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Joystiq hands-on: Rock Band Unplugged


It looks like Rock Band. It sounds like Rock Band. But, it certainly doesn't play like Rock Band. As many have theorized, Harmonix's PSP-exclusive Rock Band Unplugged really is Frequency in disguise. The genre has come a long way since Harmonix's PS2 launch game, but the formula holds up surprisingly well. While some may lament the loss of Frequency's techno vibe, the fully-featured Tour mode and excellent sound mixing make Unplugged a unique and worthwhile handheld experience.

Those who have played Harmonix's earlier efforts will be immediately familiar with Unplugged, while others will have to come to grips with the multi-track concept. The handheld Rock Band features all four instruments from the console games, but the lone player must tackle them all. Each track features its own note layout, and players will be switching from one instrument to another to get a high score.

There are no peripherals to use in this portable iteration. Instead, players will use the directional pad and face buttons to hit the colored notes that stream down. Red, Yellow, Green and Blue are represented by Left, Up, Triangle and Circle respectively. (There is no fifth button in this game.) It may not be instantly intuitive, but it only takes a song or two to get accustomed to the controls. DJ Max Fever shouldn't have much trouble here.

Gallery: Rock Band Unplugged | 22 Photos

In the default Tour mode, you'll want to earn multipliers by successfully completing phrases in succession. For example, a few lines of singing will equate to a single phrase. If you manage to hit all the notes, you'll clear that track temporarily, earn a multiplier, and will be able to continue the streak by hitting all the notes on a different instrument. Switching between the various instruments is easy: just hit either the left or right shoulder button. With a careful eye and precise reflexes, you'll be racking up some truly outlandish scores in all the songs.

The PSP's audio capabilities are put to good use. The fidelity of the audio is solid, and we were impressed by the mixing of the four instruments. The instrument you're playing will be the most audible, so switching between the four tracks creates a rather surreal effect. This is definitely a game you'll want to play with your headphones.

We're a little disappointed by Unplugged's lack of a multiplayer mode, considering the Rock Band name has become synonymous with four-player fun. However, we're not sure if this kind of gameplay would translate well to a multiplayer experience -- the fun and the challenge comes from switching between the various tracks. Every other aspect of the console Rock Band experience arrives on the handheld intact: the World Tour mode, character/band creation tools, and yes, even an in-game music store.

41 songs will be included on the Unplugged UMD, of which 9 will be exclusive to PSP for a few months. The PSP Music Store will then feature 10 additional songs at launch, with new songs available every few weeks. The song list on the PSP won't ever be as comprehensive as the ones featured on the consoles, but should extend the life of Unplugged greatly. Songs will cost the usual $0.99 to $1.99 per song.

Partial Song List:
  • 3 Doors Down - Kryptonite*
  • AFI - Miss Murder*
  • Alice in Chains - Would?*
  • Audioslave - Gasoline*
  • Black Tide - Show Me the Way*
  • Blink 182 - What's My Age Again?*
  • Bon Jovi - Livin' on a Prayer
  • Freezepop - Less Talk More Rokk*
  • Jackson 5 - ABC*
  • Kansas - Carry on Wayward Son
  • The Killers - Mr. Brightside
  • Judas Priest - Painkiller
  • Nine Inch Nails - The Perfect Drug
  • Nirvana - Drain You
  • The Police - Message in a Bottle
  • Queens of the Stone Age - 3's and 7's
  • System of a Down - Chop Suey!
  • Weezer - Buddy Holly
  • The Who - Pinball Wizard
*These songs are exclusive to the PSP for a limited time.

Rock Band Unplugged may not be what Rock Band fans expect, but it's still a fun, fully-featured addition to the franchise. PSP hasn't had many high-profile titles hit the system in recent months, but Unplugged will easily keep PSP owners occupied for quite some time. Impressive production values, a lengthy song list, and the Jackson 5 make this a title you should keep an eye on. Unplugged will be available on June 9th.

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