I don’t think anyone is under the impression that rhythm gaming isn’t on the downslope. We all knew this time would come eventually. Once the novelty of pretending you’re talented and famous wore off, you were only left with a fun game. Then, when that game got boring, you were left with a room full of plastic instruments that were no longer wanted at your social gatherings.

Rock Band Blitz box art

© 2007–2012 Harmonix Music Systems, Inc.

Okay, “downslope” isn’t really correct. Rhythm games have already hit their bottom. They’ve gone back to their niche status they held back before “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” were the cool thing to do at parties to make a complete ass of yourself or to prove to all of your friends how big of a geek you were by blistering through songs on expert. Yeah, I’m guilty of the latter. Seriously, I can’t believe that it never… DRUMMED up any interest with the ladies. HAHA… ha… heh… uhhh, yeah.

Geekiness aside, I never like seeing solid gaming experiences fall into obscurity because they’re no longer “cool”. Activision, being the hellish enterprise that it is, may have ran “Guitar Hero” into the ground, stomped on it’s barely breathing body, then burned its corpse, buried the ashes, and shit on the dirt mound; still, Harmonix persists with “Rock Band”. “Rock Band’s” store still gets updated regularly with new songs. Kudos, Harmonix.

Harmonix also just performed some sort of technological sorcery and we now have a new “Rock Band”! It’s called “Rock Band Blitz” and it doesn’t use any instruments! Woo!

I was actually genuinely THAT excited when I first heard about “Rock Band Blitz”. Seriously, a game that was going to play like Harmonix classics “Frequency” and “Amplitude” but use your already existing “Rock Band” catalogue to fuel the song list? Sign me up!

There is absolutely no way Harmonix could ever screw this up…

If you’ve never played “Frequency”, “Amplitude”, or even “Rock Band Unplugged”, then you may be wondering how you play “Rock Band Blitz”. After all, there are no plastic instruments and it’s single player. Well, we’ve gone back to a simpler time where we control our games with “buttons”. Using these “buttons”, you switch between all of the instrument tracks and tap them in time to the music. Novel concept, I know, but it’s one that is tried and true from past efforts.

Well, the reality is a lot more hectic and complex than that.

The game seems simple enough on the surface, even dumbed down. The game only uses two buttons per track. The goal is to rack up as high of a score as possible while hitting the notes and constantly switching between instruments. Standard stuff, for sure. Past games in this vein used three buttons and “Rock Band Unplugged” even used four; so seeing that “Rock Band Blitz” has gone to two buttons may cause old fans to be weary.

Their concerns aren’t entirely unfounded. From a pure gameplay standpoint, “Blitz” is an incredibly easy and simple game. There are no selectable difficulties, you can’t fail a song, and there is no actual progression to the game. You simply pick whatever song you want and play it. So, on the surface, this seems like a game geared towards casual players. However, once you understand that this game is built to put you into a high score fever, that’s when things get a little bit more interesting.

Yes, score is the primary driving force behind this game and it’s something the game doesn’t ever let you forget. Scores are embedded everywhere in the menus, a constant, nagging reminder that there are other people playing this game too and they’re ALL better than you. You’ll start playing songs and even though it seems like you played it “perfectly”, you didn’t even manage to anything better than a Three-Star ranking. Suck much?

No, the game just does a poor job of explaining that you need to be constantly switching tracks. Even if switching causes you to miss notes, you need to move on. This is because your score multiplier is no longer governed by your note streak. Instead, the longer you play a track, the higher the multiplier levels up. You can’t just stay on one track though because you’ll max out your multiplier pretty quickly. Instead, you need to level up all of the tracks because when you do that and you reach checkpoints within the song, your level cap will increase and you get to do it all over again.

Rock Band Blitz screenshot

Behold! The instrument of your liberation! Or your liberation from instruments, whatever.

Play, level up, switch. Play, level up, switch. Play, level up, switch. This is the flow of the game and it’s absolute chaos.

Okay, so now that you’ve come to grips with the game’s multiplier system, you’re ready to start putting up some high scores, right? No, you’ll be lucky to see a Five-Star ranking because to do any better, you need to utilize the game’s power-ups.

You’re able to choose a loadout of three different power-ups before a song. They all have varying effects. Some make you chase down specific glowing notes, others create high risk/high reward situations where you can’t miss any notes, and others cause even more chaos by putting a pinball on the screen and you have to keep bouncing it. They make the game fun, varied, and they’re essential for scores.

There are some issues though. First, you have to unlock power-ups. For a game that is supposed to be casual and playable right away, this can be an annoyance. It doesn’t take long to unlock them all but it’s an unnecessary barrier to playing the game the way it’s intended to be played.

The second gripe is that power-ups cost coins to use. As you play through songs, you win coins depending on how well you did. If you use power-ups and did poorly, then you’re going to lose coins. This creates a scenario where you’re forced to play a song a bunch of times to learn it then come back, spend money on power-ups, and hope you play well enough to get a decent score. Plus, this also make it difficult to experiment with different power-up combinations since you’re going to be wasting valuable coins on them.

Granted, the coin economy has been fixed since the initial release. When the game first came out, even if you managed a Gold Star ranking, you’d still bleed coins. They’ve since decreased the cost of power-ups, which is extremely helpful. However, it still seems silly to force players to grind for coins just so they can make high score attempts. After all, high scores are the primary driving force behind this game.

The game has other issues too. When you hit a note streak, you’ll go into Blitz Mode which boosts your score, but Blitz Mode makes the game harder! The notes scroll faster. The camera angle changes and become closer to the track, so it’s harder to see upcoming notes. Plus, there is a white light that bathes the entire playfield, like someone just turned up the Gamma on your TV. This makes seeing the notes, especially the yellow colored ones, extremely difficult. All of these elements combine into an incredibly disorienting experience that becomes incredibly frustrating to deal with. I’m playing well so the game rewards me by giving me handicaps? It’s a ridiculous design decision.

Also, while this game does use your entire library of downloaded songs, it does come with 25 new songs. I know this is personal taste, but I think it’s a poor offering. There is very little variety and it primarily consists of pop and pop/rock songs overplayed on the radio. At the very least, you can play these songs on traditional “Rock Band”. That is an added perk. It’s just a shame they’re not songs I want to play. Your mileage may vary though.

Last, if it’s at all possible, go with the PS3 version. The reasoning is the 360 controller is abysmal for this game. If your music collection is tied to the 360, like me, then you’re stuck with it but this is one game that controller can not cope with. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to use in any of the control configurations. That is really no surprise seeing how this game’s predecessors were all designed with PlayStation controllers in mind.

Even though it sounds like I’m being kind of harsh on this game, it still is a lot of fun once you get into a groove with it. There are a lot of things I don’t like about the game but I still find myself playing it FAR longer than I intend to when I turn it on. In the end, fun is really the only thing that matters and this game does offer up a good dose of it. Going after friends and other players on the leaderboards can be incredibly addictive, as well.Rock Band Blitz Review header

The game may have its issues but for fans of “Frequency” and “Amplitude” or people looking to get a little bit more out of that massive list of “Rock Band” songs they’ve downloaded; it’s hard to say that the $15 for the game is a bad value. It’s a great pick-up and play title at that price.