Rock Band Blitz Review (XBLA)

Game Review: Rock Band Blitz
Release: August 28, 2012
Genre: Rhythm
Developer: Harmonix
Available Platforms: XBLA, PSN
Players: 1
MSRP: $14.99 or 1200 Microsoft Points

Rock Band Blitz is a mishmash of ideas. It’s a menagerie of concepts, a conflation of bits and pieces that you’re familiar with and are altogether foreign to you. It seems to have taken everything Harmonix has learned as a studio since its inaugural outing with Frequency in 2001, melted it down, and reformed it into a standing monolith of just about everything you would want from single-player, Rock Band-based downloadable title.

Which is to say, a lot. It’s not necessarily a lot of what you would explicitly want from any given source like Dance Central or Amplitutude, per se, but more like it’s a lot of what you weren’t expecting. Blitz is more complex than any given Expert Pro drum track or any single piece of dance choreography but just as inviting. After over a decade of training you to compulsively put motion to a rhythm and a highway of scrolling notes, Harmonix has managed to integrate mostly familiar gameplay with an overlapping, almost overwhelming web of systems.

From the outset, Blitz does appear to be Rock Band Unplugged more than anything; you have each discrete part of the eponymous rock band (guitar, bass or rhythm guitar, drums, vocals, and keyboard) broken up across individual highways with note-coordinated blocks scrolling down lanes towards the bottom of the screen. Unlike Unplugged, however, there is no autoplay rewarded for playing perfectly. Instead, your goal is to play each instrument as much as needed to build up a part-specific score multiplier.

Each multiplier doesn’t necessarily have an overall limit but they are individually capped per section. Each song is divided up into sections and each section will afford you time enough to bump up each instrument’s multiplier cap up to 3x. The 3x growth, however, is maxed out based on your lowest lane multiplier, so if your lowest lane is 4x and the rest are 6x going into a section, the maximum growth to your level cap is going to be up to 7x until the next section.

The difference between Blitz and your normal Rock Band, however, is that you don’t really lose any multiplier when you miss notes. It’s all about growing that overall level cap, so when you miss notes, all you really do is push back how far your next multiplier bump is (which is handily and crucially represented with little Google Maps-esque icons hovering over the highways).

Instead, your reward for actually not missing a string of notes is being put into Blitz Mode. This will move you faster along the tracks and give you a score bonus until you miss a handful of notes. So you don’t need perfection to gain multipliers, but it will help with your overall score by giving you the Blitz Mode bonus.

The other difference is that there are only two notes to play. While this may seem like a dumbed-down interpretation of the music simulation that Rock Band is known for, it’s actually very fitting for Blitz. With the management of all five instruments at once and the plate-spinning/chainsaw-juggling state of mind required to simultaneously work up each multiplier, it’s amazing that they didn’t even reduce it down to one note.

But even with just two notes, the charts are still very representative of the songs. It’s hard to describe, but each switch between going up and down tonally is perfectly abstracted to the dichotomous button scheme. It’s similarly strange but apt for how you control the game: d-pad for the left note, A/X for the right note, and shoulder buttons for switching between instruments. It feels rather odd at first but soon your mind reaches that point of thinking “of course this is how it works. How could it work any other way?” Perhaps it’s a bit of Stockholm syndrome, but it’s an appropriate way to control Blitz.

There are, however, more layers to the game. Much like Rock Band, you can collect Star Pow—err, Overdrive. Hit the highlighted notes, activate Overdrive, and bam, watch the points rack up. You won’t need it to save your hide from failing as there is no failing in Blitz, but it’s such a solid staple of this particular style of rhythm games that to not include it would be folly.

The actual function of Overdrive, however, is up to you. Based on your performance on songs, you will earn both cred and coins. Cred is used to unlock power-ups to use for songs, so if you want to have the 2x score bonus Overdrive, you can just buy it with your cred.

The power-ups can get much crazier, though. You can get the bonus multiplier just mentioned or have the game automatically play a track for a while, but you can also choose to use a bottle rocket or an out-of-control car that will knock out notes for you.

Note power-ups are also pretty zany. Before each song, you can prep your loadout and choose an Overdrive, a note, and a track power-up, so along with the white Overdrive notes you see that give you Overdrive, there will also be purple notes that, when hit, will activate your note power-up. This can range from a mild explosion that will pop any nearby notes to a pinball being dropped onto your rolling highways that you must keep in play with your instrument-switching.

The track power-ups can be more passive to where you just get a straight-up score bonus for playing a certain instrument or by switching at an indicated time. All three power-ups, though, must not only be unlocked to be selected but also purchased with coins to be equipped. This means that in the beginning, not only will you not have any power-ups to choose, but you also won’t be able to afford to use any power-ups. It kind of simplifies and flattens out the learning curve by restricting what systems are in play so early on, but it’s a bit weird, too, in that eventually, you are so flush with coins (and you’ll eventually unlock everything anyways) that it doesn’t make sense for it to be a persistent system within the game.

So given all that, Blitz becomes even more about finding the optimal path through a song than before in traditional Rock Band. You now have to pick the optimal set of perks and know when and where to switch instruments, otherwise you could easily be missing out on a shit ton of points.

And points are important. A score-based challenge system with friends and strangers (and Rock Band characters?) is tightly woven throughout the most fundamental level of Blitz. During a song, you’ll see your score creep up against others off to the right with a “You beat your rival!” popup whenever you surpass someone and a throbbing name along the score thermometer that seems to scream “YOU’RE LOSING” with each pulse when you’re being passed. Blitz is totally single-player but the ways the asynchronous multiplayer scores are presented make it almost feel like real-time.

And of course, after each song, you are presented with a leaderboard of friends and how much more you’d need to beat your next friend. When you’re selecting songs, you are once again presented with a friend leaderboard. If you’re so inclined after seeing these scores, you can challenge anyone (from either Facebook or your Xbox Live or PSN friends list with no necessary overlap required) to a Score War. With a Score War, you basically challenge a friend to score the highest on a given song with a chess-style turn countdown. This is, however, the one part of Blitz that requires you to hook up to Facebook and add the Rock Band World app as you can only issue Score War challenges from there. It’s a bummer and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but the integration is pretty nifty nonetheless.

Aside from that, though, few things are required to play the game regarding DLC. The disc itself has a smattering of songs available, but anything you will or have exported to your console from past Rock Band games will be playable. This includes any purchased DLC and anything exported from Rock Band 1, 2, or 3, Green Day, Lego, or whatever. This means that if you were a dedicated Rock Band kiddo before, you’ve got a lot of Blitzing ahead of you.

It should be noted, too, that the exporting can go the other way. Anything on Blitz can then be shuttled out to be played on Rock Band 3.

Similar to the non-career challenges in Rock Band 3, there are some meta challenges in Blitz. A scavenger challenge, for example, may require you to play all the songs that have parentheses in the title or just a certain set of songs with British vocalists. The game will come up with progress you make in songs or challenges, but sometimes it’s hard to discern amongst all the other things coming up at you that it would have been nice for Blitz to have some easy, catch-all view of all ongoing challenges.

All of this combined should make it clear that Blitz is no watered-down cakewalk. Blitz will, in fact, make you sweat, think, and obsess over your scores and your friends. It’s all a bit dependent on the assumption that you have a bunch of Facebook, Live, or PSN friends that have or currently do play Blitz, but even by yourself, the game is fairly fun.

It’s not only the challenge of figuring out the best line through a song but also at which points you are most capable of switching and when and where to activate power-ups. The overlap of systems is complex to a degree that Harmonix had previously left unexplored, but it all mostly works, and combined with the Rock Band aesthetic taken to a supernatural oeuvre, you can easily find yourself lost in an hour-long play session.

Once you putz around the main game by yourself, you’ll only find life in it if you have a community around you that also plays, but that is true of pretty much every other Rock Band game, too. So if you have the friends or the expansive DLC collection that will never leave you bored, then by all means, download and play Rock Band Blitz. Otherwise, wait until the price comes down to something you find worth the few hours of entertainment you’re likely to get from it. Either way, I don’t think you’ll go wrong playing Rock Band Blitz.

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