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Rock Band Blitz: Death of the Traditional Rhythm Game?

Rock Band Blitz Harmonix rhythm music

Rock Band Blitz hit the gaming world last year to critical praise. The Harmonix-developed rhythm game looked to be another take from the blueprints of Frequency until it was actually played. Once you got your hands on a controller (no more plastic guitars!) and gave it a go, it was easy to see the differences. The biggest change is the addition of social features which connect players to their Facebook. Though this gate, gamers can tackle challenges or attempt to best their friend’s scores. It’s certainly an intriguing feature, but is it the sign of a shift?

Your main goal in Rock Band Blitz is to get the highest scores possible on songs. Although the game itself only comes with a handful of songs, most players have probably accumulated lots of Rock Band Network DLC. No matter what song you play though the goal is always the same. You are meant to score major points on a song and skyrocket to the top of the high score charts. There’s nothing at all wrong with this, as it feels very arcade-like, but its implementation is odd.

In order to get the maximum points possible you’re going to want to use power ups. Unfortunately, these power ups can only be purchased (per track) via coins. Coins might at first sound like a scary free-to-play scheme. Thankfully this is not the case - you gain coins through beating songs. This is one of the first strange design choices for the game. Why must you purchase these power ups on a song by song basis? Why isn’t just unlocking them enough? There would have still been strategy involved in selecting only a certain set of power ups on each track without having to pay for them each and every time. Grinding doesn’t seem to jive with the Rock Band universe.

What do you get for maxing your scores? The whole point seems focused around competing against your Facebook friends. While there is nothing wrong with this on its own, it seems strange how the game basically is just a hub to that world. It doesn’t offer nearly as much competition between you and your “gaming” specific friends on Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. Strangely, when you play a song it does pit you against “someone”. Unfortunately this someone isn’t even a real person but always the same set of fake players (named after Rock Band characters). Why, if the game is so competition-focused, do you not get to see how you fare against any other real player? At least there is a high score list to view after each song.

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Not your traditional rhythm game


Now, what if you totally love the Facebook connectivity? That’s perfectly fine as it certainly is a new way to interface with the game. This leads into another strange choice by Harmonix - why aren’t there difficulty settings? Instead of giving you the option to play a game on an easy or other difficulty level like most other rhythm games out there, you are simply given one difficulty. I’m not aware of how Harmonix managed to port almost all the RBN library into the game but it must not be too hard to convert tracks. If that is the case it should have been easy enough to list all difficulties for each song instead of selecting one to use forever.

It seems that Harmonix wanted to make a game that’s hugely accessible to the Facebook crowd. Aside from the complexity of how to best amplify your score, the game is designed to be quite simple. Having one difficulty setting is an example of that, as it keeps players contained to one exact note chart for each song eternally. The same can also be said for how the game does not grade, or rate you down for awful performances much. In games like Frequency and Amplitude you would fail out of a track if you couldn’t keep up. Here, you can play the song no matter what and still manage to score some points.

There is little depth to the gameplay to make it truly rewarding. It feels great to trump a friend and brag to them about it online, but what reason is there to keep playing beyond that? You can hammer through annoying charts with the crummy default controls (or switch to superior “Freakish”) but it only does so much. In Harmonix’s earlier games you felt compelled to play as the lanes would stop playing their specified instrument if you weren’t taking care of them. You would get more than scores, you would get a sense of accomplishment for completing stages. Instead of two buttons per lane there were three, and that allowed for a fair bit more creativity than pressing the left and right ones a million times.

Harmonix has definitely created a game worth playing but it may not be for the traditional rhythm game crowd. Rock Band Blitz easily ushered in Rock Band fans who had put their dusty guitars away but how long will they stay involved? It is a new way to play the songs you already bought - but is it a fun way? Again, there’s nothing wrong with making a fully arcade-like experience where you compete for scores. This is something that some enjoy and there’s no reason they shouldn’t. However, if other rhythm and music games take this path it may take away from what rhythm games have always had going for them.

Rhythm games are fun. They increase in difficulty from easy to hard and you might struggle through them for hours, but eventually you’ll be able to master them. That feeling of becoming skillful at hitting buttons, strumming, or dancing is a simple pleasure that music games have been able to provide since their inception. Rock Band Blitz is strong when it comes to online bragging, but falls short of providing a whole experience. Many will disagree, but no matter how it looks, Rock Band Blitz isn’t your typical rhythm game. It is something else which hits close, but in fact may change the whole understanding about what players like from their music games.


1 Comments

I still need to get this at some point (come on, PS+; don't let me down!), but the grinding for coins parts sure does sound strange for a rhythm game. In any case, looking forward to playing the full version sometime hopefully soon.

 

 

 

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