I first enjoyed the rhythm genre during its more nascent days, but Rock Band made me truly love music games.  Harmonix continued to expand the genre with weekly downloadble content for the game, the addition of a keyboard and the option to learn real instruments, and Rock Band has continued to grow.  Yet its most recent incarnation, Rock Band Blitz, a stripped down version of the series, encapsulates what made the genre so addicting and takes it one step further.

Rock Band Blitz may at first seem a bit barebones.  There is no real campaign to progress through.  Instead, the game includes 25 new tracks in beat-matching gameplay devoid of plastic instruments.  Simply choose a song from the library – which will include nearly all of your downloaded tracks in addition to the game’s setlist – and play for a high score.

Playing Blitz is much more chaotic than jumping into a normal Rock Band title, as players must manage all four to five instruments to attain the highest scores.  Using a normal controller, players must tap along to the drums, bass, guitar, keyboard or vocals, hitting each note gem as the player musically strolls through the street.  Each instrument has two lanes, and using a combination of two face buttons, joysticks and triggers, players will score based on their accuracy and ability to maintain a chain.

Take a ride on the Rock Band highway to (addictive) hell.

The gameplay itself is not far off from the handheld Rock Band iterations for the DS and PlayStation Vita, but the fewer number of lanes for each instrument simplifies the rhythmic challenge while also delivering a layer of depth.  The multiplier system works differently than in past titles, and is actually a constant that accumulates over time.

By completing a measure without error, the multiplier for the instrument in use permanently increases.  This cumulative system suits Blitz much more than the traditional Rock Band titles, and it forced me to pay attention to all instruments as I sought higher scores.  There is still an incentive to hit notes in a row, however.  The “Blitz” meter will appear on the top of the screen after chaining together successful runs, awarding additional points periodically for continued precision.  By splitting the scoring system this way, Harmonix has adapted one of the key aspects of the franchise and allowed the game to retain if not amplify the desire to increase scores.

Technically, players have the option to only focus on one instrument for an entire song, but the multiplier will hit an immovable ceiling.  And in a way, this would fly in the face of what Blitz tries to and succeeds in accomplishing – the fight to be the best.  Nearly everything about the game’s structure encourages socializing and competition even with the game’s exclusion of the familiar band gameplay.

After every song, players will be presented with their leaderboard position, but the push to practice and improve scores only begins here.  Despite the lack of any progression, the game does have a “Recommended” screen, which encourages players to improve on previous scores, try out new songs in their library or in the online store and challenge players to Score Wars (more on those in a minute).  The system provides plenty of push to play a song again and again to improve the score, and I found the entire process incredibly addicting.

The "Recommended" screen will be your home while playing Rock Band Blitz.

Though I have wavered in recent years with marathon sessions using my plastic instruments, every night I played Rock Band Blitz I remained glued to my television for entire evenings, often going to bed hours later than I originally planned.  While a lack of some form of campaign is unfortunate, the amount of time I spent playing this title is a testament to how enjoyable I found the experience.

Part of what will likely keep many fans playing night after night is the Score War option.  Either with Facebook friends, members of your Xbox Live and PlayStation Network friend lists or a random player, Blitz allows you to challenge a player on any song for the highest score.  With about three days, players can run through a song as many times as they choose, and whoever has the highest score at the end wins extra Rock Band cred and additional coins to spend.

Those coins come in handy during these score wars, as the real key to success is not only knowing every part of a song but also to properly use the game’s unlockable power-ups.  From increasing the multipliers to providing additional points for all notes with a specific instrument, proper use of these abilities can be the key in dramatically increasing a score.  With this mechanic, Blitz once again reinterprets a hallmark of the franchise, this time the Overdrive bar, and repurposes it to great effect.

Different power-ups can be the key to higher scores.

Mixing and matching these powers to eke out a few more points in Rock Band Blitz will likely keep you up into the morning’s early hours.  Enjoyment of Blitz may depend on how many friends you have playing or how into the leaderboards you are, but if that interests you it is difficult to turn the game off.  The mentality of playing “one more song,” which usually results in about ten, pervades this fantastic offering.  The 25 additional tracks lean toward a pop and more recent soundtrack, but there are plenty of gems included, and nearly all of your DLC will be available for use.

With a built in library of possibly hundreds of songs from the start, Blitz offers a ton of complexity from a mechanic that many may have thought had already run its course.  Gameplay is king here, and while it may take some time to adjust to the balancing act, don’t expect to pull your gaze away from the screen for very long.  Just remember to blink now and then.

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Seemingly simple but enjoyably complex gameplay
+ Social options will have you smack-talking friends to no end
+ You’ll play for hours after promising to stop after a few songs
+ Surprisingly great sense of humor (make sure to play the tutorial)
– If you’re not into chasing scores, there isn’t much here for you
– A campaign or some sense of unlocking/progression would have been nice
– Long-term addiction may depend on how many of your friends play

8 and 8.5 represent a game that is a good experience overall. While there may be some issues that prevent it from being fantastic, these scores are for games that you feel would easily be worth a purchase.

Rock Band Blitz was developed by Harmonix Music Systems. It was released on August 28, 2012 for the PlayStation Network at the MSRP of $14.99 and on August 29, 2012 for the Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 Microsoft Points. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.