Rock Band has been around for five years now, and while far too many people presume it has gone the way of Guitar Hero and simply dropped off the face of the planet, it remains hugely popular amongst a very dedicated fan base. When not beating high scores, this fan base is buying, perfecting, and discussing DLC. The latest game in the franchise, Rock Band Blitz, offers absolutely fantastic financial value not only to people currently playing Rock Band 3, but to people looking to get into the series, and to those who love this sort of rhythm game on iOS and beyond. It’s simple, it’s addictive, and, if you have friends to compete with, you may just never give it up.
Let’s start at the very beginning. Rock Band Blitz drops the guitar-shaped controllers in favour of letting you play with your ordinary Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 controller, and packs in a set of 25 songs for almost a quarter of the usual price. You can send these 25 songs into Rock Band 3 if you wish, to play it as regular DLC and never pick up Blitz again, and you’d still get your money’s worth (although that would be a mistake if you ask me). With tracks ranging from Queen to Kool and the Gang, from Kelly Clarkson to Elton John, and from Iron Maiden to Foo Fighters, there’s a huge variety of musical styles on offer, and more than enough to keep a fervent fan busy for months to come.
On the flip side of that, Rock Band Blitz allows you to play any of your purchased DLC from previous titles. That means, for a game released digitally a mere few weeks ago, there are over 2,000 available songs to play. Just think about that for a moment: presuming that each is a standard three minutes and twenty seconds pop song (they’re not), you’re looking at hundreds of hours of potential playing time. If you don’t own any Rock Band DLC and don’t have any of the disc-based games, you can still access the music store to download any past Rock Band song. The majority I’ve tried work very, very well.
The entire game works very, very well, actually. When I said Blitz was simple, I really meant it. Each instrument’s track is displayed side-by-side along a highway, not entirely unlike the original plastic instrument games. The goal in Blitz is not to hit every note (although the more you hit, the higher your score), but to increase your multiplier level cap as much as possible. Getting to x4 with each instrument before getting to the end of a section will allow you to gain three extra levels over the next section (up to x7) and score some extra points. Moving between instruments with the back buttons and hitting notes (either left or right notes) with the X button and the D-pad is one of those skills you’ll find yourself learning very quickly, but never quite mastering.
Increasing your multiplier isn’t the only way to score higher and higher places on the leader boards. Power-ups are a key component of Blitz and are the only way you’ll manage to get to that coveted first place position. Power-ups range all the way from the simple – extra points on the guitar track, for instance – to the absolutely crazy. There’s a pinball power-up that has a giant ball rushing down the tracks, gaining points for each note hit. The longer you can keep it on screen, the more points you’ll get and the faster the ball will roll. Another has your firing bottle rockets to destroy a set of notes in the distance.
The problem with this is that not all power-ups are created equally and, at the point of writing, you’re most likely to use a fairly strict combination of the fire power-up (which offers more points for every highlighted note you can find), the bandmate (which takes control of one instrument for as long as you can keep up the energy), and the guitar points booster (which you’ll swap for vocals/bass/keys/drums as needed if a song has fewer guitar notes). I’ve been awarded first place for multiple songs with this combination, and I’m thinking that without serious rebalance, you’re wasting time by considering any other combination of power-ups.
You unlock power-ups with cred, which is rewarded after every song and is the equivalent to the “fans” counter in previous games, and you buy them with coins. Coins are rewarded after each successful song (I believe it’s now 100 coins per song) and thanks to some recent rebalancing since launch, a decent run-through of a song will mean power-ups don’t actually cost you anything. Before the update (it was done server-side, no need to download a patch), you could get gold stars in every song you played and you’d still have to go through a few more without power-ups in order to save again. It was stupid, and I’m not sure how the game shipped in such a state, now that it’s fixed, performing well in a song means you’re allowed to continue uninterrupted. This is especially important when you take score wars into account.
Score wars are one on-one-battles between two friends (or, in many cases, complete strangers). You have a couple of days during which you must struggle to bleed every single last point out of a song so that you can successfully beat your opponent. It’s a great way to find yourself climbing up the main leaderboards, and it really does give you a reason to return to songs you may otherwise have abandoned. It makes each song a battle and adds a new personal dimension to that war for top place that any core Rock Band player lives through each and every day.
To get the most out of Rock Band Blitz, you really need a Facebook account. I know, I know. Blitz ties in with a new app called Rock Band World, from which you can accept challenges in return for coins and see how you’re doing in your score wars. You can’t, for some reason, accept challenges in-game, although obviously you can monitor your score wars. For people that hate Facebook, this is one more reason not to buy the game (albeit it’s not a very good one). For core Rock Band players, the app will be lacking. You can’t see leaderboards for songs outside of your own position, and you can’t search a certain screen name and see all their positions. Harmonix had the chance to replace RockBandScores.com with their own official app, and they’ve completely avoided the opportunity, meaning that Rock Band World is an occasional check at best.
Rock Band Blitz is different from previous entries in the Rock Band series (unless you count Unplugged or 3 on the DS) and that’s a good thing on many levels. New players can get into a game that doesn’t require beautiful singing or fingering/drumming skills, and old players can get DLC to expand their collection: it’s a bargain either way you want to look at it. It helps that Blitz is also very, very fun, and you’ll easily find the minutes becoming hours and the hours becoming days. Chances are, you’ll still be vying for first place on your favourite song even after all that time.