Music games might not be as popular as they used to be but Rock Band just won’t die…and that’s a good thing.
Before we were guitar heroes
I remember it was a rainy day on campus when the Sony Playstation bus pulled up in front of the student union. My university was no doubt one of the many stops for Sony during their “tour” that year. Along with a bus was a semi trailer that double as an arcade. With all the lights, sounds and Sony “street team” people walking around, they were just begging for kids to come play. To my surprise, it wasn’t very crowded – maybe it was the rain – but if there’s a Playstation arcade on campus, I’d be damned if I didn’t stop. College was my hey day of gaming so I was stoked to play some new PS2 titles…however, just my luck that I pick up a controller for a gaming station that wasn’t any type of game I recognized.
It wasn’t a fighting game, it wasn’t a shooter…it wasn’t the latest football title nor was it racing or a platformer. This game was something different and unlike anything I had seen before. It took me a bit to catch on but the gist of the game was to press controller buttons to the beat of the music. As the music played, targets flew by and you had to “hit” them at the right time to keep the music going or else you’d lose. I didn’t recognize the song, which didn’t help me any, as it was some random techno music. I played for a bit but then had to go on my way, but not before snagging some PS2 swag (score!).
I later found out that the game I played that day was called Amplitude and was one of the first rhythm games released by Harmonix. This was a few years before Guitar Hero was released and thus even longer before Guitar Hero 2 came out and pushed music games to the brink of popularity. Amplitude was a fun game that challenged my gaming skills while treating me to music I enjoyed. Amplitude was always in the back of my head as a game I wanted to have but before that happened I stumbled across DDR and Guitar Hero and the rest, as they say, is history. I invested heavily in the Guitar Hero franchise and then later Rock Band. I loved the fake instruments, the music and just the overall fun you could have rockin’ around your living room. Rock Band is still a popular game in my house and a title that I have invested literally hundreds of dollars in just DLC alone. We all know that the fake plastic music games have lost favor with the gaming public, no thanks to Guitar Hero closing down, but thankfully Harmonix, by way of Rock Band, has kept the music playing. And now it seems they’re returning to their roots a bit with a game that looks all too familiar to me.
Rock Band Blitz
Rock Band Blitz is a XBLA/PSN title that combines Rock Band and the old Amplitude game into a fast-paced and very challenging rhythm game. Rock Band Blitz doesn’t rely on fake plastic instruments, nor does it require four of your closest friends to have fun. Nay, RB Blitz is a game for the solo gamer – the arcade gamer – that will test your finger timing and music knowledge like no other game. Sure, Rock Band proper is all about timing and hitting your guitar buttons at the right time, but RB Blitz challenges you to be the entire band.
Rather than pick a single instrument and play, Rock Band Blitz asks you to jump from track to track playing each instrument in order to get your score as high as it can go. Thus it should be no surprise that I really like this game because it’s centered around high scores. I know Rock Band has scores but you’re not really trying to get a high score. The fun of Rock Band is the experience and reward you get when you make it through that Randy Rhoads solo…by that point you don’t care what your score is, you’re just happy your survived. Rock Band Blitz turns that formula around and cares less about how many notes you hit (or miss) and focuses more on multipliers and score.
The driving challenge in Rock Band Blitz is keeping each track (instrument) multiplier up as high as possible, thus yielding a higher score. Every song is broken down into sections, giving you a limited amount of time to get all tracks up as high as possible because if you don’t, your bonus is capped until you do get them all up to where they need to be. It’s a very interested concept that makes you really consider where you spend your time and how well you know the music. For example, some songs may have a limited amount of singing so if that’s the case, you’ll need to know when to jump to that track and claim those points, otherwise you’ll never be able to up your score because that instrument acts as an anchor. However, RB Blitz makes use of your existing Rock Band music – as well as giving you some new tracks – which means you should know your songs pretty well already.
Getting your head around the RB Blitz strategy takes some getting time. As I inspected the leaderboards I noticed scores of 200k+ on some songs where I couldn’t even break 100k. Clearly I’m missing something…but I’m still not sure what that is. There are power-ups for you to unlock and use so I’m sure making good use of them is key to getting high scores (as it should be). However, one place where RB Blitz really sticks it to you is the controls. Since you have to smash buttons to the beat and hit notes while also jump left and right between tracks, the regular controller just doesn’t lend itself to you feeling good about how you’re playing. Flicking the analog sticks to the beat (or even the triggers) just doesn’t really do it for me. I even tried hooking up my arcade joystick and while it was better – allowing me to more properly smash buttons – it was still very awkward. The controls aren’t insurmountable but if there’s any barrier to entry, this is it.
Rock Band Blitz isn’t anything too terribly new but it is a great new way to play with the music tracks you already have and love. Sometimes busting out the plastic Stratocaster is just too much trouble. Sometimes you just want to play from the couch and Rock Band Blitz lets you do just that. You can still experience and listen to great music without all extra effort. In short, Rock Band Blitz is the lazy gamer’s Rock Band. But don’t get me wrong, RB Blitz is not a replacement for Rock Band. Rock Band Blitz is a true arcade game in that it lets you get in and out with minimal fuss while not shortchanging you on fun. If you’re an RB fan – or even just a music fan – then Rock Band Blitz is worth your $15. Of course, at this point I don’t even want to know how much money I’ve put into Harmonix’s pocket. I don’t mind paying for quality fun but seriously…