After the successful launch of Dance Central 2 and Vidrhythm last year, there was some question as to where Harmonix would go next. The answer is back to Rock Band but not in the way that you would expect. Yes, it’s still a music game that requires you to play notes along five tracks dedicated to instruments, but it takes a different approach that brings quick arcade-style game play and strategic elements to the core Rock Band experience. Oh, and it uses a standard controller.
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I, along with most gamers, have reached the point where I’ve had enough of plastic peripherals and expensive bundles, I just want to play a solid rhythm game without having to make it into a loud, clicky-clacky-clicky spectacle. Rock Band: Blitz fulfills this desire in a way that I wouldn’t have expected possible and while that may sound a bit over-the-top, the music-rhythm genre lends itself well to quick arcade-style game play.
Rock Band: Blitz divides each instrument to a track with two notes on each. While it's possible to get by playing only one instrument, switching between instruments is key to racking up the biggest score. As notes are played on each track, a track-wide meter begins to fill up and once filled, the bonus multiplier has been maxed out for this section of the song. Each song is visually divided up into small sections that reward the player with a bonus if they're able to fill the bonus meters on all 5 tracks. Quickly switching between tracks in hope of filling up all the meters make a very interesting mechanic.
The concept of not using a peripheral to play a Rock Band game seems a bit weird at first, but when you realize that there’s only two notes that need to be hit, it becomes much more conceivable. There are two different control schemes, one that uses the right and left stick and one that uses a combination of the D-pad and face buttons. I found it much more accurate and responsive when using the D-pad and face buttons. I didn’t have to hold the controller in any weird position either, which was a huge worry going into my first game; it just felt natural.
At the start of each song, players are required to choose two unique power-ups that they want to take into the song with them. Before you say, "Wait, who thought it was a good idea to have power-ups in a Rock Band game," let me explain with an example. I chose fireworks and the pinball to use in my first song and immediately realized just how much they altered the core game play of Blitz. As I completed section combos and maxed out the 5 tracks, a meter at the bottom of the screen built up and provided me with power-ups. When fired, the fireworks cleared out an entire section of the track ahead, giving me time to adjust and plan for the next section.
The fireworks option is an immediate payoff power-up, whereas the pinball can be a long-haul power-up depending on your skill. The pinball bounces across the screen, hitting notes and the rest of the environment. The player must switch tracks and use themselves as a paddle to keep the pinball going. This kept things moving and gave me the motivation to keep moving between tracks to build up that meter.
Sure, that’s all well and cool, but what about the songs? There are 25 new songs in the game, which might not seem like many to some players. It’s only once you realize that every song from the Rock Band series playable from the console's hardrive can be played in the game. That's just how big of a deal this really is. There's hundreds of songs playable from the start.
With the saturation of the music and rhythm genres over the last few years, it is great to see Harmonix bringing a new style to their successful franchise. Rock Band: Blitz is a return to the classic Rock Band stylings, but the arcade-style game play keeps it from feeling like the same old game and has me really excited to play through all my favorite songs from past releases. We will be keeping a close eye on Rock Band: Blitz as we approach its summer release date.