Giant Bomb Review

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Rock Band Unplugged Review

3
  • PSP

Rock Band miniaturizes onto the PSP better than you might think, though Unplugged is brought down by technical issues and an overly familiar track listing.


I think that crazy tiger is following me.
Harmonix and Backbone go for a fusion of old and new with Rock Band Unplugged for the PSP, which has the multitrack-juggling gameplay of Frequency and Amplitude, but with the structure and aesthetics of Rock Band. Conceptually I find this whole package incredibly appealing, though in practice, the game is hampered by performance issues, lots of recycled Rock Band songs, and the lack of any social aspect. So yeah, it's got issues, but it still capably captures much of the Rock Band feel, and it's still fun to play.

When you first load it up, it's immediately apparent that this is Rock Band. The menus retain those distinctive psychedelic hues, and even though the texture quality and the number of polygons has been noticeably reduced, it's still a clean, sharp-looking game. The focus of the game is primarily on the world tour mode which, aside from its diminished scope, is nearly indistinguishable from the console version. You're still trotting the globe, playing gigs to earn money, fans, and stars, and unlock bigger and better transportation options and support staff. The key difference, and this is something that penetrates down into the core of the gameplay, is that rather than being a member of the band, you are the band. When you create your band, you'll choose the name and the look of all four band members, and you use the money you earn to buy new gear and clothes for the whole group. The whole creation/customization element in Unplugged doesn't go as deep as it does in a full-blown Rock Band game, with fewer things to customize and fewer ways to customize them. On the other hand, you've got a four-piece of rock dolls to play dress-up with, instead of just one person.

Whether or not you've played Rock Band, there's going to be a little learning curve to Unplugged, since you're now playing all four instruments on a song instead of just one. You're still hitting buttons in time with notes as they scroll down the screen--multiplied by a factor of four. This probably sounds crazy, but the game makes it manageable by essentially auto-playing an instrument for a while after you play a section without making any mistakes, allowing you to switch over to another instrument. To pull this off flawlessly, you need to not only be aware of when the track you're playing will clear out--something that the game highlights with an extra-large note at the end--but which track you need to play next. The four instrument tracks are lined up side-by-side, which means that you'll often have to quickly hop over a track or two before getting to the right one. It can be manic, and if you don't get to the track you need to clear on time, or if you just make a mistake, it can feel like it's taking forever for the next eligible section to scroll down.

I'm pretty sure this is the only time a one-man band has even been remotely cool.
But even with the added track-juggling stuff and the lack of instrument controllers, Rock Band Unplugged still taps into that sensation that you are really playing these songs, like some kind of one-man, headphone karaoke. The note patterns on medium were a little sparse for my tastes, but playing on hard, I found it to be really satisfying and enjoyably challenging. It's unfortunate, then, that the frame rate in Unplugged occasionally stumbles. Most of the time everything is moving smoothly enough that it seems fine, but once you get a lot of notes on screen, and you switch on the score-multiplying overdrive effect, things get crazy choppy. A solid frame rate is one of the most critical things for a rhythm game, and it's disappointing that Unplugged doesn't quite nail it.

The track listing may be another sticking point for some folks. With a few, wonderful exceptions--like Jackson 5's "ABC"--the music is a mix of songs from the main Rock Band games and DLC. It's a lively, interesting mix of music, but if you've played a lot of Rock Band, there's a good possibility that you're already kind of worn out on a lot of the songs in Unplugged. If you're looking for more music, there's a PSP-specific music store built into Unplugged. There are ten songs in the PSP music store as of this writing, and Harmonix has promised more in the future, but my issue here is that of value. Currently, all the songs being offered are $1.99 a pop, same as you'd pay for most regular Rock Band DLC. I understand that Harmonix still has to spend the time mapping out note paths for all four instruments, and the licensing fees are probably no different, but it's harder for me to justify two bucks for a song when I can't even play it with my friends.

It's an imperfect package, but even the sporadic frame rate chop and well-worn track list couldn't conspire to keep me from really enjoying most of my time with Rock Band Unplugged. There aren't many rhythm games on the PSP, but this is easily the most satisfying experience I've had with the genre on the PSP, warts and all.
18 Comments
Posted by RHCPfan24

Surprising. I have heard a lot of praise coming towards this and you guys love Frequency and Amplitude but there are a few issues I can understand that you point out. The music store especially bothers me considering I have to pay the same price for this version and can't bring my console DLC to the PSP.

Posted by VWGTI

Ok, I thought I was alone after playing the demo. The game just didn't really impress. Ryan confirmed that my gut feeling was correct.

Posted by DerekDanahy

Good review.

Posted by JJOR64

Alex wont be happy.  :-(   Anyways, nice review.  I think I'll just stick with the console Rock Band games.

Posted by Cube

Your hand is covering up "listing"

Posted by PlatypusPlatoon

I agree with the issues Ryan brought up, but at the same time, I love having an Amplitude / Rock Band fusion, on a portable system to boot.  With only 41 songs, many of them featured in previous Rock Band games, it's not the greatest value.  But it's got that "just one more song" brand of Rock Band addictiveness intact.  It's 4-stars in my book, and I recommend it to any diehard rhythm game fans (of which I admittedly am).

Online
Posted by ZagZagovich

Hmm. I haven't experienced any slow down at all but you are right about the DLC. Maybe if they were packs or you could get a price cut if you buy more than one. I don't know.

Posted by RelentlessKnight

I'm still buying this, I'm kinda sick of waiting for good games to come

Posted by JDevL

Really appreciate the unbiased review on this one. This was almost a system seller to me, but looks like I'll be saving my money to buy a Beatles bundle that I don't need instead.

Posted by ChickenPants

'' There aren't many rhythm games on the PSP, but this is easily the most satisfying experience I've had with the genre on the PSP, warts and all.''

What about Gitaroo Man ? :)

Edited by Duckbutter

the frame rate problems are only with the UMD version. hopesfully they make Rockband Unplugged available digital-style for the PSP Go. in the meantime if you know how to back up your UMD digitally then do's it.
also, go to Practice Mode and in it is an option to play the songs with just one instrument. way awesome-mer.  

Posted by kagekage
@RHCPfan24: lmoo i found you!
Posted by Lashe

As someone who doesn't play music games much but loves the old Frequency / Amplitude games this totally worked for me. I didn't really get the feeling of rehashed songs since my Rock Band experience is rather limited, and the framerate wasn't an issue for me because I was using a backup of my UMD - I tend to do that to save battery life, etc. If anyone's at all on the same boat I totally recommend the game but I can appreciate the points raised to those who are heavily involved in the Rock Band games.

Posted by agentboolen

I had a lot of fun with this Rock Band game.  Yea it might not have multiplayer modes but it really does have some fun gameplay to it.  I really enjoyed the whole switching instrument tracks as you play.  It does feel inspired by Frequency on the PS2 but at the same time having the whole Rock Band feel to it really feels good. I have grown tired of these band games, but I found this one to have just the right mix of gameplay that I really enjoyed it.  I would actually think packing this into future Rock Band games as a bonus would be nice too.  My only complaint is I really can't stand hearing that one Jackson 5 song thats in this...  What the hell are they even doing in a Rock Band game???  There not Rock!!!

Posted by VisariLoyalist

I tried the demo and besides the fact that they don't even let you finish a whole song in the demo, I thought even during the short time they let me play it that it had serious issues. Hitting the notes was hard just because of the inconsistency of using the buttons on the psp where some fast sections seem like they're impossible because you just can't hit the same button with your thumb that fast whereas in real rockband you can strum which is much faster.

Edited by FuzzYLemoN

Ryan, your lack of faith disturbs me.

Posted by Media_Master

Rock....Soloist

Posted by greeble

I've played through most of the Tour on Hard, in fact I just beat the endless set list yesterday. Funny thing is I never noticed any framerate hits. Perhaps its because I'm playing on a Custom Firmmed psp that has the cpu locked to 333mhz for games? Also playing off the memory stick makes for very quick loading. (I wish Rock Band 2 loaded this fast) I can't compare it to the running it off the UMD because as soon as I got the game the first thing I did was make an iso image.

Anyway I thought the game was great fun, I bought it for full list price and don't regret it at all. I've played plenty of RB 1&2, but probably not as much as some people, and often it was limited to songs my wife likes so many of the songs felt fairly fresh to me.  I agree about the price of the DLC songs though, it is a bit high.