Rock Band Blitz
August 29, 2012
A digital copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. While available for several platforms, this review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Rock Band Blitz seems to go against every convention of the series thus far. There are no plastic peripherals, you’re not meant to hit all the notes right, and there’s no way to make music with your friends. It’s a very different experience than past Rock Band titles, yet at its core it’s still a Rock Band game, condensed and streamlined into an arcade title.
Blitz takes some cues from Harmonix’s PS2 games Frequency and Amplitude. Rather than being assigned to one instrument, you’re constantly jumping between them. There are no plastic guitars or drums here, just your 360 or PS3 controller. You simply need to tap buttons as the notes fly by on the screen.
It’s kind of in the same vein as the PSP entry in the series, Rock Band Unplugged, but the gameplay is quite different. The instrumental ensemble from Rock Band 3 has returned – guitar, bass, drums, vocals, and keyboard – but each instrument track has been pared down to only a left and right note. The initial control scheme has you using the d-pad or analog stick and A button (X on the PS3) to hit these notes, while using the triggers to switch lanes. It’s an awkward control scheme and can be kind of inaccurate, especially with the 360’s infamous d-pad. Luckily you can switch between a few control schemes in the options menu – I wound up settling on one that uses the left and right bumpers to hit notes and the triggers for track switching.
Blitz also exchanges the series’ former concentration on pinpoint accuracy for new score-based gameplay. It’s impossible to fail songs, no matter how many notes you miss. Rather than chaining notes together to increase your multiplier, each instrument track is given its own multiplier that increases at certain intervals along the track. Checkpoints are placed throughout the song, increasing your max multiplier.
Therein lies the difficulty in Rock Band Blitz. Each checkpoint only increases your multiplier by a value equal to your lowest track’s multiplier, meaning that you can’t just stay on one instrument’s track and expect to get a high score. Topping the leaderboards will require near-perfect management of all your tracks, switching at just the right possible moment, and not losing your groove while doing so.
The game also introduces Blitz mode, which activates automatically after chaining together correct notes to fill up a meter at the top of the screen. Blitz mode causes the notes to fly by faster and awards bonus points relative to how long you stay in Blitz. The longer you stay in Blitz mode, the more points you get. Miss notes, however, and you’ll drop out of Blitz and have to activate it once more. Maintaining Blitz mode is vital to achieving the highest scores in this game.
Blitz also provides a variety of power-ups to help you on your quest for high scores. These power-ups are unlocked as you earn Blitz Cred in the game by completing songs, and range from a bandmate that plays a second instrument while activated, increased points for each instrument, and even a giant pinball that racks up big points as long as you keep it from falling off the track by hitting correct notes. Finding the right power-up loadout for each song is part of the strategy of Blitz, and adds a new dimension to the game and the series as a whole.
However, for all the good they do, power-ups are also one of the game’s biggest annoyances. In order to load power-ups before a song, you have to spend in-game coins for each one. A full loadout of three power-ups is pretty pricey, and more than likely you won’t get enough coins to make up what you spent. That means that you’ll often find yourself playing songs without power-ups just to farm coins, which can be pretty annoying since you likely won’t be topping any high scores without optimal power-ups.
Thankfully, Blitz has a pretty good soundtrack. The game’s 25 songs run the gamut from classics such as Jungle Boogie and Elton John’s I’m Still Standing to newer hits like Foster the People’s Pumped Up Kicks and fun’s We Are Young. In addition, the game is compatible with every song in the Rock Band music store, and the game’s built-in soundtrack can be played in Rock Band 3 if you prefer playing with plastic instruments.
Graphically, Blitz looks like a Rock Band game through and through. The tracks zoom through a flashy neon cityscape, twisting and turning and going over hills and valleys the whole time. There are never any framerate issues that affect gameplay, and the graphics themselves are very colorful and eye-pleasing. Menus do a good job of showing you recommended tracks and spotlighting specific songs, and there are lots of ways to sort things, though they can seem cluttered at times and scrolling is a bit slow.
Unfortunately, those twists and turns can make it difficult to see the next note or when a track pops back in. It’s especially amplified in Blitz mode, when the tracks blur to create the illusion of speed and the background psychs out. It’s frustrating to miss notes just because you couldn’t see them coming beyond the crest of a hill, or to be jarred out of Blitz mode because you missed notes that blended in with the background.
There’s no story mode in Blitz, and there’s no online or offline multiplayer. It’s a wholly single-player experience that revolves around besting your friends’ scores and topping the leaderboards. You can challenge your friends to Score Wars, but the experience is pretty limited until you tie the game to your Facebook account with Rock Band World. It would be really nice to build a band with your friends and work together to get high scores, or complete co-op goals without having to log on to your PC or connect with your personal Facebook account.
Finally, Blitz is a damn hard game. It took me hours of play before I ever got my first 5-star on a song. You have to practically memorize the songs and find the best opportunities to switch tracks and activate power-ups, and maintaining Blitz mode is an absolute necessity. In the harder songs, the notes fly at you at a breakneck pace, and it can be really overwhelming to juggle all of those things at once.
Ultimately, Rock Band Blitz is a fun game for pick-up-and-play sessions when you don’t have friends to jam with. Its concentration on high scores always gives you something to strive for, though the execution has its share of flaws – mostly the reliance on Facebook connectivity. It’s definitely worth the $15 asking price, if only for the tracks that can be imported into Rock Band 3, but if you give it a chance and get used to the changes in gameplay, Blitz itself is a fun arcade experience that provides a fresh new take on the series.
Addictive score-based gameplay backed by an impressive soundtrack with lots of variety.
Compatible with the thousands of songs in the Rock Band store.
Power-ups, the new multiplier system, and Blitz mode all add new depth to the series' gameplay.
The graphics are colorful and eye-catching.
Some awkward controls.
No multiplayer and an over-reliance on social networking for challenging friends.
Having to farm coins is an absolute pain in the ass.
Some graphical aspects can cause you to miss notes.