Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

Rock Band Blitz review: Original score


Rock Band Blitz is basically criticism-proof. No matter what qualms I may have about the XBLA/PSN game, they'll end with a recommendation that you should, without a doubt, purchase it. The value proposition of 25 new Rock Band DLC songs, including Queen's "Death on Two Legs," cannot be argued.

However, the same people to whom I'd recommend this DLC bundle (and game) most enthusiastically – people who have already played a bunch of Rock Band – are going to be the most confused by Rock Band Blitz. It's different. Disorientingly so.

Gallery: Rock Band Blitz (PS3, Xbox 360) | 14 Photos

Rock Band Blitz is not Rock Band, despite the name and the use of Rock Band DLC. It's also not Frequency or Amplitude, despite the use of a standard controller and the need to switch between tracks. It resembles both superficially, but is built on a totally different system. Whereas Frequency is built on the concept of juggling multiple tracks, and Rock Band about simply playing one instrument proficiently, Rock Band Blitz focuses more on unlocking and equipping the right combination of power-ups, and then jumping from track to track semi-randomly.

In order to build your score, you play a few measures to build each instrument's own score multiplier, represented by a colored line under the note lane; build them all up by the end of the section and the cap for multipliers goes up. It's common to have each instrument's score boosted by 15x or more by the end of a song.

Additionally, uninterrupted correct notes build a "blitz" meter that, when full, speeds up the movement of notes and increases score for as long as you can keep it going. The real challenge of Blitz, then, comes from these two features, which are at odds with each other. It's safest to stay in a single lane when in Blitz mode, since you run the risk of missing a note while skipping from track to track; but you also want to build each instrument's multiplier to raise them all by the end of the section.

This complex score chase requires practice, but practice is no longer the only component of success and leaderboard dominance. It's also a matter of playing enough to unlock all the power-ups, and earning enough in-game currency to afford to keep them equipped. You can have up to three equipped at a time, and they vary from song-level boosts to a single track (guitar notes earn more points, for example) to limited-time items that double your score multiplier, auto-play a track, or give you a temporary point boost if you play perfectly. Other power-ups, meanwhile, add weird features to the track.

These in particular force you to play differently in some cases, as you'll be asked to move wildly across the song to catch a "flaming" note, or a "runaway" note, or a giant pinball. Even in the middle of a measure. I have not gotten used to this idea, and I suspect other Rock Band fans may have similar difficulties.

Rock Band Blitz review
Unlocking new power-ups by earning "cred," and earning the in-game coins to use those power-ups adds a sort of RPG element to Rock Band Blitz. You can also earn "cred" by taking part in challenges from the Rock Band World Facebook app, which connects you to other Rock Band Blitz players on your Facebook friends list across both PSN and XBLA. The app lets you opt in to exclusive challenges that lean heavily on your DLC collection, allowing you to earn extra XP for playing themed collections.

Where Rock Band was social, allowing you to get together and play songs with friends, Rock Band Blitz is "social." It is no longer a multiplayer game. In addition to the Facebook stuff, you can initiate in-game "score wars" on certain songs with your XBLA or PSN friends, get constant updates on their progress in a "friends leaderboard," and watch a rival's previous score note by note while you're playing a song. It's interesting, and something I'm much more likely to do given the number of friends on my Facebook feed at any one time versus the number in my house, but it feels like a significant departure, and isn't really a replacement for the missing multiplayer.

The emphasis on score over performance is what really makes Rock Band Blitz so weird. You have to be willing to move all over the screen, abandon an instrument mid-measure, and enable bizarre power-ups to succeed. I still don't know if the high scores on the leaderboards are more the result of virtuoso play or fortuitous power-up combinations. It's also much harder to know if I'm doing well in each moment, with no obvious penalty for missing a note other than loss of Blitz meter.

Oddly enough, using a standard controller instead of a plastic guitar is hardly the most jarring aspect of Rock Band Blitz. The freebie DLC still makes it a no-brainer purchase, but Rock Band fans might find themselves alienated by the strange score focus, social game elements and absent multiplayer.

This review is based on a retail copy of the XBLA version of Rock Band Blitz, provided by Harmonix.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr