When it comes to video game franchises and their influence on my life, not too many rank higher than Rock Band. Besides the hundreds of additional songs I’ve purchased, and the countless hours I’ve spent rocking out with plastic instruments, the franchise inspired me to graduate to real instruments. I am by no means the next Keith Moon, or Geddy Lee, but I know just enough about playing the drums, and bass to actually play in a band. Even without ambitions of unleashing my real-life rock star, those games were the best the genre had to offer.
Years after the genre collapsed, Harmonix is back with a downloadable music game devoid of the peripherals that defined the Rock Band experience in the first place. Is Rock Band Blitz enough to breathe new life to the genre, or is it way too late to the party?
As I mentioned above, this is not a plastic instrument game. Instead, you’ll be rocking out with a regular controller. Those familiar with the regular version of Rock Band may also trip up over the drastic changes to the lane highway. Instead of one instrument row with 5 notes, you will be jumping between 4-to-5 different lanes (one per instrument), while triggering the two notes within each lane. You will want to constantly jump between lanes to maximize your score.
The act of playing those plastic instruments was a huge part of the fun for me, but through intelligent gameplay design, I felt like I was rocking out to the tunes like I always did. This feat is a bit amazing to me, as they’ve managed to recreate the sensation of playing a plastic instrument with a regular controller and two buttons. It was a joy to get to rock out to the song I left behind years ago in a fresh new way.
Devoid of any campaign, or real multiplayer, your primary objective revolves around maximizing your score on every song. To do this, you’ll need to develop a keen understanding of how each song is structured, so that you can navigate through the route with the highest point potential. Also aiding you in your chase of a high score are power-ups, which you earn access to as you play through songs. You get three power-up slots to fill out, which allows you to customize your load-out between songs. However, there’s one potentially major caveat to the use of these power-ups.
Power-ups cost in-game coins, which you earn by playing through songs. Because of the way the game is structured, it is in your best interest to not always play with these power-ups on, as you will quickly run out of coins. However, without the power-ups, you’re crippling your ability to gain the highest possible score. This is an intentional design decision that is used to encourage the sale of additional songs, all of which grant you bonus coins for playing the first time around. It is a bit scummy for sure, but I simply changed the way I approached the game. Instead, I would play songs without any power-ups to start, just to get an idea of the ideal path. Then, when I felt like I had my route down, I’d activate my power-ups and go for the gold. This process, while not necessarily ideal, did work for me, and ultimately did not hinder my enjoyment of it.
If you’re coming into this without any existing DLC, or song exports from previous Rock Band titles, this coin system becomes far less problematic. Magically, all existing Rock Band tracks work with Blitz, and the 25 songs included with Blitz will work with the regular Rock Band titles. Because of this, my Rock Band Blitz setlist was hundreds of songs deep out of the gate. If you’re coming into this fresh, the 25 songs on the set are a pretty eclectic and enjoyable mix to get you started.
Though I ultimately burned out on Rock Band in plastic instrument form years ago, I am smitten with Rock Band Blitz. The new approach to gameplay, and the social hooks to encourage score battles with your friends, are making me fall in love all over again. While I don’t see this as the Trojan Horse for a music game renaissance, it is a blast to play, and will likely stay in my rotation for weeks to come.