There's a little something for everybody in Rock Band Blitz. For gamers who have grown bored with Rock Band, this is a refreshing new game that pulls from a library of songs on the hard drive. For those of us who still play Rock Band 3, this is a pack of 25 new songs for little money. And for those who have yet to fall in love with the popular music games, this is an attractive package with nearly four thousand downloadable tracks for your customizing pleasure. In fact, the only people who won't like Rock Band Blitz are those who can't stand music.
Don't let the title fool you, this is a Rock Band game that doesn't require fake plastic instruments. This is a small downloadable Xbox Live Arcade release that allows players to play music using nothing more than their regular Xbox 360 controller. But that's not the only change. By harkening back to the early days of Frequency and Amplitude, Harmonix has created a Rock Band game that feels more like a shooter than rhythm game. Imagine Tempest with all of your favorite rock songs.
In many ways, Blitz is antithetical to the traditional Rock Band experience. This is not a game about memorizing difficult guitar solos and learning how to rock those wicked drum fills. There's no pro guitar here. Instead you get a chaotic mess of lights, colors, noises and explosions. Forget about missing notes, this isn't the type of game where you're being judged on perfection. Even if you wanted to, it's physically impossible to hit every note that comes your way. The last five years you've put into playing fake plastic guitar isn't going to help you in Rock Band Blitz.
There's a lot happening at once, so try to keep up. In Blitz, Harmonix has taken the traditional Rock Band note highway and turned it into a real highway, complete with twists, bridges, dips and large hills. The five instruments (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals) are set-up in a row, allowing the player to jump from one lane to the next whenever they like. This allows players to pick the instrument they want and then switch when they get bored (or run out of notes).
Now this is where things get start to get tricky. Each song is split up into sections and your goal is to build up the score multiplier for each of the instruments. You do this by playing enough notes correctly in each lane to level up, allowing each instrument's multiplier to increase up to three notches. Once you've completed a section, the game resets the multipliers and you do the same thing over again until the song ends. However, don't leave a lane empty or it will hold the rest of the instruments back. It's a constant battle to make sure all of the lanes are filled before completing a section, as it's the key to earning high scores.
With so much happening at once, it's a good thing there are only two possible notes to hit. Gameplay has largely been reduced to hitting left or right (or the left and right triggers in the control scheme I use). Most of the time you'll alternate from one to the other; however there are a number of variations. There are extended notes, as well as times when you'll need to hit both notes at the same time. Anybody who has seen a rhythm game before will instantly be familiar with the set-up.
Just to complicate things even more, Rock Band Blitz introduces three different types of power-ups. The first is the overdrive power-up, which can be deployed after playing enough white notes. Some of your options include a 2X multiplier (on top of your existing lane multiplier), a bomb and even a rocket that will destroy the notes in a particular lane. Another power-up revolves around the track. Here you choose what instrument you want to have a point bonus.
The most interesting power-up is for the notes. Here you'll be forced to perform some sort of mini-game in order to collect a big point bonus. Unfortunately, these are largely out of your control. For example, one option is to bounce a pinball back and forth while trying to complete lanes. Another option is to hit a series of notes that catch fire one by one. Mastering this power-up and using it in conjunction with the rest of the bonuses is the only way to get the coveted gold stars.
But don't get too excited, because these power-ups come at a steep price. This is not a one-time buy kind of situation; you will need to repurchase these items for every song. Buying two or three power-ups will mean that you're spending more points than you will earn by completing the song, so be careful how many items you load up on. Thankfully you can earn more points by completing challenges on Rock Band World, the new Harmonix Facebook app.
While all of this will be overwhelming at first, the good news is that you'll never die while playing Rock Band Blitz. Gone is the idea of failing a song, so just try your hardest and get as many points as you can. With the power-ups in play, it's not always about hitting 100% of the notes. However, once you do get a note streak going, the game will go into hyper-speed Blitz mode. Needless to say, there's a lot happening all at once.
Because of the way they're displaying all of the instruments at once, this lends itself well to songs with distinctive parts. A song like "We Will Rock You" by Queen, for example, starts with drums, moves into vocals and ends with one of the most memorable guitar solos in rock history. These sections don't overlap, allowing the player to easily feel in control of the action at all times. But that is not the case in most songs. Most of the time you're being pulled in all directions, making for one of the most intense experiences of the year.
Blitz comes with 25 songs new to the Rock Band universe. These songs are of varying quality, from must-have gems (Elton John's "I'm Still Standing," Living Colour's "Cult of Personality"), some unexpected surprises (Kool & the Gang's "Jungle Boogie," Barenaked Ladie's "One Week"), some recent hits (Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks," Fun's We Are Young") and the one of the worst songs of all time (Shinedown's awful Diamond Eyes). Blitz also returns two missing Rock Band 2 songs -- Soundgarden's "Spoonman" and "Give It Away" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Much like past Rock Band products, the music that comes with the game is only a sliver of the experience. Thanks to five years of frequenting the the Rock Band Music Store and Rock Band Network, I have amassed a collection of songs 1,200 strong. All of a sudden I have a brand new way to enjoy all of the music on my hard drive. And not just the downloadable content, but also the tracks from Rock Band 1 and 2, LEGO Rock Band, Green Day: Rock Band, AC/DC Live and the various track packs. About the only thing missing is the ability to play the music from The Beatles: Rock Band and Rock Band 3.
What makes this package even sweeter is the ability to take all 25 Blitz songs into Rock Band 3. That's fifty dollars' worth of music for a fraction of the price. Even if there are a few tracks I wouldn't have bought, it's hard to argue with songs for sixty cents. If this collection of hits doesn't get you to dust off the fake plastic guitar, then nothing will.
Although simple looking, the visuals pack a surprising amount of detail. Each of the stages has unique decorations on each side, including famous faces, venues and other odds and ends from past Rock Band releases. The rollercoaster ride effect is also fun, zipping you around a city bopping to the beat of the song. The audio is also strong, especially when it comes to the original music in the tutorial mode. Why isn't that a playable track?
Rock Band Blitz has some quirks that make it stand out, not always in a flattering way. For one thing, the game takes a long time to set-up. Sure, the 356 MB download is small, but that's just the start. Eventually the game will count all of the Rock Band songs on your hard drive, which takes an alarming amount of time (but only the first time). Then, when that's done, you have to download another 700 MB worth of new music. In total the start-up process took close to a half hour.
Even with an unusually time consuming set-up, Rock Band Blitz is ultimately worth the wait. Even though it's a simple concept, this brand new Xbox Live Arcade release feels like a fully featured game. It's missing some sorting options and the interface is a little clunky, but that shouldn't keep you away from one of the most exciting action/puzzle experiences of the year. Harmonix has done the impossible and created a game just about anybody can love.