It's been a while since we last heard from Rock Band. After gracing our consoles with the immense Rock Band 1 and 2, before moving into band specific games for The Beatles: Rock Band and Green Day Rock Band, adding the family friendly (and crying out for a sequel) LEGO Rock Band to its portfolio along the way, Rock Band took a year or so out, before bursting back onto the scene with the keyboard-inclusive, but slightly disappointing difficult third album, Rock Band 3. After going into hibernation for the past year or so, we were beginning to wonder if Rock Band was about to forever take a backseat to developer Harmonix's other project, Dance Central - but then along came Rock Band Blitz, a downloadable Arcade/PSN game, that takes a slightly different approach to the plastic guitar based series.
In fact, the first thing you need to know about Rock Band Blitz is that it doesn't actually use a guitar at all - or any other of the plastic instruments that have taken up residence over the years in the corner of your room. Instead, the game's played using only your controller - and even then, it only uses a few buttons. Taking the Rock Band concept, and distilling it into a (supposedly) easier to pick up and play form, Rock Band Blitz splits songs up into a maximum of five tracks, one for drums, bass, lead guitar, vocals, and keyboard, much like the games that came before it. But rather than choosing your part, and trying your best to hit every single note, in Rock Band Blitz, you can switch between tracks freely at the press of a button. In order to prevent you having a mental breakdown as you try to hit every note across all five tracks simultaneously, each track only has two notes to play, as opposed to the usual five, which makes switching between tracks a lot easier than it could be. With several control configurations to choose from, you can choose a set up that suits you – on ours, we switch tracks using the analogue stick, and hit the left note using A, and right using B.
Rather than having to worry about keeping each track "going", so to speak, and trying to single-handedly keep an entire band from slipping into the red and failing, in Rock Band Blitz, it's actually impossible to fail a song, seeing as the entire design of the game relies on you missing loads of notes, as you're only physically able to play a single track. Instead, the only goal here is to earn as many points as possible, by splitting your time between tracks as wisely as possible - but how you’re actually meant to go about doing that isn't exactly explained all that well in game.
The most obvious way to increase your score is to build up your multiplier. Each track has its own multiplier, and unlike in other games, there’s no need to hit notes consecutively if you want to start your multiplier growing – all you really have to do is hit some notes in that track. As you hit notes in the track, and the multiplier increases, the track will start to glow in segments, with a fully coloured in track showing that you've levelled it up as much as is possible. The idea here is to level each of your tracks up evenly, and get them all fully levelled up before you reach a checkpoint gate, as the checkpoints increase your level cap by three above your lowest level - so passing through a checkpoint when your lowest level is level 4 will take your level cap to 7. Encouraging you to switch between tracks as much as possible to level them all up, this is an approach that'll require you to learn each song off by heart if you want the best score, as you learn to make the most of your time in each track – after all, there’s no point sitting waiting for the next drum note to come if there are dozens whizzing past on other tracks.
But although the multipliers are a lot more forgiving, that doesn’t mean there’s no reward for hitting notes consecutively. Build up a decent streak, and you'll activate Blitz mode, a disorienting feature that adjusts the angle you're playing at, and adds in all sorts of crazy blurry effects, basically making it harder to see notes coming. In this mode, you're awarded a points bonus every ten notes you hit - and if you can keep it going, the bonuses keep getting bigger and bigger. Miss a note, of course, and you'll pull your Blitz bar back down - miss two or three, and you'll be sucked back into the real world, to build up a combo and activate Blitz mode again. Two multipliers down, plenty more to go.
The next power-ups work in a little bit of a different way to the ones detailed above, as they have to be equipped before you start each song. Split into three categories - Overdrive power-ups, Note power-ups, and Instrument bonuses, these power-ups actually have to be unlocked in order for you to use them – and, in a way not too dissimilar to Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook, cost “Coins” if you want to be able to equip them for a song. Seeing as you earn plenty of coins for finishing each song, though, it’s unlikely you’ll ever have to forego your favourite power-up because you can’t afford it – and, thankfully, extra coins can’t be bought using real money.
The first power-up you’ll earn is a 2x Overdrive power-up, which works in a similar way to other Rock Band games - by hitting special, white notes on the tracks, you'll fill up your Overdrive bar, which can then be triggered by pressing X, giving you another 2x multiplier on top of your regular ones, leading to some pretty huge scores. The only problem is, it's not really obvious enough when you've earnt enough to use your power-up - it may be front and centre, and represented by quite a large icon, but with so much going on, it can easily get lost in the muddle. Your first Note power-up, meanwhile, is a kind of bomb, which takes the form of a random purple note that shows up in one of the tracks at fairly regular intervals. Hit it, and you’ll detonate it, which causes an explosion that clears a number of notes in all surrounding tracks, and scores you points for them all. Meanwhile, the Instrument power-ups are a little bit different. The first one you unlock is called Synchrony, and adds a little set of lines at regular intervals on the track. If you switch track just as you're passing over these lines, you'll earn a point bonus, and automatically take out the first note on the track you've switched to. With plenty more waiting to be unlocked, it’s through mixing these various power ups, experimenting with various combinations, and finding a set that works best for you, that lets you get the highest possible scores.