PAX East 2012: Rock Band Blitz Hands On

Being an avid Rock Band fan (with over 800 songs at my disposal), I was ecstatic about having the opportunity to check out the latest Harmonix game that was announced earlier this week; Rock Band Blitz.  Eschewing the instruments for a more action oriented gameplay, Blitz may not have been the game everyone was hoping for, but it may be the game that brings even more people into the Rock Band universe.  Why? Because it has an approachable gameplay style that will lure everyone in, and an addictive scoreboard element that will always have you competing against your best, and the bests of your friends (or the world).  You’ll always be looking for a new way to go through the songs in order to get a better score.

Enough about all that, though. How does the game PLAY?  I selected one of the new songs to play (Jessie’s Girl), and was given a quick overview of the button schema: the Left and Right triggers would slide me between the playable tracks, and the Left and Right analog sticks would activate the gems on the track (gems on the left side need the left stick hit, and vice versa).  Once the song starts, you are free to move between the tracks in whatever fashion you want, and you will have all of the instruments to move between.  Depending on what track you are on, you will hear that instrument louder than the others.  Obviously, when trying for a high score, you’re going to want to be on the track that has the most notes, but there is something else to consider; a multiplier on screen that increases for each individual instrument.  So while you could spend the entire time on the lead guitar track, and score quite a bit, you’ll never increase your overall multiplier beyond 4x.  If, however, you were to work on each instrument, and increase all of them to 4x, it will eventually open up the next level of multipliers.  I saw up to 12X when watching others play (I got to 9X myself).  There was a lot going on with the board when I was playing, with glowing notes and overdrive notes, and I didn’t quite catch what the benefit of all of them were (some would release the pinball, some would start the next multiplier group if you had everything at the highest), but that will come with more play, and, you know, an instruction manual.

The button configuration took a little getting used to; I kept switching tracks when I was meaning to select the gems (for some reason, my brain wanted to use the triggers to select the notes; I do not know if the controls are configurable).  Once I got it down, though, I was racking up the points pretty well, snagging a 5 star performance out of my one playthrough. The speed of the play is good, and increases as you hit notes continuously.  If you miss one, it slows back down.

Finally, you have access to powerups in the game that will help hit notes that you might not otherwise be able to.  The two that were playable was a rocket, which would launch ahead of you and hit notes on the track further down (good for clusters of notes on an instrument, so that you can hit those while moving to another instrument), and a pinball that would move around the board, hitting whatever notes it came in contact with.  You could keep that pinball going by moving under it as it approached the bottom.  This made for a complex experience, as you were trying to concentrate on the notes and tracks that had the most notes, as well as keeping the ball moving around the board.

The  beeps and boops of the game were both nice and informative, and served as a way of indicating the pace of the game. Overall this game felt very Pac-Man CE DX to me; a re-imagining of a game in a way that is immediately familiar, leaderboard driven, and very addictive.  Finally getting my hands on the game confirmed that this will be much more than a track pack expansion for me.  Talking with one of the folks from Harmonix on the floor, we shared in our excitement over being able to use our DLC in a new way, particularly for songs that were less played, or instrumentals (think RBN).  All of the songs from your Rock Band library will be playable in Blitz (exception to Rock Band 3, whose songs are not exportable yet), and the songs that come with Blitz will be playable in Rock Band 3.  Future DLC will be playable in both games.

Rock Band Blitz is scheduled to release this summer, for PSN and XBLA. No pricing details have been announced as of yet.

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