Whether you are of the crowd that believes Music Gaming should be dead and buried, or you are like me, and love music games. Harmonix is attempting to appeal to both sets of gamers with their newest release under the Rock Band name Rock Band Blitz. So, anyone with a slew of RB DLC just sitting on their hard drives can dust it off and put the needle down on their favorite songs once again in Rock Band´s version of score attack. Even if you are new to the whole music game craze there are still 25 new tracks to enjoy that are included in the game, so you don´t necessarily have to have been a life long fan. However, I won´t lie, the game does cater a bit more to old fans than new ones.
Harmonix pretty much has the music game genre to itself these days with its rival competitor Activision´s Guitar Hero deciding to close up shop for the near future. However, that does not mean Harmonix is not trying to find different ways for gamers to enjoy music and video games aside from their weekly DLC releases. Enter Rock Band Blitz, a game that is more similar to Rock Band Unplugged for the PSP or Harmonix´s first entries into the genre in Frequency and Amplitude for the PS2 than the traditional plastic instrument party rockers we´ve come to know.
Rock Band Blitz challenges gamers to become strategists while obtaining high scores rather than just picking an instrument and playing through the song. It seems quite contrary to what Rock Band players are used to doing, especially once they realize the instrument tracks have been whittled down to two notes per instrument. Players can choose any number of controller configurations to play the left note, right note, and switch tracks. As weird as this all may seem for Rock Band players this actually works out for the best, because all instrument lanes (drums, bass, guitar, vocals, and keyboard) are available for switching at any time. Blitz is also a game that might be more fun in short spurts than playing for a long sitting.
Previously in the aforementioned Harmonix games, after playing a few notes that certain track would lock and players would have to focus on another instrument. The nice thing is Harmonix does still provide players with a way to play traditionally in Rock Band Blitz. In Blitz, the main focus of the game is to get high scores by paying attention to every instrument and attempt to grab as many multipliers for each instrument (there are never more than three per instrument at a time) before crossing a pre-determined checkpoint in the song. If you are not one of those score freaks you can still just play the song as normal by staying in one instrument lane the whole time. Although, I should note that you will probably wind up with a bad score if you choose this option.
RB Blitz kind of babies players a bit because it does not focus on actually hitting as many notes as possible, rather it is more about playing well enough to nab the multipliers and then move onto the next instrument track and repeat. Players can go into “Blitz Mode” (basically “hyper speed” by hitting a bunch of notes in a row without missing, but there really is no penalty for missing a bunch of notes other than maybe not getting as high a score. Multipliers do go backwards when you miss notes, but most of the time I could kinda “wing it” in a difficult section and still get the multiplier.
There is also no “failing out” in the game, which may disappoint long time fans. Personally, I use no fail mode in RB 3 because I´d rather enjoy the experience and learn, than feel like I´ll never get better by failing all the time. I think that is what Harmonix was going for here and it does make it nice for first time players because they can learn the speed of the game without feeling the constant pain of failure.
I will admit it feels weird at first to hold a controller and play notes on a Rock Band game. However, it does not take long for it to become second nature. I think the most important thing to know is that the game is very fun. There is a lot happening on screen at once and it can be quite tricky to grasp when is the best time to switch tracks. Sometimes it can feel like exciting chaos navigating five tracks and have only a certain amount of time to nail all the multipliers. Although, it also may depend on how much you like to play music solo as well.
Just like in regular Rock Band when you are on a certain track, the instrument sound level goes up and you feel like you are “playing” the instrument. Although, players probably won´t find themselves “rocking out” as much as they did when playing with a faux guitar or drums. Trust me, as an expert Top 1% Vocalist (and yes, I actually sing the songs) it is still awkward to be actually playing vocal notes instead of holding a microphone. I still bobbed my head while playing a few songs, but I found I was more locked in when playing Blitz because I had to have my full attention on finding the multipliers. I guess you could say this is the first time a player truly feels like they are “playing a game” when Rock Band is involved.
The main addition that separates RB Blitz from its predecessors is the addition of power-ups. There are three types of power-ups in RB Blitz, overdrive powerups, note powerups, and track powerups. The overdrive ones are earned by collecting energy and have to be “activated” just like overdrive in regular Rock Band. Note power-ups are on random notes and are blasted automatically as soon as players hit the note. Track power-ups provide boosts to certain instruments. Basically, it doubles the points of whatever instrument you choose. The key to the power-ups is actually learning the ins and outs of the song a player chooses and finding which combination works best for each song. This is where you get the traditional Rock Band elements because if you want to get the best score you have to practice, practice, and practice some more. Don´t worry though because once you´ve purchased a round of power-ups, players are free to switch between them before each song to figure out the best combination possible.
However, these score boosting accessories do require Blitz Cred to unlock and coins to actually use. Coins and Blitz Cred are both gained after every song and eventually playing enough of the game unlocks the power-ups in a certain order. There is also a coin bonus for playing a new song the first time through, which is a nice incentive for people to purchase more DLC songs. One thing that may turn off some people is that a player must have coins in order to keep the power-ups equipped. So, players may have to play a few songs every so often without any power-ups at all to build up enough coins to be able to use the power-ups again. Unless you are good at playing notes, this will usually make it impossible to five star a song. Even with power-ups, I have played probably 150 songs and I’ve only gotten five stars on a song four times in Blitz.
Even though I am a huge supporter of Harmonix and the Rock Band series, I have to be fair and point out the negatives in this game as well.
First is something that will probably bother your bandmates, there is a complete lack of any online or off-line multiplayer in the traditional sense. Every song has to be played solo; there is no making a band, no calling your friends to come together and play different tracks with you, and there is no finding random people online to make you play Avenged Sevenfold´s “Almost Easy” over and over, well maybe the last part is not such a bad thing. I normally play Rock Band solo because all my friends live 2,000 miles away in another state, but Blitz may have benefited from at least two player co-op to have a friend focus on some of the instrument tracks, while you take care of the others. Along with that, RB Blitz is not very “watch” friendly as compared to the traditional RB games. The “Rock City” that moves along with the tracks is the same every time and the scenery is sort of static as well. It is hardly the “party atmosphere” the other RB games provided, so it may be very boring to watch someone play the game.
Rock Band Blitz does have asynchronous multiplayer though in the form of their facebook app “Rock Band World.” However, aside from Score Wars which attempts to recapture the magic of the battles in Rock Band Online Challenges, it is basically a goal driven way to earn coins. Personally, I love the app because it makes use of my DLC and the on disc songs, it provides scavenger hunts to encourage me to play songs I may have forgotten I had, and lets me do goals with other RB players too. Not to mention, it also adds much needed length to Rock Band 3 because the goals can be completed in RB 3 as well. The main point of “Rock Band World” is to allow people to easily gain coins by completing the goals. This makes it to where you don´t have to grind for coins because group challenges can be completed by anyone in your group so players could start playing the game one day and have 2,000 coins they did not have yesterday. It also makes players feel like they earned the coins doing something enjoyable. I should also note that Harmonix updates the facebook app every Monday with new goals.
However, I do wonder why this could not have been included in the game itself? As there are many people that play games online but do not use facebook. Also, I wonder how this is any different than the Challenges that automatically created themselves in Rock Band 2. Why could the same have not been done at least in Blitz? And then have the facebook app for RB 3 since that would require a very expensive patch. But I am not going to pretend to know what it means to be a game developer, and it is really not a big deal to use facebook because players could make a fake facebook account just for the game.
As I mentioned in the open, I felt like this game was made more as a thank you to the hardcore Rock Band faithful than to try and get new players to love Rock Music. Harmonix tried to include something for everyone in the 25 song setlist but it is still pretty 2000´s and 2010´s pop heavy with recent hits like Maroon 5´s “Moves Like Jagger” Fun.´s “We Are Young,” Foster the People´s “Pumped Up Kicks,” and Kelly Clarkson´s “Stronger” are just a few of those. It also has old favorites such as: Rick Springfield´s 80´s classic “Jessie´s Girl,” Elton John´s “I´m Still Standing,” and CM Punk´s theme song “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour are in the setlist as well. I am pretty eclectic with my music so there is not a particular song I dislike in the 25 songs, but I can see where many people may hate the setlist. Also, 25 songs is a really low number for people who buy the game and have no DLC.
This is what I meant by catering to its established Rock Band audience. I have 1,500 songs I can play in RB Blitz (that number does not include games I have like RB 3 on disc songs, Beatles Rock Band on disc and DLC songs and the 25 songs from RB Blitz.) I never found myself bored with the game because I have a ton of songs to keep things fresh. I just bought all of the previously released Linkin Park songs to go along with the Linkin Park 4 pack released last week. So, I have a lot of the recently released DLC along with other DLC I´ve had for years. However, most people stopped playing music games at the latest with Rock Band 2 and even with those previous exports; players who get bored of the score attack or dislike the solo music gameplay may just drop the game entirely.
As a Rock Band player, I really appreciate the effort Harmonix went through to make all the DLC in the RB Library available from day 1, but the truth is most people aren´t going to spend a bunch of money on songs. It is a nice way for Harmonix to try and suck the last bit of juice out of the DLC library while it can because we have no idea if it will be available in the next generation of consoles. However, maybe a 50 song setlist might have given first time players more mileage even if it meant a higher initial price tag on the game. At least RB 3 players get a free export out of purchasing RB Blitz, but once again this is appealing to established fans.
Overall: Harmonix really put great effort into Rock Band Blitz. Kudos to Harmonix for trying to push Rock Band into a different yet familiar direction and provide longtime fans plenty of incentives for picking up the game like free export to RB 3, making all DLC playable in RB Blitz, and also giving fans back a few songs they lost in the RB 2 export. Not to mention, they extended the life of RB 3 and RB Blitz with the facebook app as well. Oh yeah, and the whole package only costs 15 dollars to boot.
RB Blitz itself is a very fun game that gives retired plastic instrument aficionados and newcomers a chance to experience the greatest part of the Rock Band franchise (the huge library of music) with a standard controller. There is plenty of strategy, power-up combinations, and goals to accomplish for those willing to give RB Blitz a try. However, be forewarned Rock Band Blitz may not provide the same replay value for the non-hardcore that they may have gotten from the traditional RB experience.