After the downfall of rhythm games in 2010, thousands of people were left with unused plastic instruments taking up space in their homes. There was never anything legitimately wrong with rhythm games, but oversaturation combined with the absence of innovation drove them into the ground. In the last few years Harmonix has rebounded off of their rhythm game past with their huge Kinect success, Dance Central, seemingly leaving Rock Band behind. Rock Band Blitz is about the smartest thing Harmonix could have done to subtly return to their former love while also adding new gameplay twists that completely change the way you think about Rock Band. And if you’re not into the new gameplay style, think of it as a fifteen dollar song pack for Rock Band 3.
Imagine the note highway you’re used to in Rock Band. Now imagine a track for all five instruments, drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, lyrics, and piano, all laid next to each other. Now imagine that each track only holds two notes a time, rather than five. And finally, imagine burning every plastic instrument you own and picking up a controller instead. This is how one plays Rock Band Blitz, and yes, burning the plastic instruments is necessary.
The inherent gameplay of Rock Band Blitz is incredibly smart, forcing you to strategically decide which track you’re hitting notes on at any given time. It’s impossible to not miss notes, so paying attention to which tracks currently have the most notes or which track is closest to the next multiplier is infinitely important. Blitz introduces a new score multiplier system, the foundation of what makes Blitz strategic. At the beginning of a song, you can get any instrument up to 3x. After 30-45 seconds have passed, you reach a checkpoint, which raises the score multiplier level cap by three. If you were able to get three instruments to 3x, but a few were stuck at 2x when you reach the checkpoint, the level cap is only raised to that level, making 2x the new minimum rather than 3x. It might sound super complicated, but is very simple and intuitive in practice.
Throwing even more depth into a relatively simple genre, there a load of different power-ups that you can purchase with coins earned from playing songs. You can equip a maximum of three different power-ups at a time, each one pertaining to a different aspect of the gameplay. Bandmate, one of my personal favorites, plays a track automatically for a limited amount of time when activated. Power-ups like Bandmate consume Star Power, or whatever they’re calling it nowadays, but others are more passive, like Super Drums, which just makes drum notes worth more points. If you’re low on coins, you must consolidate on which power-ups to purchase, and possibly just roll without a third one for a while until your funds are back up. In my experience, I’ve never been below 4000 coins, so there’s no need to worry too much about it.
One of the best things about Blitz is its ability to import every song you already owned of the Music Store or in Rock Band 3. Apart from the 25+ songs the game already comes with, importing previously purchased songs adds even more initial value to the package. You can also purchase any song already featured in the Music Store, which will surely make a few dollars disappear out of your wallet. Songs are also added weekly to the store, so expect to come back to Blitz periodically to see what’s new.
Where Rock Band Blitz really starts to bum me out is in its official Facebook app, Rock Band World, which has been designed to be a companion to the game. A lot of the features of the app are actually pretty interesting. After linking your XBL or PSN account, you can begin to join in on community goals, requiring such conditions as playing Linkin Park songs for double points, for example. The app also serves as a great way to buy music for the game. The problem comes with the starting of Score Wars. Score Wars are kind of an Autolog-like way of challenging friends to the highest score in a specific song. The game will randomly present the opportunity to challenge a friend, or random player, to score war on a pre-selected song, but completely restricts you from choosing the “when, who, and what”. It is possible to choose all criteria through Rock Band World, but the given player must be your Facebook friend for it to work. I don’t know about you guys, but my Facebook friends list and my PSN friends list are two very different lists. I don’t game with the same people I virtually socialize with, and that alone renders Score Wars, the most attractive aspect of replayability, completely handicapped. The simple addition of starting custom Score Wars through the game would completely fix this problem, and subsequently nullify any reason for me to use Rock Band World.
Because Rock Band Blitz uses a special algorithm for converting previous Rock Band songs into Blitz, I found that some songs worked much better as a Blitz song than others. From experimentation buying songs from the store and trying them out, I noticed that some checkpoints were placed oddly, and songs with few instrument sections left me unable to upgrade a certain track enough before the checkpoint. On the other hand, the hand-selected tracks that come packaged with the game are all excellent fits, as you would expect.
If score chasing isn’t your thing, then Rock Band Blitz probably won’t keep you around for long after your initial kicks. But what it will do is make it much easier to return to once in a while, by virtue of plastic instruments not being a factor and the constant addition of new songs. Its pick-up-and-play nature makes it very easy to play a song or two at a time.
Rock Band Blitz is truly the smartest thing Harmonix could have done with the Rock Band series. It innovates on the genre in interesting ways, adds instant value to Rock Band faithful, and completely does away with the genre’s biggest barrier to entry—plastic instruments. It’s a shame its social integration is partially ruined by it being forced on those who want to experience the best part of the game, but it doesn’t taint the game. Is it the second coming of rhythm games? No, but it is the most intelligently crafted one in years, and definitely one worth checking out.