Rock Band Blitz review: still standing

Harmonix has spent years rocking living rooms with plastic instruments, continuing to pump weekly DLC into the Rock Band machine. Now there's a new way to rock out with those DLC tracks with Rock Band Blitz--with a standard controller. While putting together stellar performances isn't as easy in Blitz as it is in Rock Band, it quickly proves to be just as fun.

Rather than focus on playing music as a group of friends, Blitz is a completely solo experience. Players control all of the instruments themselves, focusing on each individual instrument and building all of their individual multipliers. Micromanaging each instrument track can prove to be overwhelming at first, particularly for anyone that jumps in head-first to the harder tracks. Sticking to only one instrument is definitely not an option, as players can only increase their multiplier by making sure each instrument track is taken care of before a checkpoint. This system took me a while to get used to, but once I got the sense of rhythm down, I was able to buckle down and start having a good time.


The default controls proved to be troublesome. Each highway has two sides to play notes from, both of which are played with the analog sticks. This is one of the more uncomfortable control schemes I've come across, especially as songs got more intense. Hitting two back-to-back notes is incredibly difficult when using the analog sticks. Fortunately, an alternate control scheme uses the shoulder buttons, making difficult tracks a bit easier to manage.

After getting the hang of the game, I had to get the hang of the scoring system. Scoring five stars for each track requires more than rhythmic skill this time around. Unlike its on-disc big brother, Blitz requires some pre-song strategy. Players can equip up to three power-ups, each with drastic effects. Examples include a giant pinball that deploys when a certain note is played (with points being rewarded the longer it's kept in play) and Bandmate, which uses the Overdrive meter to automatically play an instrument track for a short time. Knowing where to best utilize certain power-ups turns out to make a big difference when trying to take on Blitz's leaderboards.

Blitz strips away many features from the original game. Gone is a traditional career mode, and there are no difficulty levels to choose from. The songs you pick come at you full blast, reflecting Blitz's arcade design. The game doesn't go easy on you, so if you pick a song like Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast," you should prepare for pain. Playing through songs in Blitz are strictly for leaderboard bragging rights and for Blitz cred, an XP system that unlocks the game's numerous power-ups.

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One of the key features of Blitz is the ability to take advantage of the entire Rock Band DLC library, past and future. In fact, all Blitz tracks can also be used in Rock Band 3. Unfortunately, the reverse doesn't prove to be true. Rock Band 3 on-disc tracks cannot be played in Blitz and Harmonix has no immediate plans to make the available anytime soon. Players hoping to play Bohemian Rhapsody (like me) will have to settle for the available on-disc tracks from the first two RB games, LEGO Rock Band, and Rock Band Green Day.

Blitz keeps the spirit of Rock Band alive with its arcade mechanics and its focus on solo play. I still like to play Rock Band 3 with friends now and then, but I feel like Blitz is going to be fun to pick up and play whenever I'm in my room with no plastic guitar nearby. Blitz has that same head-bobbing, toe-tapping effect that its big brother has, making this a great complement to the main Rock Band series.

This review of Rock Band Blitz is based on downloadable Xbox 360 code provided by the publisher. Compatibility with Rock Band 3 was tested on Xbox 360. The game will be available on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network this week for $14.99 (1200 Microsoft Points).