A Great Way to Get the Most Out of Your Rock Band DLC
Harmonix’s Rock Band franchise has become well-known for successfully pulling off some wonderfully ambitious ideas in the rhythm game space. The commitment of the development studio to never rest on their laurels, and always bring us something new and entertaining has given us some amazing experiences in the past, but after bringing a full band set-up to the living room, releasing literally thousands of different downloadable songs for the games, and even incorporating real instruments, the question loomed over where the series could really go next. Enter Rock Band Blitz, a more modest entry in the Rock Band series which is played entirely with a normal Xbox 360 controller, and is compatible with all your existing exported or downloaded Rock Band songs.
The basic gameplay of Rock Band Blitz is surprisingly simple. The screen contains four to five different note tracks, one for each instrument; drums, bass, guitar, vocals, and where applicable, keyboard. You can move between these tracks at any time, and the instrument associated with the track you’re currently playing on will be amplified to a higher volume than usual. On each of these tracks there are two columns of notes constantly scrolling towards you in time to the music, which you must hit as they reach the bottom of the screen. How exactly you hit them changes, based on which of the game’s many control schemes you choose, but with the default controls the left stick or D-Pad is used to hit the notes coming down the left side of the track, while the right stick or A button is used to hit the notes coming down the right side of the track. The triggers or bumpers are then used to switch between the tracks.
This basic interaction with the music never feels as fulfilling or intuitive at a tactile level as the gameplay of the main Rock Band games, but don’t be fooled into the thinking the simplicity of it doesn’t make it fun or challenging, because it definitely manages to be both. Beyond the basic step of hitting the notes, scoring revolves largely around your multipliers in the game. As you successfully hit more notes on any one track, your score multiplier for that instrument track increases, but there is a maximum level which your multipliers can hit at any one time. Various checkpoints are placed throughout the songs where your maximum multiplier will increase, but how high your new maximum multiplier will be is constrained by the lowest multiplier you previously had on any one instrument. This may sound a little confusing on paper, but it basically means that you’re constantly flipping between the instrument tracks, attempting to achieve the highest multiplier you can with each instrument before the next checkpoint.
On top of the multiplier system, there’s also the “Blitz Meter” which fills up slowly as you hit notes, and empties drastically when you miss them. When the meter is full, you enter “Blitz Mode” in which you’ll gain ever-increasing amounts of bonus points for hitting notes, but miss a few chords and you’re back to regular scoring. All in all, the core gameplay of Blitz isn’t just original, but remains engaging, and acts as an inventive way to let you explore the various different instrumental tracks that make up the song you’re playing. The game is as much about the elements that exist around this gameplay, as it is about the core game though.
Before playing any song you must choose which power-up you’re going to use in each of the three categories of power-ups. Your overdrive power-up determines what happens when you activate your limited overdrive ability, your note power-up determines what happens when you hit special purple notes scattered throughout the track, and your track power-up gives you some sort of general advantage throughout the song. The effects of these power-ups range from simple things, like giving you more points for playing a certain instrument track, up to the much arcadeier, like launching a giant pinball onto the tracks which scores you points for every note it hits. They all create rather varied twists on the game, although I did find myself settling into a pattern of using the same few power-ups over and over, finding it less beneficial to try and mix them up.
In addition to everything else, Blitz places a large emphasis on competing against your friends. Leaderboards appear prominently and regularly, and as you play through each song, a gauge on the right side of the screen indicates how close you are to beating the scores of other friends who’ve played the same song. One-upping your buddies on the scoreboards, or competing back-and-forth to hold the highest standing on one track can be a very enjoyable experience, although it is dependent on having a fair number of people who play the game on your Xbox 360 friends list or in your Facebook friends (as the game also features Facebook integration), and these friends will all need to have roughly the same content as you, and be at roughly the same skill level for you to really get the most out of it. The game will emulate you some AI “friends” for songs which none of your other friends own, but it’s just not the same experience as having real people there to compete against.
On top of the leaderboards, you can also challenge your friends to “Score Wars” in which you both have a limited time to gain the highest score on a song, although these competitions cannot be launched directly in-game. To start a Score War you must link your game with the Rock Band World Facebook app, and every time you wish to start a Score War, it can only be launched from the Facebook app, and against another friend who has linked their game to the Facebook app as well. It’s a shame that the mechanic is hamstrung by such a major inconvenience, because without it, it could be a lot of fun.
Finally, as you’d expect from any Harmonix game, the Blitz soundtrack is put together fantastically well, leaning slightly more towards the pop genre than that of previous Rock Band games, but none the less providing a great range of music across various genres and decades. The way the game consistently manages to take songs created for other Rock Band games and flawlessly create note tracks for its own style of gameplay is also wonderful to see.
Ultimately, how much you really get out of Blitz is going to be dependent on how much Rock Band DLC you have on your hard-drive. The game comes with 25 tracks which you’ll burn through very quickly, so it’s advisable to have at least one other full Rock Band soundtrack on your console if you want to get your money's worth, but if you have multiple soundtracks, or a lot of DLC, then Blitz becomes an extremely valuable asset in your games library.
At its core Rock Band Blitz isn’t quite as fun as any of its plastic instrument-based brothers, but it’s a potentially great way to bring all those fantastic Rock Band songs you have sitting on your 360 back to life. The game is ready to serve up hours of fun, providing that you have the song library to support it, and preferably, a few good friends who are willing to go toe-to-toe with you on the leaderboards.