Platform: PSN | XBLA (reviewed)
Rock Band Blitz is a strange little proposition. A scrolling rhythm game that has more in common with Amplitude than Guitar Hero, this singleplayer experience revolves around score and combos rather than painstakingly hitting each single note. It's a new way to explore your music with a traditional controller rather than a plastic guitar, levelling up different instruments and understanding how familiar songs are constructed out of numerous intertwined parts. Better yet, it's compatible with your entire Rock Band DLC collection and even provides 25 extra songs of its own to play in Rock Band 3.
But there's a problem. Despite technically being decent value, Rock Band Blitz has essentially just provided a less fun way of playing through the same old songs.
Gameplay is fundamentally similar to Rock Band or Guitar Hero, at least starting out. Songs are subdivided into four or five scrolling lanes representing a key instrument or vocal part, with the ability to swap between them on the fly by jabbing the triggers. Notes parade down both sides of each lanes in time with the music; to hit them, you'll need to mash the D-Pad and A depending on whether they're on the left or right. Advanced players can optionally waggle the thumbsticks to nail fast consecutive beats, though it takes some getting used to and is rarely particularly comfortable. In your first few attempts, you'll likely do yourself an injury trying to hit each and every note in all of the lanes - a physical improbability - doing irreparable damage to your thumbs in the process.
Hitting every single note isn't important, however. Rock Band Blitz is a leaderboard-driven score attack game, pure and simple, with no hint of a campaign, characters or underlying story keeping you from your setlist.
It's impossible to fail a song regardless of how badly you perform, and swapping between lanes will usually force you to break your streak anyway (since the vocal, drum, guitar and bass rhythms will almost always be completely different). You'll quickly realise that Rock Band Blitz revolves around increasing the multipliers for each track component, which is a simple matter of hitting plenty of notes in each individual lane. The multiplier cap increases when you pass a checkpoint based on the weakest instrument, meaning that you'll need to continually hop between parts and boost any stragglers to net the highest scores. Continued play reveals a very different experience to traditional Rock Band, such as powerups that can destroy surrounding notes, automatically take over a lane or boost your score for a set duration, and mischievous free notes that hop between lanes. Catching the little blighters is a right pain, but well worth it in terms of points - giving you bragging rights to dominate your friends list with.
Rock Band Blitz does a lot right. Brilliantly, the volume of the instrumental part is boosted when when playing in its lane, allowing players to appreciate the subtleties of a bass line or keyboard accompaniment that's often subsumed by the song as a whole. The powerups, unlocked by obtaining 'cred' through continued play, add some welcome variety to the proceedings, and a fair amount of strategy is involved in identifying the best times to swap lanes for maximum points or which powerups to equip. As mentioned, any Rock Band DLC on your hard drive will be automatically detected and added to your setlist, while the 25 included tracks (a somewhat shaky selection with a couple of highlights) can be played in Rock Band 3. If you happen to already own Harmonix' exceptional rock god simulator, the raw value of the package cannot be denied. Neither can the thrill of crushing the high score table.
Sadly, Rock Band Blitz never quite manages to make its case for being a standalone game, and pales in comparison to FreQuency or Amplitude. Most successful rhythm games manage to make players feel like part of the music, like they're immersed within the song, but Blitz fails spectacularly in that regard. The fact that you're given very little feedback for hitting or missing a note (perhaps a slight drop in volume and the odd squeaky play noise), coupled with the inability to fail a track, makes you feel like a passenger along for the ride; unable to really affect the song or even play it in any meaningful way. Unless you're a die-hard leaderboard junkie, you'll quickly settle into apathetic button mashing sessions, stumbling through songs and receiving little in the way of reward. The lack of familiar on-screen characters and the shocking blandness of the scrolling city environment robs Blitz of a much-needed sense of personality.
Worse, using a controller serves to highlight just how repetitive the core experience actually is. A plastic guitar, drum set and microphone distracted us from what was essentially an enormous Quick Time Event, empowering us with the feeling of being part of the music and part of the band. But here, exacerbated by the lack of feedback, samey backdrops and dearth of personality, grind sets in hard and fast. Your first few attempts will be thrilling, exciting and new, but the novelty quickly dies to be replaced by malaise.
Multiplayer might have lifted the experience, but is notable by its absence. Dynamic leaderboards admittedly add a competitive edge to the proceedings, a small selection of cooperative challenges are only available if you sync with a Facebook account and it's possible to asynchronously challenge a friend to a 'Score War,'. That's your lot. The experience still feels insular and lonely, despite being a perfect foundation for some fun cooperative two-player action or even hot-seat party gametypes.
As you sit by yourself, grinding through your DLC collection with small thumb movements, Blitz continually reminds you just how much fun you used to have playing Rock Band. Being a button-mashing passenger in your favourite songs is no substitute for really playing them. The empowering feeling of actually being in a band has been lost, instead replaced by an experience that's simply functional, but devoid of soul.
It didn't take long before I snapped; rushing to grab my Rock Band disc, dig out my plastic guitar and breathe a sigh of relief as I started playing through Bad Religion's 21st Century Digital Boy the way it was intended.
Which, at the end of the day, makes me wonder why there aren't more downloadable games designed for the Guitar Hero and Rock Band peripherals. Loads of people have them. There's an audience ready and waiting, to spend a few points or a tenner on a new experience - or an excuse to play Rock God make-believe once more. For now, Rock Band Blitz is an entertaining diversion that compliments the core Rock Band 3 experience nicely, but never quite excels enough to recommend if you don't already own a weighty DLC collection.
- A new take on Rock Band gameplay with an aggressive score attack focus
- Compatible with Rock Band DLC
- Good value, great if you own Rock Band 3
- Perfect for killing time between meatier games
- Lack of feedback and inability to fail makes for a passive and unsatisfying long-term experience
- Fails to immerse players in the music
- Devoid of real personality or soul - purely functional
- Asynchronous social features and Facebook integration replace traditional multiplayer
The Short Version: Rock Band Blitz is a functional little diversion that's great fun to dip into every now and again, but it's best viewed as an expansion or even a new peripheral for Rock Band 3 rather than a full game in its own right. The extra tracks and DLC compatibility make it an interesting new way for Rock Band players to experience (even enhance) their collection, and it's probably well worth a download for franchise fans, but the lightweight gameplay is neither engaging nor fully-featured enough to recommend to new players.