Attempting to get away from the plastic peripherals that made the series famous to begin with, Harmonix’ Rock Band Blitz is a strange game. How do you create a Rock Band game without the instrument controllers? They went back to their roots. Clearly inspired by their previous titles Frequency and Amplitude, Rock Band Blitz is a music game that isn’t as complex as its predecessors, but it also doesn’t need to be.
Rock Band Blitz is a game about one thing above all others: high scores. While previous games in the series took scores seriously, a lot of people found enjoyment in the simple act of playing through (or singing) their favorite songs and nothing else. Blitz takes it back to the days when high scores mattered. Like with previous games in the series, it can be as easy or complex as you want it to be, but the key difference is that you are encouraged at almost every opportunity to score higher than your friends.
The gameplay is simple enough: each lane, which represents a different aspect of the Rock Band experience (guitar, bass, drums, vocals, and keyboard), contains two note streams each. You are to hit the notes as best as you can in order to raise the multiplier for that specific lane. Once it is maxed out, you switch to another lane and do the same. As you continue to do this, you pass checkpoints during the songs that will level up your multipliers based on how high each multiplier already is.
For example, if you get all of the lanes up to a 4X multiplier, passing a checkpoint will move the max up three levels. If any of the lanes isn’t above the minimum multiplier once you pass the checkpoint, you’ll be unable to level up. In order to score more points, you need to level up. This requires you to swap to different lanes based on how high your multipliers are in order to continue to progress. If you hit enough notes in a row, you trigger Blitz Mode, which increases your score as long as you continue to hit notes correctly.
It’s the kind of game that makes a lot of sense once you actually begin to play it, and thanks to a helpful (and short) tutorial you’ll be able to get the hang of things quickly. Since this is a game about score, you can never fail, so the pressure isn’t about hitting all of the notes so much as it is leveling up each individual lane in order to continue to score more points. It keeps things balanced and gives players a reason to switch between the lanes as frequently as possible. It’s a fun system that allows for a lot of creativity in the way you approach each song.
And then there are the power-ups. You have three categories: overdrive power-ups, which work just like overdrive in the regular Rock Band titles, note power-ups, which are activated by hitting special colored notes, and track power-ups, which simply increase how many points you earn for specific tracks. You unlock different power-ups as you earn Blitz Cred; how much you gain is determined by how well you do on songs. The power-ups add a new level of depth to your scoring methods and, based on what combination of power-ups you use, you will either find yourself successfully getting five stars often or barely able to get three. It takes a little experimentation, but once you unlock all of the available powers, you’ll find that there are many different configurations that will help you score points a lot faster.
Control-wise, it works like you might expect. To hit each note, you can use either both the left and right analog sticks or the d-pad (for left notes) and A button (for right notes). And to switch between lanes, you can use either the triggers or the bumpers. I found myself relying on the analog sticks for hitting the notes; moving them along with the music was surprisingly satisfying. Thankfully, if the default control scheme doesn’t work for you, there are three other control options available.
RBB’s track list is great, with 24 songs that range from the different types of rock and pop music you might expect from a game in the series. Thankfully, if you aren’t a huge fan of the offerings the game initially provides, you are able to use all of your purchased DLC, which could determine how often you find yourself coming back to this game. This might be the game that gets me to start buying Rock Band DLC again, as it presents me with a new and creative way to approach the different songs available.
The problem a lot of hardcore Rock Band fans might have is they may not find too much to hold their interest, due to the game’s lack of complexity beyond simply trying to earn high scores. You could say the series has always been about that, but it’s not entirely true for some people. It’s clearly a much different type of game and for those who love the act of getting better with the different instruments and doing well on some of the hardest rock songs imaginable, they may not sink much time into this as they would the main games in the series.
Whether you’re a series veteran or a newcomer to the genre, Rock Band Blitz is an interesting approach to the music genre and a lot of fun to boot. It introduces some cool gameplay hooks, and thanks to the series’ massive back catalog of DLC, there will be plenty here to keep you busy. While some fans may not entirely love this new approach to the series, it’s a game that will most likely have you trapped in its addictive web if you give it a chance.
Pros: Great track list, satisfying controls, power-ups add unique changes to the Rock Band formula, DLC compatibility is excellent
Cons: Some hardcore fans of the series might not find much depth to the gameplay