If you know your rhythm-action games, you’ll know that Harmonix have always been one of the stalwarts of the genre. Before the seminal Rock Band and back when playing Guitar Hero with a plastic guitar was but a distant dream, the music-loving developer had created one of the greatest music games of all time.
Amplitude, the sequel to FreQuency, had players constructing a variety of songs by playing along to the various parts of a track, layering different instruments over one another to keep the full song playing for as long as possible. The longer you kept everything going simultaneously, the higher your score. This simple game mechanic was the driving force behind one of the most addictive games for the PS2. The soundtrack, in true Harmonix fashion, was superb, mixing different genres to fantastic effect, power ups greatly changed the dynamic of any given track and there was little more satisfying than acing a particularly hard pattern using the shoulder buttons.
It paved the way for the Rock Band franchise and it’s fascinating to see how the genre has evolved since the last generation: playing a music game without a peripheral just seems wrong nowadays. But while it’s fantastic fun to play, especially with a group of musically-minded friends, what if you’re by yourself and fancy a music fix but don’t necessarily feel like playing along with an instrument?
It’s fantastic news, then, that Rock Band Blitz is a return to glory for controller-based rhythm-action and proof that Harmonix hasn’t lost its touch when it comes to creating peripheral-free music games.
Blitz is an Xbox Live Arcade/PlayStation Network title, but it doesn’t feel like one: sure, the production values are scaled down, but the usual Harmonix care and design is evident from the get go. It’s colourful, nice to look at and the menus are easier to navigate than ever. Much like Amplitude, each song is split into tracks – green for drums, red for bass, orange for keys, etc. – and you can switch between them at will, with each bar representing one note. Hitting notes gets you more points and the more notes you hit, the better your score. Simple, right?
Not so fast, Boss: getting a high score isn’t about hitting as many notes as possible. Before each track, you can select up to three power-ups that will help boost your score. These include littering bars around the song that blow up nearby notes, marginally increasing the score for a certain type of instrument and sending off an angry car to destroy any bars in its path (it makes sense in context, honestly). It’s the use of these power-ups as well as planning ahead on the fly during a song that pushes Blitz from mere rhythm-action into something altogether more strategic, adding a welcomely cerebral edge to the already great gameplay.
And you’re going to want to be strategic when it comes to beating your friends’ scores. Blitz heavily emphasises playing against your friends, bestowing you with rewards when you beat one of them in a ‘score war’. Such a mechanic adds a layer of competition to proceedings – you’re not going to want to best your friends’ scores: you’ll be aiming to utterly destroy them. Choosing which songs to challenge them to is a tactic within itself.
Speaking of songs, the new ones on offer are something of a mixed bag: there are some absolute crackers in there – What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger), Pumped Up Kicks, Kids In The Street – padded out by a few mediocre additions. Of course, this is completely subjective based on this reviewer’s music taste, but the point is entirely moot: the vast majority of songs from previous Rock Band games can be played in Blitz and vice versa, meaning that you’ll have a potential playlist of hundreds if not thousands of songs to choose from. It’s astoundingly good value for money considering it’s the price of a standard arcade game. The fact that each recording is mastered slightly differently for each game also helps each track feel more fresh, even those that have been on your hard drive for years.
Rock Band Blitz proves that there is still a place in the modern world for controller-based music games, distilling the impeccable Rock Band gameplay into a surprisingly deep musical experience. Yes, it may not be as gratifying as the dexterously demanding gameplay of Amplitude, but damn is it fun when you’re on a roll with a massive score to your name.
Rock Band Blitz is music to the ears of anyone looking for something different from their favourite musical franchise and a great example of just-one-more-go gaming. Once again, Harmonix have found a way to make a simple idea a massive explosion of fun.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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