Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rock Band Blitz

Developed by Harmonix
Played on Xbox 360

            This year I made a decision going to school that haven’t made in the last four years: to leave my Rock Band equipment at home.  Naturally, this was more of a space thing, as even just not having a plastic guitar around saves a lot of room.  But the knowledge that Rock Band Blitz was already out made it a lot easier.
            The gameplay of Blitz seems simple at first.  Instead of using any instruments, it’s all done with your controller, and instead of having 5 lanes, there’s only two lanes.  You switch between all the instruments playing at once and try to hit as many notes as you can.  There’s no way to fail a song, and unlike Harmonix’s earlier Amplitude or Rock Band Unplugged, completing an instrument doesn’t stop it for a time.  Everything keeps going.  The goal is to get a high score and see your name on the leaderboard.  This also ties in socially.  As you play a song, you see the scores of your other friends and if you’re passing them (or some of the standard Rock Band musicians if you lack friends – it can be just as fun to see how you’re doing against Mothership Q).  You can also tie into Facebook and compete in goals with your friends helping you.  Considering how much Xbox Live Arcade has changed since its early days, this is one of the biggest arcade-style games to actually debut on the service in a long time.
            The challenge in the game comes in several different ways than the regular Rock Band.  Yes, hitting the notes is still there, and even with only two lanes, some of the more intense solos can be just as difficult to keep up with.  The real challenge, though, is in the strategy and the power-ups.  There are 3 different power-up slots, and plenty of power-ups that can go in each slot.  It’s up to the player to decide what they like most and what they want to bring into a song.  There are basic power-ups that give a certain instrument a better score, a basic multiplier, or some crazier stuff, like launching a ball that turns the game into Breakout.  The strategy comes in with the multipliers.  While, initially, each instrument goes up to the basic 4x, if they’re all at a high enough level when you hit a checkpoint, you unlock more multipliers.  Suddenly you have to decide whether you want to methodically go across the track, getting each instrument to its max, or bringing each one up a little before each checkpoint.  It requires fast thinking and decisions like “Do I want to stay on this held guitar note and get points, or go over to drums and level them up?”
            The basic song selection is a bit of a low point for the game, sadly.  Certainly, there are some fairly notable songs in here, like Pumped Up Kicks, Shine, and Once Bitten, Twice Shy that definitely qualify under “FINALLY!”  Then you get stuff like lesser-famous songs from bands that have already had a ton of DLC in the game.  I like Blink-182, I don’t think I really needed Always.  And then there’s the odd addition of pop songs from Maroon 5, P!nk, and Kelly Clarkson.  I imagine these were added to get the mainstream appeal, and they probably will be fun on main game vocals, but it can be a bit odd for a song list to include Metal Health right by Moves Like Jagger.
            The two big things that offset this, though, involve the DLC.  First off, all of the game’s 25 songs instantly transfer over to Rock Band 3.  At the normal price of $2 per song, and with this game being $15, that’s a huge bargain.  The other fact is that, after a small wait at the start (bring a book), any DLC you already have transfers over to Rock Band Blitz.  And that’s where the game really becomes awesome.  Before, there’s always been this feeling of “I really like this song, but I don’t know if I really like how it plays on guitar”.  Having played several songs that don’t play well on plastic instruments, I can say that they become much more fun in the world of Blitz.  And with the absolutely huge music store at your fingers, it’s very easy to pick up your favorite songs and just have a good time experiencing them.
            And Blitz really is an experience.  The next big rhythm game?  Maybe not.  An absolutely fun game that I can just sit down, play, and go “Ooo, I haven’t played that song yet”?  That’s where it succeeds.

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