Review: Rock Band Blitz

As gamers are accustomed to waves of Rock Band DLC, it only made sense Harmonix would eventually release a standalone downloadable title. Rock Band Blitz is their first attempt, and it’s nothing Rock Band fans could have expected. Blitz moves against the grain, but not necessarily for the better.

Rock Band Blitz is a musically driven strategy game. There are five rows of standalone instruments playing their respective parts throughout each song. In typical rock band fashion, there are drums, lead and bass guitars, vocals, and the keyboard. In a more untraditional method of gameplay, one player ‘plays’ each instrument, and it’s all done with the regular Xbox controller.

There is no skill necessary to play Blitz outside of tapping between the two streaming buttons and jumping between instruments. Instead, the challenge is limited to learning which sections of instruments should be played during each song. For example, play the keyboard heavy parts of the song while the drums die down. Jump to vocals during a cappella moments, then hop back over and hit the guitar riffs during sustained keyboard notes. While the player focuses solely on one instrument, the rest still play, but the player controlled instrument is the primary source of points (making it the most important instrument for that moment).

While it still helps to maintain accuracy, what sets Blitz apart from its retail brethren is the complexity of the scoring. Many Rock Band fans are familiar with the regular scoring formula: hit consecutive notes, gain multiplier, and nab rock band boosts whenever possible. Properly hit a succession of notes, climb the multiplier tiers fast enough, and enter Blitz mode. Blitz mode is where the bulk of points can be accumulated. Stay in Blitz mode to max out the score.

Each instrument has its own separate multiplier, while songs are broken into subsections. During each section, the rocker has the chance to climb the multiplier for each instrument. At the end of the section, the multiplier potential increases by three levels from the lowest level instrument. In other words, neglect one instrument’s multiplier and lose out on multiplier potential for the whole ‘band.’ This means some players may end up 100% accurate, but if they don’t strategically work each instrument through the song, their max multiplier may end up being 10 instead of 18. The difference in points potential is what offers the most replay value if the player wishes to dominate the Leaderboards, especially when power upgrades become unlocked.

Power upgrades become available for purchase when an appropriate amount of Blitz Cred is earned. Gather Blitz Cred by grinding away the set lists. Get more stars on a song — or knock out a gold star performance — and rake in coins, which can be used to purchase power upgrades once they’re unlocked. There are three categories of powers, each functioning in different ways: overdrive power-ups, note power-ups, and track power-ups. Overdrive power-ups are deployable after energy is gained. Play those nostalgic white notes for more energy, and press the X button to initiate something like Point Doubler (if you guessed it doubles points, you guessed correctly). Overdrive power-ups only last until the energy bar depletes. Note power-ups scatter purple notes throughout the song, and each note has a different property depending on the power-up selected. For example, the Blast Notes power-up turns the purple notes into explosives, hitting the notes of every instrument within blast radius. It causes a bit of musical mayhem, and adds a bunch of points to the total score. The last power-up may be the most important. Track power-ups increase the potential earning points for the song. Select the Synchrony power-up and switch between specially marked areas of the measurements to play notes on separate tracks. Blitz is all about the old adage play smarter, not harder!

The song selection pool is deep, but unfortunately, most require additional Microsoft points to purchase. The selection is vast, but nothing more impressive than what has been previously released for other Harmonix games. Blitz’s style of play also eliminates the excitement of seeing fan favorites on the set list. Who cares about a particular instrument heavy song when all instruments are being played at the same time?

Closing Comments:

Rock Band Blitz is a conflicting experience for hardcore fans. The game has its moments, but the most entertaining part of Rock Band has been effectively stripped from the game. Gone is geeking out with friends, nailing complex solos, and a sense of accomplishment for successfully completing a difficult song. The spirit of the game isn’t the same in that most of the gameplay is a mechanical trial-and-error process: find the appropriate times to play each instrument. The controls are one step above button mashing, and don’t deliver the traditional Rock Band experience. It remains fun for a bit, but would be better suited as a Rock Band 4 mode instead of a standalone title. Ultimately, Rock Band Blitz is a unique take on the genre, but not one strong enough to stand on its own feet.

Version Reviewed: Xbox 360 (XBLA)