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We Review: Rock Band Blitz

Just when we thought the music genre of video games was a dying breed, the folks at Harmonix come up with a way to shake things up. Cue Rock Band Blitz, a rhythm game that doesn’t require a whole new set of peripheral plastic instruments. Let’s rock this review!

If you’ve played either Rock Band or the rival Guitar Hero series, you’ll be familiar with the trope: a series of notes flow down a highway, requiring you to correctly time the note on the requisite plastic instrument. Rock Band Blitz does away with the instruments and instead requires you to be the entire band. As the game states in the opening tutorial: “You’re not aiming to play every note.” Indeed, with Rock Band Blitz, Harmonix has blended the rhythm game genre with that of management games and dumped it into the blender with generous quantities of arcade-gaming goodness and a small spoonful of brightly-coloured visuals. Let me explain.

In Blitz, the entire band’s notes are represented on more of a physical highway. The standard instruments from Rock Band 3 are all here: drums, two guitars, vocals, and keyboard. Instead of correctly timing and matching the correct colour note, you simply match the notes as “left” and “right” on each instrument track. You switch between instrument tracks using the shoulder buttons on the controller. As you play an instrument and correctly time the notes, the multiplier for that instrument goes up; missing notes doesn’t affect your multiplier, thankfully. At certain points in the songs, a checkpoint appears. Depending on how you’ve levelled up each instrument, the score multiplier cap can go up or down. If you maxed-out each instrument’s score multiplier, the level cap goes up quite nicely, meaning more points once you’ve levelled up again. Let one or two instruments lag too far behind on the multiplier scale, and your overall multiplier cap goes down, potentially dropping the score multiplier on instruments you’ve spent time levelling up. This, obviously, means a lower overall score.

As you can see, it quickly becomes an issue of playing well, playing fast, managing the instruments, and keeping an eye on the multipliers. It also means being able to tune your ear into each instrument very quickly so that you can better hear and time what you’re playing. It’s difficult to get this concept across in writing since the game is such an aural experience. Managing multiple tracks can be a bit daunting at first, especially if you’re a master at the older games where hitting every note is a must. It’s …comfortable… to stay on one track, but you’ll soon realize that playing the daylights out of a single track is possibly the worst way to play, and the worst way to score.

As if all this management isn’t enough, you earn points and coins for playing skillfully, allowing you to use powerups. Three kinds exist: Overdrive powerups (which are activated in a similar way to Overdrives in the prior games, and do things as mundane as multiplying your score to as awesome as sending a firework rocket up the note highway), Note powerups (which appear now and again as a purple note, and do fun things such as blowing up notes or launching giant pinballs), and Track powerups (which net you extra points on a given instrument). There are a total of 16 powerups, but you can only deploy one of each kind at a time (so a total of three powerups). The powerups are unlocked during the course of play, but you need to spend coins to use them. Not playing well enough? Well, then you won’t get enough coins to use the powerups to score higher. It’s all a way of incentivizing you to improve your playing.

On the other hand, there are other ways of getting coins if you suck worse than a hoover. One way is to hunt down easy songs in the store and learn to play them well. The other way is far more interesting. Rock Band Blitz includes a Facebook app that you can connect to your profile (provided you’re on Facebook and your console is connected to the internet). The app features challenges that you can complete in exchange for coins. The challenges range from really easy to swear-yourself-blue-in-the-face difficult, and are always being updated, so the nature of the game is constantly changing. You can’t opt into the challenges from within the game, however, making it an extra step you have to complete to get to the challenges. The app is optional, though, and the game can be enjoyed thoroughly without it. However, the social nature of Facebook means that you can challenge Facebook friends, or enlist their help in completing challenges (in fact, some of the challenges will be well-nigh impossible to complete without the aid of some trusty rockers). The coin values for completing challenges differs depending on the difficulty, so it’s easy to work your way up to more rewarding challenges and improve your play at the same time.

Rock Band Blitz comes equipped with 25 new music tracks to play (all of which are immediately playable in Rock Band 3–score!), but if you feel that this is too limiting, then you only have the entire Rock Band music collection to play with: 3,500 songs and growing each week. It’s a lot, if you have the money to burn. If you have the older Rock Band games, you can import the tracks from them to play in Blitz (well, with the current exception of Rock Band 3—no idea why), so you’re not going to run out of music to play any time soon. Longevity? Hell yes!

The game doesn’t have a real-time multiplayer mode. In fact, a multiplayer mode doesn’t really seem to make sense, since you’re playing as the entire band at once. Instead, you go head-to-head with other gamers on a score basis. The game is always showing you other gamers just ahead of you on the scoreboard, giving you something to aim towards. If you like to keep things a little more personal, you can directly challenge a friend (or a complete stranger!) to a Score War, which sees you and another person in a constant state of one-upmanship for a predefined period (looks like 2 days is the standard).

There actually isn’t much wrong with the game. It’s bright, it’s colourful, quick to get into, the controls are simple, and it has the backing of one of the largest music collections in video game history (if not THE largest). The simplistic control mechanism belies an unbelievably complicated, strategic game underneath. Knowing when to switch tracks is just as important as choosing the correct powerups and playing all the notes. If you’ve been a fan of Rock Band from the beginning, you’re going to have a massive track list to play without having to spend much more. The only detractor is that it lacks the truly social feel of playing in a band with other people, but then this is not what Rock Band Blitz is about.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed Rock Band Blitz, but then I’m a sucker for rhythm games. It’s meant to be a quick and dirty sort of game where you can play a few songs before heading off to the office, or run a quick round of something while waiting for friends to appear online. That doesn’t mean you can’t spend hours with it, either, because you can. You can clear the 25-song track list in a few hours, but it’ll take a LONG time before you master it and figure out the best way to score more points. And there are always ways to score more points. Obviously, if you have no sense of rhythm or have a dislike of rhythm games, you’re going to hate it, but music games have some of the widest appeal outside of the casual gaming market. In fact, the “cost of entry” has dropped significantly with the dropping of the plastic peripherals. The guitars and drums were notoriously difficult to master even at mid-range skill levels, but Blitz removes this barrier, making it easy enough for just about anyone to get in and get going.

Final Score: 9 rockin’ prawns out of 10

Detailed information:
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: Harmonix
Platform: Xbox360 via LIVE (reviewed), PS3 via PSN
RRP: 1200 points / R125
Release date:  29 August 2012 (LIVE), 28 August 2012 (PSN)

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