Harmonix once again is attempting to win your heart over through a rhythm based game, fully set on magical roads of music, power-ups, and high scores.
No, this is not a rip-off of Audiosurf — this is from the developers of Amplitude and Frequency: games that pre-date Audiosurf by about five years.
This is Rock Band Blitz: a brand new game that cleverly trumps just about every controlled based rhythm game in the best decade.
At the surface, Blitz looks like your typical rhythm game: there are power-ups, there are combos, and you have to hit notes. But it’s the way all of these aspects come together that truly make Blitz special. For starters, there are three types of power-ups: triggered power-ups, special notes, and track power-ups. Triggered power-ups are used with the X button after gaining power from white notes along the track (ie star-power), and do things like send a “bandmate” to play a track for you, or trigger a “Jackpot,” which gives you a huge bonus for nailing 100% of the notes while it’s on.
Note power-ups create special purple notes on the track, which are randomized at different locations, and trigger cool things like perimeter explosions and create pinball balls to play with. Purple notes create a scavenger-hunt like situation, which is a fairly unique addition, and creates a sense of urgency. Track power-ups are fairly simple, as they just power-up certain instruments, or allow you to switch more freely between tracks.
At first glance, these power-ups are fairly standard fare, but when combined, they add so many extra nuances that you need to keep track of, that even the most hardened rhythm fan will want to practice a bit before going for the gold. Fortunately, all three power-up types can be turned off entirely, so casual fans can just enjoy the game at a base level — in fact, it’s impossible to “fail out” of a song, which means gamers of all skill levels are going to have some degree of fun here.
The way hardcore gamers will get their fill is by using power-ups in tandem with the game’s brilliant combo system. In order to get the highest score, all tracks must be played and maxed out. On the left side of the screen, there’s a multiplier meter with every instrument taking up a spot on said meter: as you play a bit of each instrument, each icon will rise to the top, until it “maxes out” at the highest point.
If you max out each instrument before passing a checkpoint (basically a force field looking gate), your multiplier meter will rise, and you can keep earning higher and higher scores. Even if you have one instrument at the bottom of the meter, you’ll earn no extra multipliers, which keeps your score ceiling low. Essentially, you have to play everything, which can get very taxing when you add in the fact that missing no notes for a period of time will net you “Blitz Mode”, which adds a motion blur effect to the screen and nets you more points.
In many ways, Rock Band Blitz transcends what was accomplished previously by Amplitude, which I never thought would happen. Scoring is so intricately done, that you need to marry every facet of the game (Blitz Mode, 100%, instrument multipliers, and power-ups) in order to attain the highest possible score. Just when you thought you had a level figured out, your friend tops your Score War by about 200,000, and it’s back to the drawing board. For developing a formula that constantly has you going back for more, Harmonix deserves a lot of credit.
There’s also the added bonus of having all twenty-five songs imported into Rock Band 3 after purchasing the game. So even if you have no interest in Blitz, a 25 song trackpack for $15 is still a steal, considering it would normally go for about $50. Sadly, importing doesn’t work both ways, as there is no current way to import Rock Band 3‘s setlist into Blitz.
However, you shouldn’t spend to much time grieving over that fact after you realize that the hundreds of other DLC and Rock Band Network songs can all be imported into Blitz. Considering I had just about every Rock Band game and track-pack known to man, I booted up Blitz with the ability to play about five hundred songs without making a further purchase: that’s honestly fairly impressive.
The game also makes concessions to attempt to recommend songs that you may want to purchase, as well as recommending songs you friends play frequently. While it’s ultimately a fairly clever marketing and advertising tool, the advertising is done in such a way where it isn’t too offensive, unless you absolutely hate Facebook — then you might have a major problem.
There’s really no beating around the bush here: Rock Band Blitz heavily relies on Facebook integration through an application called Rock Band World. With this app, you can challenge friends to specific songs for Score Wars (in-game, you can only challenge people to songs of its choosing, at the time of this writing), view world-wide and player specific challenges, and check out you and your friend’s statistics for both Rock Band Blitz and Rock Band 3.
It’s a nifty little app, that again, unfortunately requires Facebook: so if you either don’t have an account or refuse to use it, you will lose out on a lot of added functionality and replay value. Because it will no doubt alienate a lot of people, it’s a shame that Harmonix couldn’t add more of the app’s functionality into Rock Band Blitz itself, and I hope that a future update addresses this.
Outside of the Facebook anchor, Rock Band Blitz could have benefited from simultaneous play: even if it was just online. Although I really, really enjoy constantly attempting to top my friend’s scores and topple those leaderboards, that thirst for #1 can only get you so far.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that with multiple people in the room, Rock Band Blitz will straight-up appear boring and lifeless to people who aren’t playing the game, unlike just about every other Harmonix release to date. The dreary streets of Rock City aren’t really calling any attention to itself with its fairly standard neon blue aesthetic, and as a result, I think some fans will be turned off.
But as long as you like rhythm games, turning it away simple because it isn’t fun to watch would be a major mistake, as Blitz is one of the most enjoyable rhythm titles I’ve played in years. All of the nuances involved make it much more interesting than simply attempting to ”get 100% of the notes,” which is something truly special.
This review is based on a digital copy of Rock Band Blitz for the Xbox Live Arcade