ESG Review: Rock Band Blitz
It’s not crazy talk to say that Harmonix has been extremely successful with their Rock Band franchise. Ever since the first game’s debut in 2007, the series has proven to be a successful venture for the company, with each subsequent installment bringing refinements to the formula that kept loyal fans invested. With the release of Rock Band 3 in 2010, the rhythm game genre has reached a stalemate of sorts, with the various games in that genre no longer being the hot commodity that they once were a few years ago.
That being said, it was an unexpected piece of news when Harmonix announced that the next entry in the Rock Band franchise would be a standalone downloadable title, and with no use of the mainstay instrument peripherals in sight. Rock Band Blitz is now here, and does this downloadable entry continue the legacy and spirit of prior entries, or does the intentional lack of instruments cripple the game from being an enjoyable experience?
Story: Not Applicable
If you’ve ever played a Rock Band game before, then you would already know that the series is not known for having a storyline. The most story that the Rock Band series has ever received is creating a band and going out on the road to various gigs as you play songs, gaining more credibility and bigger venues to play on as you progressed through the game’s soundtrack. That bare minimum story (if you want to call it that) is done away with here in Blitz in favor of a more fundamental arcade experience.
Considering that a dedicated storyline has never been a factor in prior Rock Band games, it was no surprise to see that this downloadable installment lacks a storyline as well. It would be unfair to expect a story from a series in which that particular aspect has never been a factor, and as such it would be equally unfair to score this game for lacking a story mode. While we’ll be judging the game based on our other criteria, we’re going to gloss this particular aspect over in order to be fair in our overall judgment.
Gameplay: 5 out of 5
For a Rock Band entry that completely does away with the use of instrument peripherals, Rock Band Blitz is a surprisingly fun experience on its own merit. Harkening back to a more simplistic and visceral arcade-like experience, Blitz is a rather simple game in theory: play through various songs and aim to get as high a score as possible. Aiding you in that endeavor are various power-ups that can be unlocked through gameplay. You see, playing through a given song earns you both Cred and Coins: earning a set level of cred unlocks the various power-ups, and amassing coins allows you to purchase power-ups for use with your next song (power-ups in Blitz , while unlockable, need to be purchased on a pay-per-use basis via your coins).
Speaking of power-ups, there are quite a few to unlock in Blitz , which range from standard fare such as a Point Doubler, to more exotic kinds of power-ups such as the Pinball Note, which moves around the gameplay area and gives you bonus points so long as you prevent it from leaving the game area. There is a bit of strategy involved with the power-ups, as some power-ups mix well with others, so choosing the right combination of power-ups for use in your playing session can maximize the potential score you are able to earn. On your initial playthrough, all power-ups will be unlocked, though you will unlock a few after completing a short amount of songs.
While it was initially a potential problem that the game did not make any use of the series’ instrument peripherals, I’m happy to report that Blitz is still a great deal of fun to play, even with a standard controller. While the instruments in your hands may be gone, you still have quite a bit to work with, and you’ll be busy enough that you won’t even have time to miss the instruments. In a nutshell, you have five lanes onscreen during playtime, which cover each instrument (Drums, Bass, Guitar, Vocals, Keyboard), and you switch around between lanes and play the notes that scroll down to the screen using buttons on your game controller, much like traditional Rock Band fare. The twist here is that due to the lack of a dedicated instrument peripheral in your hand, you are now in charge of playing the role of the entire band, alternating between the instrument lanes at your leisure and playing the notes to boost your overall score. Unlike traditional Rock Band game mechanics, the point here is not to play every single note on the screen (this is literally impossible, as notes fall from each of the five lanes simultaneously), but switch between the musical lanes in a strategic manner to get as high a score as possible. Rock Band veterans may have an initial mental hurdle to get through with this new mindset, though new players will likely fall in comfortably with the gameplay. One additional note that needs to be made here is of the game’s difficulty: unlike previous Rock Band entries, there is no difficulty selection when choosing a song to play. Instead, a default, unmodifiable difficulty is attached to every song (you are given a brief overview of how difficult a song’s given instrument parts are, though nothing can be done to alter this), which seems to be a hybrid mix of Medium and Hard difficulty from prior games. While this difficulty won’t be much of an issue for veterans of the series, it may appear to be a bit daunting for newcomers: luckily enough, it is impossible to “fail” a song as in previous entries, and your only worry is your total score at the end of a song.
Presentation: 4 out of 5
Throughout the series’ history, Rock Band has never been a visually mind-blowing game: Blitz makes no significant improvements to that particular aspect. However, that isn’t to say that this is anything negative – what is shown on screen is rather clean and stylized to a point where everything is visually pleasing enough to the eye. Those who have played Rock Band games in the past will feel right at home here, and newcomers will adapt to the menus and visual style quickly enough. On the whole, the overall visual layout of the game is very similar to past entries, albeit with some minor changes, such as the score multiplier status being on the left side of the screen as opposed to the bottom of a given instrument lane.
While Blitz is a single player-only game, Harmonix has added a taste of social networking to make up for the lack of a multiplayer experience. Dubbed Rock Band World , this companion app (which is on Facebook) allows players to link their Gamertags or PSN IDs to gain access to community goals (which earn you more coins for use in-game), challenge friends to Score Wars (a score-based challenge between players which the winner nets bonus coins), and even browse their personal stats for Rock Band 3 and Rock Band Blitz . While the app is mainly accessible on Facebook, cross-compatibility is available via Blitz , so you can create and accept Score Wars, among other things. Another nice addition is the social network presence felt while playing – as you play, you will see how your current score compares to your friends on the right-hand side of the screen, giving you an extra bit of incentive for putting on your A-game.
Overall, Rock Band Blitz is a game that visually stays in line with the Rock Band series, while also bringing a good sonic experience for those with the appropriate audio hardware. Most may initially scoff at the prospect of playing a Rock Band game without the plastic instruments, but Blitz ’s arcade experience is engrossing enough that you’ll forget that you’re not using an instrument soon enough. The lack of multiplayer is balanced out by a rather addicting social network inclusion that will have poor, unsuspecting Facebook users being bombarded with Rock Band World requests – at least it’s better than those pesky Farmville requests!
Lasting Appeal: 5 out of 5
Due to its arcade-like play experience, Rock Band Blitz offers a fairly high replay value on its own. With the game’s 25-song soundtrack, players will find a nice variety of musical genres to play the game with – this already-high replay value is boosted exponentially with the compatibility with all Rock Band DLC. In other words, the 3,000+ Rock Band DLC library is entirely playable within Rock Band Blitz , making for a great bit of news; what’s even better is that the entire Rock Band Blitz soundtrack is fully compatible within Rock Band 3 , allowing gamers to play those newly added songs within the traditional Rock Band experience, instrument peripherals and all. For the price of $14.99/1200 Microsoft Points, you have a double whammy that will please both Rock Band veterans and newcomers alike.
The ESG Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Rock Band Blitz brings an arcade-centric experience to the Rock Band universe, and it is quite a rush playing through the game and utilizing the various power-ups to boost your score. As with most classic arcade games, the real fun is with playing through again to see if you can surpass your previous high score: with this old-school mentality in full effect, Blitz is more than up to the task in making the single-player experience just as fun as the full band play from past Rock Band entries. With the release of Rock Band Blitz , Harmonix has proven purists wrong as this downloadable entry in the franchise is every bit as fun and engaging as the traditional Rock Band experience. Is it a revolutionary new entry in the series? No, although that was never the point; what it is in spades, however, is a very fun and engaging game that brings with it the simplicity and replayability of a classic arcade game with a touch of social networking to bring it into the modern world.
**This review is based off of the Xbox LIVE Arcade edition of the game, with a review copy supplied by the developer. Rock Band Blitz is now available on both the PlayStation Network ($14.99) and Xbox LIVE Arcade (1200 MS Points)**