Long before fake plastic musical instruments carved out a place in the living rooms of millions of people with rock star dreams, Harmonix released Frequency and Amplitude. These games let you move through the layers of songs, riding the rhythm of the drums one moment and the wailing of the guitar the next, all without the need for peripherals. Rock Band Blitz is a throwback to the format of these great games, and the experience of weaving through music and pounding out beats is as exciting as ever. A frustrating coin system sometimes puts a damper on the fun, but for the most part, Rock Band Blitz is an enjoyably competitive way to rock out to some great tunes, and a fine way to breathe new life into your existing Rock Band library.
There's no campaign in Blitz; it's just you and the songs. Songs are visually represented as a series of colored lanes, each corresponding to a different aspect of the music--drums, guitar, bass, keys, and vocals. Each lane has notes along the left and right sides that match up with that instrument's activity in the song, and it's satisfying to pound out button inputs in keeping with a drumbeat or a groovy piano melody. If you hit enough notes on a lane, its point multiplier goes up by one, though you can't stay on a single lane indefinitely and continue increasing its multiplier throughout an entire song.
Once you've increased the multiplier by three, you can't increase it anymore until you pass a checkpoint in the song, and the level cap for the next section of the song goes up to three higher than your lowest current multiplier. You may have your drums, guitar, bass, and keys all at 10x when you hit a checkpoint, but if your vocals are down below at 8x, you won't be able to get any track above 11x in the next stretch of the song. As a result, one of your key goals when striving to maximize your score is to hop between tracks, increasing each one's multiplier as much as possible before hitting the next checkpoint. As you slide from one lane to another, the current instrument comes to the forefront of the sound mix, creating the pleasing sensation that you really are moving through the music.
Rock Band Blitz has a competitive focus, urging you to beat friends' scores on songs and showing you, as you play a song, how your current score compares to a friend's score at that point in the song. This gives you added incentive to perform as well as possible, but there is a downside to the game's emphasis on score. As you play, you earn a form of experience that the game calls blitz cred, and as you earn blitz cred, you unlock power-ups that you can use to increase your score.
These come in three general types. Track power-ups are mostly passive power-ups that increase the point value of the notes on a specific track. Note power-ups trigger fun arcade-style happenings when you hit special purple notes in a song. For instance, hitting a purple note when you have the pinball note power-up selected launches a large pinball onto the track, and the longer you can keep it in play by switching between lanes to block it when it threatens to fall past you, the more points you earn. Overdrive power-ups let you spend energy collected by playing glowing white notes to trigger various benefits, like a temporary doubling of all score multipliers or a "bandmate" who takes over the current track for a little while.
That's all well and good. These power-ups bring a bit of strategy to the game--some power-ups pair better with others, and are better suited to certain songs than others--and actions like pursuing runaway notes and trying to keep a pinball on the field give the gameplay a lively unpredictability. The problem with the power-ups is that you need to spend coins to purchase them each time you select them for a song you're about to play. You earn coins by playing songs, but the number of coins you earn from a song is often significantly less than you spent on power-ups for the song, so playing songs can result in a net loss.
This can lead to situations where you need to play songs with less than a full complement of power-ups at your disposal just to earn coins, and since the entire focus of the game is on earning the highest possible scores and beating other players on the leaderboards, time spent playing songs in which your scoring potential isn't maximized feels like time wasted. Because you earn double coins when you play a song for the first time, you might resort to playing songs you don't especially care for just to earn coins to spend when playing songs you do enjoy.
You can earn more coins by linking your account to the Rock Band World app on Facebook and completing goals, such as teaming with up to four friends to earn a total of 30 stars on Queen songs. If you're a Facebook user, these goals can bring some camaraderie to Blitz, but it's unfortunate that there aren't ways of earning such coin bonuses for those who don't wish to be active on Facebook. Many of these goals, like many of the game's achievements, also require you to have downloaded or imported a number of songs from previous Rock Band games. If you're feeling more competitive than cooperative, you can also start a score war with a friend, battling to see who can set the highest score on a specific song within the next few days.
The 25 songs included with Blitz are eclectic enough to offer something that appeals to just about everyone. There's the shimmery pop of Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger," the indie rock of Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks," the metal of Iron Maiden's "The Wicker Man," and much more. But what really makes Blitz a rockin' little number is that all of your songs from earlier Rock Band games are playable here. The larger your existing Rock Band library, the more songs you have available to you in Blitz. It's a great excuse to revisit your favorite songs in your Rock Band library and play them in a refreshingly different way than you did when you had the drumsticks or plastic guitar in your hands. Additionally, the 25 songs in Blitz can also be played in Rock Band 3, so you can finally rock out to Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" with your friends.
The core gameplay model of Harmonix's classic games Frequency and Amplitude has aged very well--it's still a whole lot of fun to weave through the elements of a song, tapping out beats on a controller. The nutty arcade-style power-ups keep Rock Band Blitz from feeling like a simple retread of those old concepts; the fact that Blitz works with your existing library of Rock Band songs gives you a potentially huge amount of great music to play; and the game's emphasis on leaderboards and competition makes returning to songs again and again to improve your score a rewarding pursuit. It's unfortunate that the coin system may occasionally interfere with your quest for rock-and-roll domination, and that you need to be on Facebook to take advantage of all of the game's features, but Rock Band Blitz is still a very good way to keep the Rock Band train rolling.