Rock Band Blitz Xbox 360 review
Publisher - Harmonix – Developer – Harmonix – Genre – Rhythm Action – Players – 1 (with online challenges) – Age Rating – 12+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3
Before Rock Band, Harmonix released two amazing rhythm action games in the shape of Amplitude and Frequency. Rock Band Blitz is similar to them and does not require a special controller, but can the downloadable game captivate players in the same way as its big brother?
Downloading and playing Blitz for the first time prompts the user to download the content. This allows the 25 songs to be used in other Rock Band games, turning Blitz into a cost-effective track pack as well as a separate game. It is also worth calibrating (for the audio and visual lag on the current set-up) and linking to a Facebook account (and the new Rock Band World portal that also supports Rock Band 3) at this point.
The tutorial introduces the distinctive features of the game, the five tracks of notes scrolling through the neon-lit streets and hills of Rock City. The tracks correspond to the instruments in Rock Band – from left to right sit the drums, bass, guitar, vocals and keyboard in the familiar colours. (Some tracks do not have all five parts). There are left and right notes to be hit in each track, with the player able to choose one of four different control schemes. By default swapping between tracks is done with the triggers or bumpers, with the notes hit by moving the analogue sticks (or the D-pad and A). Player feedback also suggests the use of an arcade stick works well with this game.
Hitting notes correctly will increase the score and boost the score multiplier. The trick lies in switching between the five lanes and raising all the multipliers. This is because periodically through the song checkpoints appear, raising the “level cap” by up to x3; concentrating on a single track will prevent the cap from going up. But building score in a single track does unleash Blitz Mode, upping the points. Hitting the glowing white notes will increase the Overdrive bar and bring the power-ups into play when the X button is pressed. Working out which track to concentrate on comes with repeated play.
There are ten different power-ups, which are unlocked by completing songs to gain Blitz Cred. The simplest is the x2 note multiplier, active until the Overdrive bar is drained. Power-ups are split into types affecting notes or tracks. Some will give special purple notes that unleash the power – for example, the Blast and Pinball for clearing more notes. Synchrony is a Track power-up, requiring you to switch tracks on the measure for points. The Bandmate power-up is perhaps the most useful, playing notes on one track while the player works on another track. Up to three different power-ups can be active for a song, chosen beforehand and costing a set number of Blitz Coins.
The first time you play a song, you will earn double Coins. The more Stars you score for the song, based on the Rock Band tradition of 1 to 5 Stars for your overall performance and the ultimate Gold Stars, the more Coins earned. Another way to earn Coins is through Song Wars, challenging another player to beat your score at a particular song. During a song there is also a display showing the score achieved by friends, with Rock Band Central keeping massive online leaderboards for every song. Through the Rock Band World Portal on Facebook there’s also group challenges (play a particular genre or artist) which can boost your Coin total. This provides a real incentive to get better, and to try other songs.
With over 3,000 songs currently available, there is a huge library to play through and a wide range of genres. Players also earn Cred for playing multiple songs from an artist or genre, building up to the Achievements. Future Rock Band DLC will be compatible with Blitz. The twenty-five songs included are a mixture of familiar names and artists new to Rock Band. (Two tracks – Spoonman and Give It Away – were in previous games, but their appearance here gives access to them in Rock Band 3 for the first time).
Aesthetically this is clean and simple, letting the player concentrate on the tracks themselves. In Blitz Mode the display speeds up and blurs, but is still clear enough to scan. It does mean less of a show for people watching, but then there is no local multiplayer to keep others interested. The front-end is fairly basic, with one drawback being how the game suggests Score Wars. There is no way to choose a friend or song – the game arbitrarily picks an opponent who possesses the same track as you. A single button press to take the player straight to the message centre (where ongoing challenges can be monitored) would also improve things.
During the first week Blitz was available, many players raised concern about balancing issues, and whether the cost of the power-ups was too high. Harmonix listened to those concerns and issued an update, boosting the Coin amounts earned and lowering the cost of power-ups. The reliance on the Facebook application to get the most out of the game also has its drawbacks.
As a new way of experiencing the vast library of Rock Band tracks, Blitz can be seen as a fun addition to the series. As a full game it does lack the sense of teamwork and co-operation that makes Rock Band so playable, and while it is a competitive and challenging game to master the lack of multiplayer options holds it back. It is value for money in providing new tracks for the main Rock Band games but can never replace rocking out with your friends. Rhythm action as a genre is alive and well, and in safe hands when Harmonix is the developer.