The music craze has all but disappeared. There was a time when Guitar Hero and Rock Band dominated sales charts and were on millions of holiday wish lists. But the genre that once generated over $2 billion in its heyday earlier this generation has trickled away to almost nothing, which means a whole lot of plastic instruments are currently gathering dust. However, Rock Band Blitz has emerged; a throwback to the days of Frequency and Amplitude , and it doesn’t require any instruments. Just fast fingers and a fair amount of practice.
I will be making frequent comparisons to Harmonix’s PS2 title Amplitude because in many ways, Blitz is the spiritual successor. Visually, we’ve got the same set of tracks, each dedicated to a specific instrument, and a colorful display that really lights up when things start rolling (via good performance or power-ups). Blitz is brighter and more vibrant but the background never varies; this is unfortunate, because even in the much older Amplitude , they’d have snippets of the artist performing in the background. Still, this is a smooth, attractive graphical presentation.
Obviously, a game like this is all about the sound or rather, the soundtrack. This is a good-news/bad-news situation, which depends entirely on your previous status as a Rock Band fan. If you were an avid follower of the series and you’ve got tons of songs stored up, you’re so good to go. If, on the other hand, you never got into the music mania, you get 25 songs to start (and a Free Pack 1 on the PSN that delivers five more, I think). There are literally thousands more, but they all must be purchased, which I find frustrating; more songs should’ve been included for free. Still, it’s a great assortment; it’s almost impossible to not find at least a handful of songs you really like. And the audio is superbly implemented, too.
Nope, no plastic guitar here. Just your standard Dual Shock controller, your dexterous fingers, and the beat lodged in your head. Veteran Amplitude players will be right at home; there’s the same switching of tracks, the same playing of notes in time with the rhythm, and the same goal— Get the highest score possible. That being said, there are obvious differences. First off, instead of three notes per track, there are only two. The left can be played with any directional button; the right is played with X. You switch tracks with R1/L1 or R2/L2. Clearly, this isn’t exactly complex. But the challenge lies not in the control layout…
Having only two notes per track may sound like a simplification but in truth, there are in general more notes to play when compared to Amplitude . Things also seem to move faster, but I could be remembering the older track-based music game incorrectly. What I do know is that this game feels more intuitive and isn’t as restricting; missing a note isn’t the end of the world and above all else, you can’t fail a song. Half the challenge with difficult songs in Amplitude was the fact that if you missed too often, you’d lose your energy and that’d be it. This time, there’s no energy bar; just a score and star counter.
This puts the focus squarely on upping your score and alleviates some of the pressure. There’s no doubt that Rock Band Blitz is all about the casual, social experience, so while five stars is still very difficult, the central focus is on bettering your score and the score of your friends. Unfortunately, because there’s no real single-player mode besides playing the songs and doing the best you can, the most fun can only be had from challenging friends to Score Wars or having a buddy sit next to you and play. The way it’s set up reminds me of the Autolog in Need for Speed .
It all works fine and aside from being faced with a ton of songs you’ll have to buy (again, unless you’ve got an existing Rock Band library), the game is ridiculously fun. However, I can’t help but wonder how difficult it would’ve been to include at least some sort of tournament mode or something; a way to play against AI, or maybe various modes. Granted, Amplitude didn’t have this, either, but by eliminating the possibility of failing a song, a lot of the competitiveness of the experience disappears and therefore, Blitz feels lighter by comparison, despite the huge available soundtrack.
I have to say, though, once you start playing, it’s hard to stop. The audio is just so well designed and there’s such a solid diversity of musical artists. Besides, while Amplitude punished your poor performance by not playing the track you didn’t perfectly nail, that doesn’t happen in the new effort. You always hear the song, no matter what; it’s just that whatever track you’re playing rises a little above the rest in terms of volume. You can certainly tell when you miss a note, but it doesn’t totally ruin the song, as it can always be heard in the background. The best part is nailing an awesome guitar solo or hitting every note of the vocals, which is ultra-satisfying and fulfilling.
It’s also great to know the difficulty of each track before starting. The drums, bass guitar, lead guitar, vocals, and keyboard are rated on a 1-5 scale so you know what you’re in for, so when you see 5 little devil faces, you might want to sit back and crack your knuckles. It also helps because one of the power-up options is a chance to increase the points of one particular instrument, so if there are a lot of notes to be played (hence, the difficulty is higher), you might want to use that power-up for that particular song. I just wish the power-ups were always available after unlocking them.
Thing is, you need to earn coins to be able to use those power-ups, even after you’ve unlocked them. That’s just plain annoying because you essentially need to put a power-up into each of the three available slots if you want to have a shot at five stars. So for super high scores, you find yourself playing songs over and over just to get enough coins to use the power-ups you already earned . Silly move, Harmonix. But beyond that, it’s just fun, fun, fun. It’s so well done that I can actually look away from the screen with a repeating set of notes and get it exactly right with the rhythm of my fingers. That's a proper music game.
Rock Band Blitz is obviously designed for big fans of the franchise, just because they’ll have access to literally thousands of songs. They also likely have friends who are willing to play and given the social nature of this game, that’s a huge bonus. But even for me, who never got into the plastic instrument fad, I just have a blast playing the songs I like and trying to best my score. It should’ve given us more of an excuse to keep playing by ourselves and the coin usage for power-ups is dumb, but the production values are high and playing just never gets old. And I can’t seem to stop…
The Good: Fantastic audio quality. Thousands of available songs and ALL RB songs are compatible. Easy to pick up and play. Not overly strict but the challenge is still high. Extremely intuitive and well presented. It’ll get you movin’, guaranteed.
The Bad: Background never changes. Not enough free songs available for those without big RB libraries. Continually having to earn access to unlocked power-ups = stupid.
The Ugly: “Ooooh, over 5,000 songs…..and I have to pay for ‘em all. …well, damnit.”