What happens when you take the honed expertise of Harmonix and their Rock Band series, take away the instruments and make it accessible to anyone with half a sense of rhythm? You get Rock Band Blitz, and with it one of the most addictive and enjoyable downloadable titles you’ll find.
The Rock Band series has been around for ages, and anyone with the room to store the instruments have been treated to constant offerings of new songs as DLC, running the song list into the thousands. Impressive compatibility meant that songs could be played on several of the Rock Band games, and an evening of plastic instrumental and singing fun could go on for hours without an ounce of repetition. With half of the fun being the feeling of playing an actual(ish) instrument how can Rock Band Blitz, which substitutes the controller in place of the instruments, possibly be worthwhile?
Well, it is. Oh boy, it is. Taking a heavy inspiration from the PSP version of Rock Band, each song consists of 4 or 5 tracks (depending on the song) that you skip across with the shoulder buttons to play each instrument. Each track only has two possible notes, a left or right, and these are mapped to face buttons hat are either on the left or the right of the controller respectively. What this gives you is something with is initially straight forward (there’s only two notes, how hard can it be..?) but soon becomes an insane task of choosing the right tracks at the right time, building multipliers, hitting white notes to build up your energy then selecting the right time to fire off your power up. It’s a true test of your rhythm, concentration, dexterity and coordination, and before you realise what’s going on you’ll be chasing your high score to try and win more stars for the song.
And there’s a good list of famous songs included with the game – 25 in fact – and range from some slower and less taxing tunes to some utterly mental heavy metal offerings with epic guitar solos and painfully tough rhythms. With tracks from artists such as the Foo Fighters, Elton John and Barenaked Ladies there’s plenty that people will have heard of, so don’t worry about the freebies being a bit random and crappy. Completing a song gives you coins and cred, the latter of which lets you rank up and unlock new toys to play with. When you start a song you’re able to pick three power-ups; one energy based that you can unleash when you’ve hit enough white notes and built up your energy, one option that awards you points for hitting certain special notes (and thus starting some sort of reaction that gives varying bonus points) and a final one that gives extra points on one specific track. Using each costs you some coins, but the coins you win from completing songs is balanced perfectly to allow you to experiment with the various upgrades on offer.
And then there’s the way it integrates with your friends. Between in-game scoreboards that you compare your scores with the rest of the world as well as just your friends list, and the Rock Band World Facebook app which lets you join challenges and start contests against your friends, it’s a very sociable experience. Score challenges are especially enjoyable, setting a 3 day limit for you and your friend to get as good a score as possible on the set song, with decent rewards for coming out the winner. At any point you can see both players’ times as well as the number of attempts made, so if you manage to win in a single effort despite them having 25 tries to beat you there’s scope for some extra boasting to be had.
There are other splashes of cool stuff too, like the captions that accompany new unlocks and loading screens (although any other bass players out there should prepare for an insult or two!) and having songs recommended to you to buy on the store. Whether the 25 included songs keep you going all that long remains to be seen, but getting the top reward of 5 gold stars on each song is a very tall order, and once you manage it on one song you’ll want to get them for every song. Having friends to compete against helps too, and although you can pitch score wars against random players, my own experience suggested that most of these resulted in the opponent never taking their turn. I suspect it picks a name out from everyone who’s ever played, so there’s no guarantee they’ll log on within 3 days of the challenge starting. As such, without some friends owning the game you’re unlikely to get the most out of it, which is a shame.
But overall, Rock Band Blitz is fantastic. You’ll play it until you get cramp in your hands, and then carry on regardless because you’re oh so close to getting those gold stars. It’s dangerous if you’ve got payment details set up on the store too – there’s a massive range of purchasable songs on offer, and once you get the bug you’ll want to expand your collection beyond the included songs. The good news is any previous Rock Band DLC purchases will work in Blitz too, so fans might already have a decent sized collection to hand. Just be sure to calibrate the game before you start – some reviews have said the controls are out of sync, and I’d put money on them not having set it up properly.
Those who said Rock Band wouldn’t be much good without the instruments were, quite frankly, wrong. Very wrong. If you’re musical, like to tap along to tunes in the car or just want to get in with some friends and have some brilliantly fun contests then you can’t go wrong. Harmonix have done a great job.
Reviewed on PS3