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Rock Band Blitz (PlayStation 3) artwork

Rock Band Blitz (PlayStation 3) review

"Rock BandVille"

The gameplay of Rock Band Blitz will be somewhat familiar to fans of Harmonix’s other music games. Rather than just sticking with one instrument at a time like in the standard Rock Band games, though, you can switch between instrumental tracks whenever you feel it’s appropriate, juggling them and keeping multipliers going. On paper, Rock Band Blitz sounds like a spiritual successor to Frequency/Amplitude or Rock Band Unplugged, and it kind of is. The biggest difference is that instead of using three or four buttons on each track, Blitz dumbs it down a bit and only uses two.

This new level of simplicity is offset by two things. First is the multiplier system. If you play a song accurately enough, the lane for an instrumental track will fill with colour, representing a multiplier of 2, 3, or 4. Once you pass through a checkpoint, those colours will drain until at least one track is empty, but the multipliers will remain the same. This means that the maximum and minimum multipliers have been raised. For example, if you pass through a checkpoint with all tracks at 4, the new minimum multiplier becomes 4 and the new maximum will be 7. Strategically switching tracks to maximize the level of each track’s multiplier between checkpoints is one of the two keys to achieving high scores.

The other key is clever use of the power-up system, which is where things start getting weird. Before each song, you can set up to three power ups: one of each type. Overdrive power-ups grant you special abilities and are activated by pressing the Square button. Overdrive power-ups cost energy, which you earn by playing special white notes. Examples of Overdrive power-ups are Bandmate, which automatically plays one track as long as you have energy, and Jackpot, which will triple the points you earn for a set of notes, provided you can play them all with no mistakes. Note power-ups turn certain notes purple and cause interesting things to happen when they’re played. Blast Notes explode and destroy all notes within a specific radius, regardless of which track they’re on. Pinball Notes send a giant pinball flying across the playfield, destroying any notes they crush. Finally, Track power-ups mostly just make notes in one track worth more points than the rest, with the exception of the Synchrony power-up, which gives you bonus points for switching tracks on measure markers.

Power-ups basically save Rock Band Blitz from being simple and boring. They add a level of strategy that would otherwise be absent. They’re also almost completely ruined by the game’s economy.

Power-ups cost coins to use. A full load-out costs 750 coins. The problem is, you’ll usually only earn less than half of that in a given performance. If you get 5 stars on an easy song (which is basically impossible if you’re not using power-ups), you’ll receive 375 coins. This means you’ll need to play songs without power-ups, or only one power-up, to gain coins to spend when you need them. You’ll “need them” if you wish to have fun or achieve a high score and climb the leaderboards (you know, basically the only two reasons to play the game in the first place). This is reminiscent of the werehog levels in Sonic Unleashed, or the dozen-hour linear tutorial in Final Fantasy XIII before that game’s battle system and world open up. It feels like you have to play a certain way and work for the right to have fun.

There are ways to earn extra coins, but they’re not very convenient. The first time you play a song, you’ll earn double coins for it. Yes, this means that if you manage to five-star a song the first time you play it, you’ll break even. The second way to earn extra coins is to link your account to the Rock Band World Facebook app and complete special challenges.

Rock Band World is the only way to start and monitor your progress in these challenges. Challenges offer objectives such as “Earn 12 stars in Metal songs” or “Play every free DLC song.” Most goals can be completed in both Rock Band 3 and Rock Band Blitz, though only Blitz players will receive any rewards. Many of these challenges are impossible to do by yourself unless you own a lot of exported Rock Band songs or DLC. (These are the same exported songs and DLC that will work in your big boy Rock Band games, which is a nice feature. If you have a large library of Rock Band songs, you’ll get a lot more enjoyment out of Rock Band Blitz.) You can form groups to tackle these challenges together, but since this is all handled by Facebook, you can only form groups with people who are on your Facebook friends list. If you don’t have Facebook friends who play Rock Band Blitz or Rock Band 3, you’re basically out of luck for a lot of challenges.

This type of deep Facebook integration makes Rock Band Blitz feel like a free social game. You can post requests for help on your Facebook timeline. Multiplayer is limited to “Score Wars” (setting a high score and challenging a Facebook friend to beat it on their own time). The economy feels like they’re trying to get you to spend money on Facebook tokens to buy more coins, except that’s not an option.

Rock Band Blitz’s flaws don’t end with its oppressive economy, either. The game’s other biggest flaw is its tutorial, which is useless. It doesn’t even tell you what the titular “Blitz” mode is. You enter Blitz mode by playing a certain number of notes without missing any. Once that mode is activated, you can continue to play flawlessly and as a result earn an ever-increasing bonus for every ten error-free notes. That sounds pretty important, right? It’s not important enough to receive a mention anywhere in the tutorial, apparently. There’s also the question of the game’s “offline mode,” which won’t let you earn coins or use power-ups or gain “cred” (experience points that unlock power-ups for use).

It’s really too bad that a few incredibly bad decisions bring the whole experience down as much as they do. When you can use a full set of power ups, Rock Band Blitz is a pretty fun game. It’s a good way to get some extra use out of your existing Rock Band library, and it’s even a great value as a track pack, since it comes with 25 generally good songs (with a good mix of everything from Queen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Kelly Clarkson) that can all be played in Rock Band 3. Rock Band Blitz is one good patch away from being a worthwhile game. As it stands now, at worst it’s a disappointingly dumbed down version of Rock Band Unplugged, and at best it’s a free perk that comes with a $15 track pack.

Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (September 03, 2012)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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