Talk all the trash, get all the points: the strategies of Rock Band Blitz
Rock Band Blitz may look like the now-classic Harmonix game Amplitude, but Blitz is a much more democratic experience. You play with a standard controller, not a plastic instrument, there is a lane for each instrument in each song, there are two possible notes per lane, and you move from instrument to instrument at will. It’s impossible to fail a song, which moves the challenge away from survival and towards the struggle for the highest possible score. It can take some time to figure out the strategy necessary to compete on the already competitive scoreboards, and in fact Harmonix employees were doubling, and in some cases trebling, my score when I challenged them to the asynchronous competitions featured in the game. I wanted some shortcuts, damnit! How the living hell am I supposed to compete in this game?
Cultivate each lane
“You start each song at a 1x multiplier on every instrument track. You have until the next song section checkpoint to level each of the instrument tracks up by 4x. That is, up to 4x in the first section, 8x in the 2nd, 12x in the 3rd, and so on,” Eric Pope, the Rock Band Blitz community manager and writer of the upcoming story mode in Dance Central 3, told me. “Above every other strategy, you need to focus on maxing out these multipliers in every section you play. The difference between winning and losing a Score War is often decided in the last couple sections of a song, because of the potential discrepancy between two players’ multipliers. So max these out before doing anything else.” It’s also worth playing with the different control configurations in the game. The control scheme that may be most comfortable at first may not be the most efficient when you hit the faster, intricate sections of certain song. This was the case with Frequency and Amplitude as well; it's worth experimenting and learning different configurations to gain speed. Which control method works best was a hotly contested issue, which led to so many being supported. I use the trigger buttons for the right and left notes, and the D-pad to jump between lanes. This works well for my accuracy, but often leaves me with aching hands. It might be worth it, as accuracy is important. “Blitz Mode is achieved by keeping up a perfect 30-note note streak in the game,” Pope explained. “Watch out, cause here comes some maths! You get 250 points just for going into Blitz mode and then increasing points awarded for every 10 note streak after that: 100, 200, 300, 400, 500. Then, 500 points every 10 notes.” This mode can lead to high scores, but it’s also very hard to pull off, especially when you’re keeping other aspects of the game’s strategy in your head.
The power ups
Skill is important, but so are the power-ups you unlock as you play the game. Playing songs earns you coins, and you can use those coins to add unlocked power ups that change how the game is played, and can often lead to much higher scores. Knowing which bonus items to equip and on what song can mean the difference between bragging rights and an embarrassing showing, and you can even create custom loadouts by mixing and matching these power ups.Pope suggested a combination of power ups he calls “Bandy Flamey.” That’s a combination of the Bandmate and Flame Notes bonus abilities. “Flame notes are worth a ton of points apiece. They generate randomly and the more of them you hit, the faster they appear, and the harder they are to keep up with,” he said. “With the Bandmate power-up, you’re able to have a partner, of sorts, helping you substantially extend your run. A personal favorite.” He also described a loadout he calls “Shock and Bawl,” which is a combination of Shockwave and Pinball upgrades. “The unique thing about this loadout is that neither of these power-ups destroy notes on the track.,” Pope explained. “They each award you points for every note each touches. That means you can get a triple value out of some notes, first with a Pinball, then with a Shockwave, then when you actually hit it yourself.” There are actually three types of power ups you can trigger when playing a song, but the third is easier to understand, and which of them to use is dependent on the song you play. “You’ll notice I didn’t include any of the Track Power-ups in these load outs. That’s because I believe those are best used on a song-by-song basis,” Pope said. “If you’re playing a rip-ass Metal song, you’ll probably want to select Super Guitar for your Track Power-up, but if you’re playing a New Wave synth-soaked song, you’ll likely want to choose Super Keys. Don’t discount how important the Track Power-ups are though!”
Wait, you’re paying for these power-ups?
Going into a song with a full load out may cost a significant amount of in-game coins, but Rock Band Blitz gives you many different ways to earn those coins, as well as a few that push you towards behavior that benefits Harmonix. When you play a new song, you get double the coins, so why not buy some new songs? You can link your Facebook account to the game and earn some free coins, so why not use Facebook to interact with other people you know playing the game? Based on my own play time it’s safe to say that simply playing the fun bits of the game and participating in challenges with your friends and the regularly updated goals will keep you flush with coins. That’s good, because unlike free to play games, they are strictly in-game currency. “Please take note that Harmonix is not in the sleaze business, so Rock Band World has no microtransactions with real world money involved,” Pope told the Penny Arcade Report. “We also will not spam your Facebook profile with posts.” He had one bit of advice for climbing up the ever-present leaderboards: “Talk all of the trash. Talk so much trash that you’re on the border of ruining your friendships. The final edge will be yours if you’ve thrown enough fear into your opponent that he or she begins to doubt their abilities.” So there you go.
Okay, but is the game good?
Opinion on Rock Band Blitz is mixed at the Penny Arcade offices, but I'm enjoying it. Rhythm games succeed when they allow you to feel a connection to the music, and I found myself bobbing my head and rocking back and forth while trying to max out the multipliers across each lane. The game is well designed, and shows you a variety of information in a way that's easy to take in while you're keeping your eyes locked on the notes that are coming down the lanes. Learning when to jump tracks and which loadouts maximize your score for each song is an enjoyable process, especially when you begin to win challenges and see your scores move up the charts. There is always the feeling that you could dominate a song with a few adjustments to your strategy or a better run during the tricky section of the song. You're always learning and improving and, since every complete song grants you coins or moves you closer to unlocking the game's power ups, you never feel like your time is being wasted. The downside is that it will take a time investment to unlock the power ups, and it's hard to be competitive without them. The time you spend unlocking all the possible loadouts will teach you how to play the game and the layout of each song, but you'll be painfully aware of how limited your scoring potential is until you have all the powers available to you. While any downloaded songs will work with the game, there is currently no way to import songs from Rock Band 3, which is a bummer. The game comes with 25 songs, and the exported Rock Band and Rock Band 2 songs will also be available in the game. Music licensing is a tricky thing, so none of this crap surprises me anymore. The short way to tell is that if there was a tool released to export songs from the disc to the hard drive so the songs worked on another game without the disc, they will work on Blitz. The songs on Rock Band 3 will likely never be supported. Rock Band Blitz is a less literal version of the Rock Band franchise with a focus on strategy and scoring above the illusion of actually playing music. It also gives you another way to interact with the songs you've purchased through the years. The new approach may alienate long-time fans who don't want to put down the plastic guitars but, once you dig into the game and begin to experiment with the game's system to increase your score, you'll see the depth hidden in the deceptively simple mechanics. The game does a great job of making hitting buttons in time with music feel brutal. You'll be able to see your score in relation to rivals on the right side of the screen, and knowing how to max out your multiplayers, survive long enough to get into Blitz mode, and then unleash your power up at the right time feels like plunging a knife into the heart of someone else's high score. It can be challenging to keep all aspects of the game in your head to make the right choices on a minute per minute basis, but any rhythm game that offers the ability to strike what feels like a killing blow is worth checking out. Rock Band Blitz will be released on the PlayStation Network on August 28 and Xbox Live Arcade on August 29. Both versions of the game will cost $15.