The designers at Harmonix are the kings of the music genre. Frequency, their first game, released in 2001, basically started the genre for home consoles. They blazed another trail with the release of 2005′s Guitar Hero, which featured the now-iconic guitar controller and became one of the most successful franchises in gaming history. After separating from Activision in 2005, Harmonix again changed everything with the release of Rock Band, the first music game that allowed you to play something other than guitar. This too became a successful franchise until the music genre as a whole fell off of a cliff, weighted down by expensive peripherals and a glut of releases and derivatives. Harmonix, the leader in music games, suddenly was left without a marketplace. With Rock Band Blitz, they return to the era of Frequency, the game that launched them into superstardom, and reinvent the genre all over again.
Rock Band Blitz is, on its face, a basic old-school rhythm game. Notes laid out on the familiar colored tracks scroll at you as you tap the analog sticks (or one of the face buttons) in time with notes that come at you on either the left of the right of your currently selected track. However, the game amps up the strategy and difficulty by forcing you to switch from track to track, with each note you play building towards a maximum multiplier per track. You have to jump around from track to track to maintain them all at a decently high level, as the game will only multiply your scoring by the lowest ranking track. So, if you ignore the lyrics track, you will always have a low multiplier, no matter how well you do on the others. Figuring out when to switch from track to track and keep your multiplier high is the name of the game in Rock Band Blitz. Only by mastering this mechanic will you be able to rank highly on the familiar 5-star system.
Graphically, Rock Band Blitz is spartan in its presentation. It’s colorful, to be sure, but every track is set to a similar backdrop, and there aren’t as many cool graphical details as there are in Rock Band (where you can see the models playing the instruments properly). However, the graphics do what they’re supposed to do. They don’t distract from the task at hand, and the menus and UI offer clear direction as to your progress in the song, your current multiplier, and how your score compares to others in real time.
If you have enough friends playing it, Rock Band Blitz offers unlimited replay value. Your library of songs gets compared to everyone on your friends list, and the game comes up with “score attack” rounds for you and a friend to play asynchronously. Basically, you have about 3 days to set the highest score on a song. If you win, you get “Rock Band Cred,” (the game’s XP system), which you can use to unlock powerups that can either play a track for you for a short amount of time, or double your score when you’re in the Overdrive/Star Power-esque “Blitz” mode. Other than that, however, there isn’t much guidance from Rock Band Blitz. There are no game-generated playlists of songs, no setlists, and no daily challenges to keep you coming back. If you love the music in the game and you enjoy the gameplay, you’ll find yourself coming to it repeatedly. However, you will get the most enjoyment out of Rock Band Blitz by having a dedicated group of friends to challenge. The leaderboard integration is nice, with the game showing you scoring milestones as you play through a track, but it doesn’t have the immediacy that the score attack does or that challenges would.
The most important thing about Rock Band Blitz is its continuity. If you have any songs from Rock Band 1-3 or from the store saved on your hard drive (with a few exceptions *coughEnterSandmancough* that they lost the licensing rights to) they are automatically integrated into Rock Band Blitz. I have about 500 songs from my time with Rock Band over the years, and now I get to experience them all in a whole new way. Better still, I get to learn more about my friend’s tastes in music, as almost any songs we have in common will pop up on the score attack over the course of our play in the game.
Rock Band Blitz is a welcome return from Harmonix, both in terms of having them back developing and in terms of them returning to their roots. The gameplay gets its hooks in you and doesn’t let go, and I don’t miss the cumbersome task of setting up instruments. Now, I get to experience all of this music I love in a new and exciting way. The score attack feature is great if you have the friends to challenge, but any music lover will find hours of entertainment in Rock Band Blitz.
A copy of Rock Band Blitz for the Xbox 360 was purchased by the reviewer for the purposes of this review.