This game just dodged a bullet.
I was all ready to lambaste Rock Band Blitz and give it an unflattering score. Every time I played, it just seemed like the developer's first two games — Amplitude and Frequency — had been re-created, and had unneeded, rush-around, time-management tactics tacked on top of it in an effort to freshen up the old formula. After hours of frustration, I was ready to be done with it. At the last second, some friends of mine — admittedly ones who have played Amplitude and Frequency far more recently than I have — managed to crack its code for me, and much fun was had. Rock Band Blitz is good, but it also contains flaws you don't expect out of an accomplished developer like Harmonix.
Most other Rock Band games feature one player taking control of one track in a song — bass guitar, drums, guitar, keyboard and/or voice — and playing it to completion. In this way, up to five players can tackle a song, validating the game's name in the process. However, Rock Band Blitz (as well as its PSP relative, Rock Band Unplugged) places the responsibility of all of these tracks onto a single player. This means that you have to keep track of all components of a song instead of just one. Mastery of a song in Blitz requires intimate knowledge of a song's beat, melody and rhythm, as applied over up to five instruments used in a song at once. While note highways are simplified from five buttons to just two, it's still quite the challenge.
The formula seems daunting at first, but it's easier to get into and more rewarding than it sounds. Unlike other recent and similar music games such as Audiosurf, the scoring mechanics and game-changing power-ups feel as if they have more purpose. It's intensely fun to experience different songs with different combinations of powers, all while devising new highway-switching strategies to maximize points. It's also a very good way to learn how songs are put together and how they are structured in ways previously never conceived.
The trouble comes from the adjustment period, which is a challenge in itself. You see, one of the biggest flaws of Rock Band Blitz by far is its documentation. There is hardly any, and what's there is vague at best and misleading at worst. Point multipliers are badly labeled as "levels," with their purpose unexplained. Players are encouraged to look at a progress meter, which takes their eyes off of the notes instead of being clued in to note highways filling in color as their multipliers increase. The game tells you that going for perfect note-playing runs "doesn't matter," but it fails to tell you exactly how or why (unlike other Rock Band games, you can't fail, and score accumulation is tantamount), all the while penalizing misses during note streaks just like the older games. Once you realize key points such as these, the fun of the game opens up, and there's a lot of it. However, you have to look outside of the game for this sort of knowledge, be incredibly observant, or guess at the developer's intentions.
The lack of well-explained mechanics is put in an even more pronounced light because said mechanics are where all of the game's substance lies. While bearing the Rock Band moniker, there is no actual rock band to be found as you tap your way through the songs. Instead, the rest of the screen's real estate is replaced by "Rock City," a comic-book-style rendition of a city that passes by as you play notes in its streets. It looks best when you're doing well in the game, turning it into a rainbow-esque, almost psychedelic landscape, but otherwise, it's somewhat bland. Then again, you'll be looking at notes on highways for the majority of the time, so perhaps it's a moot point.
Another flaw is that everything described is what you get with this product. Want to team up and tackle the highways with friends? Sorry, but there's absolutely nothing resembling multiplayer beyond the somewhat clever "passive rivalry" leaderboards system, which compares you to other people on Xbox Live as you play. There are no single-player trappings such as the character creator, though it's another moot since, as previously mentioned, no band plays onstage in this game. Finally, there's the matter of price — 1,200 Microsoft points ($15) — which feels too high when compared to similar titles.
I can buy full, recent fighting games on XBLA for that price or classics like Jet Set Radio and Elite Beat Agents for less, and all of those contain just as much limitless replayability while being complete packages. Purchasing Rock Band Blitz for $15 nets you a decent rhythm game engine, a smattering of songs to go with it, and the ability to work with nearly all songs you've acquired from previous Rock Band games and the Rock Band Network. Blitz's songs will also work in Rock Band 3 if you have it. If you already own Rock Band 3 and/or a huge collection of Rock Band songs, then those last two points are actually a pretty stellar deal. If you don't, however, you're essentially paying money for the privilege to pay even more money, making the game feel perhaps more bare-bones than it should.
Rock Band Blitz is an above-average music game and a worthy addition to the libraries of genre fans and dabblers alike. It's also great for people who want to enjoy Rock Band in a different way, don't want to drag out the instruments every time, or don't always have a crowd of pals handy. It's a little sad to see a game like this avoid greatness for reasons that could easily have been avoided. While its mechanics always feel somewhat cluttered, they can be adjusted, with much fun to be had once they are. However, the insufficient and incorrect documentation, lackluster presentation, no multiplayer and the current price, could discourage a lot of potential buyers.
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