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Rock Band Unplugged Review: Who Needs Strings?

Rock Band Unplugged

The “Rock Band” franchise has cemented itself as one of the best multiplayer party games ever released for a console. The proposition of being able to create a “band” with three other peopled, and be “famous” in under thirty minutes is unquestionably appealing, no matter how you feel about the music included in the game. So, what happens if you take the three friends out of that equation, and substitute the console for a portable system … can “Rock Band” still retain its entertainment value? Surprisingly… it can, and the release of “Rock Band Unplugged” proves that Harmonix can recreate an addictive “Rock Band” experience on the PSP just as well as they can on an Xbox 360, Wii, or a PS3.

It’s a tall order for Harmonix to try to cram a “Rock Band” experience into a different format, but, fortunately, “RB” wasn’t the first game the developers ever made made. Prior to the release of the original “Rock Band” there was “Guitar Hero,” but going even further back, there was a “Karaoke Revolution” or two, and even further back there were two, more abstract rhythm games developed by the gang in Beantown - “Amplitude” and “Frequency.” The concept that eventually evolved into what we now know as rhythm games was at the heart of those two titles - pressing buttons in time with music. Sure, “DDR” had been doing it for a few years at that point, but Konami was using a pad, and feet, instead of a controller and fingers.

Rock Band Unplugged

“Amplitude” and “Frequency” put the timed button presses back into the players hands, and that is the concept that has carried over for the basis of “Rock Band Unplugged.” As the notes scroll from the top of the screen you need to press the corresponding buttons; in this case it’s the up, left, triangle and circle buttons on the PSP. The thing that separates “Unplugged” from its console counterpart is the fact that you are the only member of the band, and it’s up to one player to play all four instruments, using the “L” and “R” buttons to switch between the drum, vocal, bass, and guitar tracks. In order to score big you need to complete as many “phases” of notes (basically just consecutive strings of notes) as possible. The more notes you hit, the more phases you complete, and the more phases you complete the higher your multiplier goes. Also, since it is a “Rock Band” game, you can kick it into overdrive to score even more. The gameplay is tight, well executed, and surprisingly addictive - evoking the “I’ll just play one more song” mentality over and over again.

As far as the game itself goes, it’s as close to the the console versions of “Rock Band” as can be, complete with most of the features included in those games, just scaled back a bit. For example, there’s an entire World Tour mode included in “Unplugged,” and while there are enough gigs to keep you busy for longer than a lot of portable games, there aren’t as many as there are in the console games. The character and band customization is present as well, presenting numerous options for you to tweak your appearance in the game. There’s even a fully functional, in-game, Downloadable Content store. For a small package, there really are a lot of bells and whistles.

On top of all the fancy parts of the game, there’s a solid selection of gameplay options as well. I already mentioned World Tour mode, which allows your band to rise to fame from the ground up, but there’s also the obligatory Quick Play (beat your high score), along side Band Survival (every note counts) and Warmup (just one instrument) modes. This selection of modes really opens up the replayability, and doesn’t force you to be beholden just to the career mode.

Rock Band Unplugged

However, for everything that “Unplugged” does have, one of the biggest things that it is missing is some form of multiplayer. I get that the game is a solo experience, but it still would have a been nice to try to offer a piece of what makes the console version of the game so stellar on the portable system. On top of that, if you’re going to nit-pick - the graphics aren’t too shinny, and some people may think that the cuts that Harmonix made may have left the game a skeleton of the franchise (those people would be wrong, but they might still say it). There also isn’t a huge selection of songs, and pretty much all of the ones that are there can be found in the console version of the game. Again, not a huge problem, but someone’s going to complain about it, and besides, the proposition of DLC makes up for that a bit.

Whatever way you look at “Rock Band Unplugged” it’s a great portable version of its console counterpart. It’s so good, it’s almost a bit of a shame that it out on a lame duck handheld, but I suppose it’s still in better shape than “Guitar Hero” and the DSi. “Unplugged” is a great game, that offers some highly addictive gameplay in bite size, portable portions, and it’s a great way for anyone that likes to listen to music the option to interact with it while they’re on the go.

Rating: ★★★★½


“Rock Band Unplugged” was developed by Harmonix Games and released for the PSP by MTV Games and EA on June 9th, 2009.

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