Giant Bomb Review

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Rock Band Blitz Review

4
  • XBGS

Harmonix builds on its collective knowledge of rhythm games for a downloadable experience that offers something old and something new.

It’s been a good two years since the tide broke fully on the trend of big plastic-instrument-driven rhythm games, a trend that developer Harmonix capped capably with 2010’s Rock Band 3. And while everyone seems to have had their fill of that expensive, living-room-cluttering karaoke experience, Harmonix is betting that folks still have an appetite for a lower-stakes form of rhythm game action with Rock Band Blitz. This is a single-player downloadable game that leverages the Rock Band aesthetic--and, more importantly, the Rock Band DLC you may have already purchased--against gameplay that more closely recalls the Cambridge developer’s work with Sony on Frequency and Amplitude, though without being an exact facsimile of either of those titles. It’s got some agreeably sticky social hooks that, still, could’ve been better implemented, and it’s a harder experience to recommend if you’ve not already made the monetary investment in Rock Band DLC--or, at least, spent the $5 to $10 a pop to export the songs from some of the several on-disc Rock Band games that support such a feature--but under the right circumstances, it’s a terrifically difficult game to put down.

The road to Rock City is paved with notes.

The basic format will be immediately familiar to rhythm game players of most stripes, presenting you with a scrolling highway of note patterns, broken into discreet lanes for each instrument--drums, bass, guitar, vocals, and, when the occasion is appropriate, keyboard. Unlike the traditional Rock Band experience, Blitz is played with a controller, and allows you to switch from one instrument to another at will. And unlike other, similarly abstracted Rock Band experiences--like Rock Band Unplugged for the PSP, or the simply titled Rock Band for iOS--the note patterns for each instrument have been boiled down to just two notes. By default, you use the d-pad and the bottom face button (A on the 360, X on the PS3) to trigger left and right notes, respectively, with the shoulders shuttling you from one instrument to the next. It’s a setup that can initially feel a little awkward, specifically using the d-pad effectively like a button, and while there are a number of alternate control schemes to choose from, I eventually found the default to be the most comfortable. Perhaps more importantly, the game is still able to evoke the overall sense of playing these instruments, even if they’ve been abstracted all the way down to alternating button-presses on a gamepad.

The basic simplicity, and familiarity, of the gameplay in Rock Band Blitz can be deceptive, because the layers of systems in place in Rock Band Blitz alter the way you approach the gameplay on a pretty fundamental level. Unlike Rock Band, instrument score multipliers aren’t based on a sustained string of perfect note hits, but rather, build up over the course of the entire song, increasing incrementally with each successful note hit. However, songs are divided into sections, and as you transition from one section to the next, the lowest instrument multiplier you’ve built up thus far will determine the maximum multiplier you can achieve with any instrument in the subsequent section. Since these multipliers can impact your score exponentionally--and make no mistake, though you’ll earn “stars” as your performance improves, your actual numerical score is the truer yardstick of success in Rock Band Blitz--your number one priority is to max out all of your instrument multipliers as efficiently as possible.

Tapping into your existing Rock Band library is a must.

But then, the importance of selecting the ideal combination of power-ups before going into a song cannot be overstated, either. When you first start, you won’t have access to any power-ups at all, a handicap that will, at least in most cases, prevent you from getting five stars on a song, let alone post a competitive score. As you play, though, you’ll earn two types of currency that are central to the power-up system. Blitz Cred is effectively your experience level, and earning more of it unlocks more power-ups to choose from. Your Blitz Cred number never goes down, unlike Coins, which you earn similarly, but which you have to spend in order to actually equip the power-ups before starting a song. Power-ups are divvied into three categories. One determines the effect of activating stored-up Overdrive--which can range from an additional, temporary multiplier bump to randomly clearing out swaths of notes in front of you--the second determines the effect of special purple trigger notes, and the third essentially lets you choose one instrument to receive an additional score bump for playing. Certain power-ups complement each other better than others, and it simply takes experimenting with different combinations to find which ones yield the best results.

I haven’t even mentioned Blitz mode yet, which triggers automatically and creates an increased sense of speed on the note highway, along with an additional score bonus, when you go a stretch without making any mistakes, but it should be clear by now that there are kind of a lot of moving parts in Rock Band Blitz. It’s a surprising amount of systems layered on top of systems for a game that initially seems so simple, and frankly, the game doesn’t do a terrific job of explaining them all. Or rather, the tutorial just sort of piles them all on at once, and when you’re just starting, it’s difficult to parse out which bits will be truly significant. You’ll figure it out as you go along, but it can make the low scores you post early on a little confounding.

Rock Band Blitz comes with 25 licensed songs, covering the typically eclectic Rock Band spread, including everything from classic Elton John and Rick Springfield jams to modern earworms by Maroon 5 and Foster the People. The full soundtrack also functions as traditional Rock Band songs, so if you’re still an active Rock Band player, Blitz is an absolute no-brainer bargain, considering the going price of Rock Band DLC. If you only have those 25 songs, though, you’re simply not going to be getting the most out of Rock Band Blitz, as the real value here comes from the game’s capacity to tap into your (presumably) existing Rock Band library. It’s the savviest, most-clever part of Rock Band Blitz, providing a new lease on life for content that you’ve likely long since paid for and forgotten about, particularly for someone like me, who has already (shamefully) spent hundreds of dollars on DLC and disc exports.

Get your mittz on Blitz!

Once you’ve played everything on the included soundtrack once or twice and unlocked all of the power-ups, there’s not much formalized structure in Rock Band Blitz, which gets its longer legs from pitting your scores against those on your friends lists, a feature that doesn’t really open up until you hook the game up to your Facebook account. From here, you can access Rock Band World on your PC and challenge your friends to a Score War--a song-specific multi-day high-score competition--or make progress on a variety of eclectic goals, all of which earn you those precious Coins you’ll need to continue using power-ups. If your friends are into it, the Score War stuff is terrific fun, it’s just a shame that it all can’t be deployed from within the game itself, requiring you to bounce back and forth between your PC and the game. While the ability to cross-pollinate your Xbox Live (or PlayStation Network) friends list with your Facebook friends list is kind of nifty, it’s a bad tradeoff.

The clunky social integration and overabundance of games systems strata ultimately don’t negate the old-school rhythm game fun in Rock Band Blitz, and if you’re already invested in the Rock Band platform, it almost seems foolish not to spend the $15 to extend the life of your library.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For the sake of full disclosure, members of the Giant Bomb staff, the reviewer included, have personal relationships with members of the Harmonix community and public relations team. Not in, like, a sexual way. At least not that we know of. But you get the idea.

43 Comments
Edited by Alpha1

Nice review cant wait to download this

Posted by MagusMaleficus

With the shitload of songs I have on my hard drive (and surely more to come), this is pretty much a no-brainer for me. Happy to hear it's not a waste of time.

Posted by TheYear20XX

Why even call it Blitz if you can't tackle guys after the song is over?

Posted by Xevabis

Good review, planned on getting this ever since they announced it. Also, the editor's note is awesome.

Posted by Animasta

no sexual relations? awwww

also ryan finally reviews another game! woo

Posted by mcmax3000

I've been lucky enough to be playing it all weekend. For a simple little downloadable title, it's surprisingly deep.

Posted by hollitz

This would have been a 5-star review if John Drake did his job a little better and made the relationships sexual. Shame on you, Drake.

Posted by The_Nubster

@hollitz said:

This would have been a 5-star review if John Drake did his job a little better and made the relationships sexual. Shame on you, Drake.

He did. Ryan just doesn't know it. Yet.

Posted by bkbroiler

This looks really fun, and I think I have a decent amount of DLC on my account... I just don't know how many of my friends I would be competing against when playing this.

Posted by rmanthorp

I'm glad I skipped some SOA games because I am going to pick this up.

The note is amazing - THEY R FRIENDS WITH HARMONIX SO THEY GAVE IT GUD REVIEWS! Who genuinely thinks like that?

Moderator
Posted by MarkWahlberg

So you're saying John Drake puts out for better reviews? Is that what I'm reading here?

Posted by Daveyo520

Congrats on shill... I am mean promoting a good game

Posted by Little_Socrates

Yaaaaaay.

This was already purchased the moment it was announced, though.

Posted by Phatmac

Yay! Ryan finally reviews something!

Posted by villo

Not sexual?! I thought I was seeing the longest foreplay ever recorded.

Game looks good, tho.

Posted by HT101

This is definitely a purchase this week. I'll need to add some points but that's alright. If anyone is looking for someone else to compete against on 360 if you don't think many of your friends will be playing this, send a FR to HT101.

Posted by DanteFaustEsq

While as a whole I find it unnecessary for the editors note simply because I trust the reviews from everyone on the giantbomb staff even if I don't always agree, I have to applaud the preemptive strike on anyone who says they're a shill because they're friends with members of the Harmonx staff. As for the game it was sold as soon as I hear about it I adore amplitude and the added bonus of them making the songs you've bought pay for themselves earns high marks as well.

Posted by csl316

I guess I could ignore the sexual relationships for now since it looks great.

Posted by m2cks

JoCo being in one of the pictures makes me super happy- good taste, Ryan!

Posted by Kerned

@rmanthorp: It's important to disclose things like that, because there is the potential for the perception of a conflict of interest. I trust the GB guys even without this sort of disclosure statement, but being up front about these sorts of things is important.

What I'm pissed about is the apparent lack of sexual relations with John Drake. What is taking you guys so long?

Posted by Baal_Sagoth

I always heavily leaned towards the mentioned "everyone seems to have had their fill of expensive, living-room-cluttering karaoke experience" camp even though I did try a few select titles whenever the opportunity arose. That being said, I enjoyed reading the review and fully approve of the classy editor's note!

Online
Posted by Atom

Buying this, if it becomes available in my region (US XBLA , from outside the US :P)

Online
Posted by beard_of_zeus

This seems like a no-brainer, if you're already invested in that Rock Band ecosystem and have a shitton of songs. Plus, I played a whole lot of Amplitude back in the day, so I can get down with something that's along those lines, gameplay-wise. I'm surprised to see the number of mechanics that seem to be present in the game, with regards to scoring.

The only big gripe I have after reading the review and watching the QL is with regards to the competitive aspect. I don't understand (well, maybe I understand, but I don't like it) why so many of the social hooks in this game have to be external to it; I would have preferred they be integrated into the game. Hey game developers, not everyone has a fucking Facebook account!

Thanks for the review, Ryan. Nice "editor's note", too. Y'all have my full trust, but I appreciate you being up-front for everyone who might read this review about a possible perceived conflict of interest.

Posted by nanowerx

Sold!

I still play Rock Band 3 at least once a week, so even just the added benefit of 25 new Rock Band songs was enough justification for me. Just because the masses have exited the field doesn't mean rhythm games are dead. Can't wait to see what Harmonix has up its sleeves for the next generation of consoles!

Posted by sixpin

A brief recap of my comment over on the Quick Look; I like a lot of the games they seem to be cribbing influences form. It is a shame that the game requires FaceBook and tons of DLC for any real value, as I have no interest in either. So, I guess it is "No thanks, Harmonix." Bummer.

Posted by scottygrayskull

That you know of... heh, we've all seen those E3 party videos.

Posted by Axdemon

Man, now I gots to get my red-ringed/e-71'ed/constantly locking-up Xbox fixed because that's where all my songs are!

Posted by Redbullet685

So ready to get this. The songs included are very hit and miss for me, but its still very much worth it for $15.

Posted by Kerned

Do you have to have the RB1 and RB2 discs to import the tracks from those games? I have them imported into RB3, but I haven't had the discs for the first two games in a while.

Posted by Jolt92

Holy shit, Ryan review!

Posted by meteora3255

@Kerned: I think it just reads the file off the hard drive, the same file RB3 reads for those tracks. I am not 100% sure because I haven't gotten the game yet but I doubt it would require the disc to do a separate export for Blitz.

Posted by Ronald

I was buying this regardless due to the number of songs and the price since I can play them in RB3. Nice to hear the game is fun too.

Posted by headn00b

I don't have any previous Rock Band stuff (except The Beatles, sucks that you can't import that) but I am still very interested in this.

Posted by Arrested_Developer

"4/5, fuck you Eric Pope" -Giant Bomb

Posted by korly316

This all sounds really cool, but I don't think I'm going to really understand it until I play it. At least it's only a day away!

Posted by ZombiePie

No sexual relations with Harmonix PR MY ASS! Or I should say John Drake's ass:

Moderator
Posted by claudius

I think that, as someone who was once obsessed with the RB games and probably has 400 or 500 songs in my library, I'm going to have to pick this up. Plus Jessie's Girl has been my #1 most wanted song for YEARS.

Posted by dropabombonit

Seems pretty great, must check it out when it's on PSN. I played over 50 hours of Rock Band Unplugged and this seems more of the same so I'm sold

Posted by brownsfantb

I can't wait for this game. What time does XBLA update because I want it ASAP.

Posted by EternalHaV0C

Worth it if I don't have a facebook and a short xbox friends list?

Posted by skrutop

This should be a no-brainer for me since, like Ryan, I've spent an embarrassing amount of money on Rock Band DLC. However, I'm not interested in this game at all, and I am unlikely to pick RB3 back up any time in the forseeable future.

Posted by sikapwach

This is the most addictive rock band game yet. I can't quit playing it. They should've put it out before school started!

Posted by Bigandtasty

Not in, like, a sexual way. At least not that we know of.

So only during sleepwalking?