string of notes, but the game is more about scoring than accuracy and that’s where the multipliers, powerups, and Blitz mode came into play. The multipliers pictured above will make or break your success in Blitz as you have to switch around lanes to increase them. If you maintain your balance of getting every instrument’s multiplier up, the level cap will increase by a maximum of three after a checkpoint. It is important to keep them up because if they are unbalanced, the level cap won’t increase by much and ignoring one instrument as a whole often results in a bad run of a song. Fortunately with scoring such a big concept, you cannot fail at a song at all in Rock Band Blitz compared to the main games. Blitz mode happens when you hit a streak of notes and then the highway speeds up for more scoring opportunities, but if you miss notes during this mode, you’ll go back to normal speed.
Like how the multipliers will make or break your success, the powerups will be the key factor to five starring and even gold starring songs, specifically the ones you go with. Before you a start a song, you have to set up your loadout of overdrive, note, and instrument powerups. Overdrive powerups are tied to your overdrive meter as seen in past Rock Band games that range from a shockwave on surrounding notes or a rocket blasting off notes far away. Note powerups appear in purple on the highway, which you can blast notes surrounding you or play notes on fire for more points. Instrument powerups allow specific instruments’ score to be increased. The powerup system seems to be deep at first, but only a handful of them are useful especially going for gold stars. All of the scoring mechanics along with the core gameplay does make Blitz a fun game to play, but there is one important feature that definitely holds the game back.
If there is one major drawback to Rock Band Blitz, it has to be how the game handles in-game currency. Playing songs earns you Blitz credits, which allows you to buy the powerups for high scoring opportunities. The bad thing about this is that you will run out of credits, which means to grind out songs for more credits. In other words, this can get frustrating when you have to waste time playing songs without powerups to be able to use them again for gold star attempts and score wars against your friends. Speaking of score wars, they are another way to rack up Blitz credits, you can challenge friends and other players to rack up a high score for a limited time. These can be initiated in the main menu screen above where you can access the music store, check messages about your other score wars, and see what is recommended for you to play. Also pictured above is the description for Rock Band World on Facebook, where you can activate goals to earn more credits and check your status against other friends linked to it. Even though it is cool to have Facebook involvement in the Rock Band franchise, I wish these goals are in-game rather than going to Facebook and potentially sharing what I have been doing to all my friends. The currency system as whole in Blitz reminds me of most social games on phones and Facebook where spending credits is like spending energy to perform certain activities. I’m just not completely sold yet on this model on a console game as the execution on this could be better.
Graphically, Rock Band Blitz looks great, but as with rhythm games, you’ll be focused more to the note highway playing a song than looking at the surrounding backgrounds. The framerate slightly hitches a bit sometimes however, but it is fairly minor and not as distracting. Of course with the Rock Band games, it comes down to the soundtrack with a good mix of old and new songs for Blitz. From Queen, Elton John, and recent hit songs overplayed on the radio such as “We Are Young” by fun. and “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Compared to past games, the soundtrack can be hit and miss, but fortunately all the Rock Band DLC you bought for the main games are playable in Blitz. In other words, you can have hundreds and maybe thousands of songs playable right out of the gate. The songs in Blitz are also playable in Rock Band 3, so this can be treated as another track pack for the main game. If you have a lot of DLC, the replay value can be endless for Blitz, so you are getting a lot of it if you still have Rock Band 3 around.
For $15 dollars or 1200 Microsoft Points on Xbox Live Arcade, Rock Band Blitz is a great rhythm game that continues the franchise even after the glory days of plastic instruments five years ago. The core gameplay and systems might be too much to take in first, but after a few songs, you’ll be racking up high scores and five stars in no time. The addiction also kicks in if you’re going after the top scores on the game’s leaderboards and score wars against your friends. The soundtrack is also a great mix of classic and modern songs that will satisfy franchise fans and music in general. Harmonix’s handling of in-game’s currency, however, is Blitz’s major drawback as you usually have to grind out songs for more credits to use powerups. It has been the major and controversial topic about the game, which is unfortunate considering the core game is still great. If you have Rock Band 3, you will get a lot of Blitz with the songs playable on both games and the thousands of DLC songs available to buy. If you’re just playing Blitz on its own, then you’re probably not gonna much of it since you’re probably be sick of the game’s 25 songs. With the amount of dance games out in the upcoming holiday season, Rock Band Blitz is such a refreshing take on the rhythm genre that is worth picking up.