Review: Rock Band Blitz

RockBandBlitz

It’s not really about hitting all the notes.

That alone is a pretty shocking thing to say about a music game developed by Harmonix, the company that helped litter our living rooms with enough plastic instruments to choke several mariachi bands. But it’s true, because Rock Band Blitz, which is to Rock Band what Fantasy Football is to NFL football, makes it impossible to hit them all.

For starters, you’re using your controller, not a guitar, and only two buttons and two triggers. Streams of notes hurtle down five colorful tracks at once, so the key to racking up monster points becomes a.) jumping around and playing enough notes in each track to raise the score multiplier by the time a checkpoint arrives, and b.) being clever and strategic in the power-ups you unlock and use on each song, which can make things easier by having the AI play an entire track for you or seriously multiplying your score.

So, like in Frequency, you’ll be jumping tracks early and often, which can sometimes be pretty disorienting (and discordant). But unlike Frequency, it’s not just about keeping all the plates spinning at once. It’s about hitting certain key notes and targets. These might be “flaming” notes that blow out all the notes on nearby tracks. These also might be a giganto pinball to chase and hit. Yes, a giganto pinball. We told you we’re not in Kansas anymore. Sometimes chasing crazy bonuses means Rock Band Blitz ends up working at cross-musical purposes. For instance, if you rock a long stream of correct notes, you’ll fill the Blitz meter, which, when deployed, speeds the action up…and makes jumping to a different track tantamount to score and multiplier suicide.

Rock Band Blitz is very much a byproduct of the social-gaming age. There’s no local or online multiplayer, which is downright puzzling when you think about how important those elements were to the Rock Band experience on consoles. Instead, Blitz throws random score and rival challenges at you, pitting you against kids who are rocking the Rock Band World Facebook app. The prize is a little more Blitz cred to unlock more power-ups. On the right-hand side of the gameplay screen, there’s a little meter that displays how hard you’re kicking your rival’s high score as the song rolls on. (Or alternately, how Ashlee Simpson-esque your performance is.) Great—and sometimes distracting–touch.

Like Fruit Ninja and Zuma Blitz on Facebook, the power-ups you’ll need to land dominating leaderboard scores cost coins to deploy. That’s not an issue on your first play-through, since you’re earning double coins for every new song you play. Eventually, however, your coin totals are going to tank, and you’re going to find yourself forced to grind through Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” five times in a row to be able to afford your preferred power-up fix. That’s an “X-Factor”-level sour note.

The game comes equipped with 25 songs that also can be played with the familiar benefit of plastic instruments in Rock Band 3. Similarly, you can export your Rock Band library tracks into Blitz, meaning you’ll rarely be at a loss for something entertaining to rock. I’d rate what amounts to the Rock Band Blitz DLC pack as a middling affair, packed with now-dated top-40 staples (Pink’s “Raise your Glass,” Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger”), classic-era rock (Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health (Bang Your Head”) and a handful of hell-yeah curveballs (Queen’s “Death on Two Legs”). Given that Harmonix has essentially never stopped populating the now ridiculously huge Rock Band DLC library, complaining about song options when you’ve got 3,500 to choose from is like complaining that the Arby’s sandwich you’re craving is on the opposite side of the mall food court.

Whether you cotton to Blitz’s new play style or not, it’s a strong reminder of how fun music games are (and were), and how Harmonix has always known how to play the changes. Rock on, brother.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Clever, easy-to-play spin on familiar gameplay
+ Songs can be exported from Rock Band library into Blitz and from Blitz into Rock Band 3.
+ Rival-tracking is prominent, addictive

Cons:
- No local multiplayer? Screeeeeeeeech.
- Chasing one type of bonus (Blitz Mode) undercuts maximizing others

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360 via XBLA, also on PS3 via PSN
Publisher: Harmonix
Developer: Harmonix
Release Date: 8/29/2012
Genre: Music
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.