Put the plastic guitars down, friends, because Rock Band Blitz is not played with your instrument controllers. Instead, Harmonix have dug deep into their back catalog and have developed a game more like their past PS2 games, Frequency and Amplitude. As notes dart down the highway, players use the D-pad and A button to tap out the notes to create streaks and earn points. Players must also manage upwards to five note highways (each represented by an instrument), shifting lanes with the left and right bumpers. By keeping all note lanes under control, reaching highway checkpoints raises multipliers that offer more points. This can quickly become a juggling act, but that's the fun in Rock Band Blitz. It also demands knowledge of the played song, as the player needs to know when guitar solos appear or vocals sound off (since vocals are usually the rarest and keeping their multiplier high is pretty difficult).
The gameplay is even more complex with the introduction of power-ups, which are unlocked after gathering enough "cred" (which is earned by playing songs). At the start of each song, players can select power-ups to use when playing their song. These can range from simple score multipliers to hitting crucial notes for big points to even playing pinball while navigating the note highway. These power-ups are fun and add a unique twist to typical gameplay, but the problem lies in how the power-ups are earned. You need coins to use power-ups and you get coins by completing songs. While this may sound like a simple balance, you'll likely end up stockpiling your coins to use multiple power-ups in a single song, and if you don't have the coinage, you're out of luck and won't likely reach that high score.
And why would you want that high score? Because you're competing with friends and rivals on the Rock Band Blitz leaderboards. One of Rock Band Blitz's biggest draws is the competitive element. There is no local or synchronous multiplayer in Rock Band Blitz. Harmonix turned the Rock Band formula on its head with Blitz; cooperation is replaced with competition. Players can compete on the leaderboards for bragging rights, and along with connecting to a Facebook app, can even challenge friends to a score battle for friends list supremacy. The competitive aspect, surprisingly, works very well and will get you amped up for trouncing your gaming friends online. Still, this means that you'll need to grind a few songs for coins before setting yourself up for a serious battle between friends, as your power-ups (which you likely will need for high scores) do require coins to use. But when it comes right down to it, Rock Band Blitz is addictive. The feeling of defeating a rival in a challenge is absolutely incredible, especially when you're rocking out to your favorite Rock Band tunes.
Rock Band Blitz comes with a setlist of 25 songs to rock out with right off the bat. These tracks include plenty of hits, new and old, from multiple rock subgenres. Metal fans will find the likes of Iron Maiden and Quiet Riot, pop fans will groove to Kelly Clarkson and Foster the People, and rock fans can jam to Collective Soul, Foo Fighters, and Soundgarden, to name a few. But the 25 songs are just the appetizer; the main course is the full Rock Band library of downloadable songs. If you've collected a dozen or so gigabytes of Rock Band DLC over the years, you'll be happy to know that it's all compatible with Rock Band Blitz (and the 25 songs bundled with Blitz are also available for playing on Rock Band 3). This is a massive convenience to anyone who didn't know what to do with all of those downloaded tracks after the plastic instrument revolution began to fade. However, therein lies Rock Band Blitz's best and worst feature: the demand for DLC. If you have hundreds of songs on your hard drive, Rock Band Blitz is a treasure trove of gaming opportunity and will likely be worth playing for hours on end, just to nail a new high score on your favorite rock song. On the other hand, if you haven't invested the money and memory space on Rock Band DLC, the 25 songs available with Rock Band Blitz probably won't be enough to justify an entire game purchase. This leaves Rock Band Blitz in an extremely niche area, and while it's definitely going to be a hit with long-time Rock Band veterans with packed hard drives, those just now diving into Harmonix's world are bound to feel a bit alienated.
With a staggering amount of songs available, Rock Band Blitz has a stellar amount of replay value for hungry Rock Band aficionados. The soundtrack is filled with master recordings and the game shows virtually no lag with a controller. The note highways are interestingly designed like a highway and the flashing lights of high-speed Blitz mode are amazingly presented. Rock Band Blitz even has its music store integrated into the game a la Rock Band 3, so there's no need to exit the game to buy a new song. While you won't find yourself building a band and marching through a career to rock stardom, which is a bit disappointing, Rock Band Blitz is a fantastic looking and sounding game, one that delivers enough content to satiate even the stingiest of music lovers.
Rock Band Blitz is as accessible as it is ambitious, as intuitive as it is expansive. It is a surprising move for Harmonix to set the plastic instruments aside in favor of a more stripped-down, straight-ahead approach to rhythm games. The challenge of earning high scores and defeating rivals is a fine change of pace for Harmonix. It makes for a new, but exciting breed of Rock Band. However, the lingering demand for downloadable content will be a major deciding factor for potential purchasers. If you have a massive library of DLC, you are more likely to have a better time with Rock Band Blitz than someone with only a handful of songs on their hard drive. The inconsistent power-up system also throws a wrench into the challenge, as stockpiling coins for a heated battle breaks the flow of the otherwise accessible setup. But if you can overcome these problems, you'll discover that Rock Band Blitz is an arcade-style rhythm game that will gather a serious following of avid fans of rock music and leaderboard dominance. It's not Harmonix's best, but in a genre that has since been left for dead by other developers, Rock Band Blitz is a fine reminder that we still want to rock out, plastic instruments not required.