Rock Band Unplugged Review


It's About Time!

All I can say, is: it’s about time.  Why did it take so long to get Rock Band on PSP?  Nintendo DS has had Guitar Hero On Tour for a couple of years now, and while everyone else was playing FPS and old rips of Playstation One games, we got the pleasure of watching other people rock out on the go.  What gives?  There are PSP users out there that want to play rock n’ roll games every now and then, instead of trying to blow away monsters with a machine gun.  I wasn’t one of them…. at first.

So Harmonix, MTV Games, EA, and Backbone got together to create a game for those who didn’t want to flick their screen with a stylus and finger an attachable keypad.  I have a few things to say about the lack of attachments on PSPs, but I’ll come back to that later.  So out comes what could be the coolest PSP port since God Of War.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you RockBand Unplugged.  And let me tell you, they had a few tricks up their sleeves when it came to making this as addictive as the original.

You have several options, similar to the other consoles:

  • Quickplay
  • Tour
  • Training
  • Options
  • Extras
  • Music Store

These menu items should be pretty self-explanatory.  The Options let you adjust the controls to your liking, adjust the Background music, crowd, and sound effects.  The other gameplay options are: Track Wrapping, Quick Switch, and Saving Enabled.

The Extras menu has “Band Survival Mode”, Warmup Mode, and Modify Game.  The Game Modifier lets you set “No Failure”, “No Solos” and “Unlock All Songs”.  Modifying the game in this way disables saving, and you must reboot your PSP to re-enable saves.  It is good that this option is available, just so you can get some practice!

There are several glaring differences between Unplugged and its big console bretheren.  For one, you don’t have any “real” instrument peripherals, and you must press buttons to hit the notes.  Holding a button down automatically vibrates (or whammies) a note.  Vocals are not handled through the microphone, and play almost exactly like the other tracks (you hit press the right button combinations at the right time).  Star Power is triggered by either pressing “X” or “down” on the D-pad.  When you release Star Power, it is effective for all of your band mates.  Each track only has four possible notes, and there are no such thing as three-note chords, “open notes” or “foot pedal” notes.

The major difference in how this game plays is “track management” and “phrases”.  You are constantly having to switch between tracks (by using the left and right shoulder buttons) to keep them playing.  There is a “phrase box” around a certain number of notes, and if you hit all of the notes in the phrase, then that particular track is “safe” and will continue playing on its own for a short while.  This gives you a chance to switch to another track that is in need of attention.

All of the other game dynamics are in place.  You accumulate Star Power by playing all of the white glowing notes correctly, and you can keep Star Power going if you hit more white notes.  If a band member fails (you neglect a particular track or just plain suck), then you can revive that band member by unleashing Energy.

Not only can you see the other tracks with your peripheral vision, but the audio of the game plays a critical part.  When another track stops playing automatically, then you can hear it fade out.  The track you are currently playing is slightly louder than the other parts of the song.  If a track is neglected for too long then its audio completely drops out, and its fretboard starts to turn red.