There have been some pretty stupid decisions made in the games industry in the past. Nintendo ditching Sony as a hardware partner. Or a bunch of guys sitting round a table at Psygnosis and deciding their future was in teaming up with Sony. Or Final Fantasy XIV. Though none of them compare to the absolute lunacy on show in Rock Band Blitz.
In this controller-only entry in the Rock Band series, the only target is to set the highest score you can. You can’t “win” or “lose,” the only thing you can do is set scores. Think of it like Bejeweled Blitz; in PopCap’s game you can’t lose either, and you have 60 seconds to get as many points as possible. Rock Band Blitz (it’s name perhaps not a coincidence) gives you the same “score as many points as you can” objective but just extends the time limit from 60 seconds to the length of whatever song you’re playing. It’s not important that you can’t lose and it doesn’t affect the game’s challenge.
What is important is an insane piece of game design which prevents the player from setting high scores for the first three or four hours. Developers: if your game’s only purpose is in the setting of high scores, it’s a phenomenally dumb idea to make it impossible for the player to set a high score. The game includes an arbitrary system of unlocks which mean the player literally can’t compete with any high scores on the leaderboard, no matter how well they play.
Power-ups in Rock Band Blitz are key to troubling whoever is sat at the top of the leaderboards, and none of these are available until the player earns enough “Cred” by playing songs without them. Power-ups are unlocked slowly, and you’ll finally get them all unlocked after around fifty songs. Fifty pointless songs in which you’re just going through the motions because the high scores that are the game’s sole function aren’t achievable.
It’s as if the next Halo game didn’t give you guns until level twelve. Or Gran Turismo 6 only let you drive a car if you spent thirty laps walking around a track first.
Even when everything is unlocked, the game still hides its power-ups behind a system of “Coins.” Power-ups have to be bought (per play) and if you want to use three, it will cost 750 coins. The maximum amount of coins you can usually win from playing a song is 600, so you’re almost always operating at a loss and will always eventually run out.
Unless you link the game with Facebook, where you can earn bonus coins by doing challenges such as completing a certain number of songs in certain genres or by certain bands, and various other things. It’s completely needless, there’s just no reason at all why it couldn’t be done through the friends list on your console, but instead you have to play with Facebook open at your side so you can set up goals, and the whole thing is just so cumbersome. Who asked for this?
Anyway, you’ve linked to Facebook, you’ve played for about four hours, you’ve finally unlocked everything so you’re in a position to actually set a high score, and by some miracle you’re not so tremendously irritated by the experience so far that you actually want to continue playing it, what then?
Well, the game’s almost good then. The general gameplay works like this: you have up to five “tracks” on which notes play simultaneously, and you can switch between them as you like, pressing buttons to play left and right notes. Hitting notes increases the multiplier on that particular track. Once that track’s multiplier is maxed you have to try and increase the multipliers on other tracks, because every so often you’ll pass a checkpoint which will raise the maximum multiplier depending on the state of all your current multipliers. And breathe. It means you have to keep switching because if you ignore tracks, your max multiplier won’t increase, and you’ll miss out on points.
Hitting notes successfully also brings Blitz mode, in which you’ll earn bonus points for as long as you can maintain it, you’ll exit Blitz mode when you miss three notes.
And then (eventually) there are the power-ups.
There are three different sets and you can choose one from each set before every song. The overdrive type is charged by playing special notes and activated by pressing a button. It includes things such as “2x” which increases your multipliers for the duration of your overdrive, and “band mate” which plays all the notes on a track automatically for a time. The second kind is activated by hitting a special purple note on a track every now and then, and this includes things like “pinball” which… well, it puts a pinball on the screen. You must switch tracks to keep it alive as if you’re playing Arkanoid and the longer you keep it alive, the more bonus points you get. The third kind is more passive, and does things like increasing the amount of points you receive for each drum note, or bass note, or etc etc.
Some power-ups are just obviously useless, but generally the system works okay. You have to think about the way you set up your power-ups because different songs will have different requirements, and the right choice can be worth hundreds of thousands of points.
You still have to play well of course, which means you have to deal with controls that don’t quite work. There are a number of configurations, the default being track switching on the triggers and the left and right analogue sticks to play notes, but what you can’t do is configure your own style. What you soon find is that nothing is quite efficient enough to play notes at the speed at which you’re sometimes asked to play them. It means that Rock Band Blitz can be fun a lot of the time, but entire genres of your collection (like those silly metal bands with twelve drum pedals) are just not possible to perform well in. You still can’t lose, you can still set scores, but it won’t feel satisfying.
The thing is, none of the above really matters because, as well as the Rock Band Blitz experience, the songs also transfer into Rock Band 3 at no extra cost. So you’re effectively getting over £30 worth of tracks for about a tenner. Even if you don’t like them all, even if you hate Rock Band Blitz, it’s still brilliant value for money for anyone who owns Rock Band 3 – One Week by Barenaked Ladies justifies the entry price alone, and might even get you to dig out that microphone and make a tit of yourself.
As a game in its own right, though, Rock Band Blitz is incredibly difficult to recommend.