FutureFive NZ - Review: Rock Band: Unplugged

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Review: Rock Band: Unplugged

I have a mixed opinion regarding my PSP. I’ve owned it for an age - since they first came out in the US. I’ve found it great for plane journeys, but that’s about all. When I’m not flying, it’s just an expensive and rather bulky mp3 player. I find the PSP, with its sub-PS2 graphics, a bit of a chore to play when I’ve got an Xbox360 or PS3 inviting me for a proper gaming session. I don’t wait around outside (or rather in the shade, as it’s impossible to see the PSP screen in sunlight) long enough to play a game. So, except when I’m trapped on a plane as previously mentioned, I mainly play music on my PSP. It was on one of those plane journeys that I brought along Rock Band: Unplugged to keep me company.

I’ve developed what I consider, as a veteran gamer, an unnerving appreciation for Rock Band and its stable-mate Guitar Hero. This is, quite possibly, compensating for the fact that society prohibits tone-deaf people like me from ever performing to an audience with real instruments. I figured that it must be the little plastic guitars and drums that make Rock Band so appealing, as without them the games are no more than a series of QTE’s (quick time events), like the annoying random button pressing sequences that game developers use when they have run out of actual ideas.

Rock Band: Unplugged takes the rhythm band game on tour, wherever you may go, by squeezing it into your humble PSP. You get the whole band without all the plastic instruments. This returns the rhythm game to its humble roots as a simple button-pressing reflex test. It sounds a bit naff on paper. In practice, even for a reformed Rock Band snob like me, Rock Band: Unplugged is rather good.

Unlike the grown up Rock Band, you don’t get to choose the instrument you want to play (unless in the practice mode). You play all the instruments in the song. The game features the familiar note highways for lead guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Vocals are handled the same way as other instruments, so no need to look like a dork on the bus singing into a tiny microphone. In order to play all of the instruments with just one pair of hands, you must correctly press the corresponding buttons for a sequence of notes. If you get it right the band will keep playing and using the shoulder buttons, you can move to another instrument. If you get a note on a sequence wrong you have to keep playing until you get it right. You can move to another instrument, but if you don’t keep the band playing, the instrument will fall out. Like its big brother, Rock Band: Unplugged has the overdrive feature, which can be used to bring back a band member or increase the points multiplier. Again, as with Rock Band, overdrive is earned by successfully completing a sequence of “white energy” notes.

Playing the whole band creates quite an interesting game dynamic that somewhat makes up for the lack of tiny instruments, which would be a tad impractical for a quick set on the bus ride home. I would have liked the option of using one of those crazy fret peripherals like the Nintendo DS Guitar Hero has, but I didn’t miss it that much. The music selection is pretty rocking with a few downloadable tracks available online to purchase from the PlayStation Store. It’s a shame that the tracks that you’ve already purchased for Rock Band have to be repurchased for Unplugged, but nothing’s for nothing, as they say. The 40 songs do get repeated rather too frequently, in my opinion, as the tracks get unlocked very slowly; I have the same complaint with the elusive Rock Band 2 (still unreleased in NZ). I found, at three to four minutes a track (not counting multi-track sets), I could have a quick bash without feeling the need to invest much time and still get fun out of the game, which is exactly what the PSP was made for.

Rock Band: Unplugged is a great way to enjoy music on the go.  It would have been nice if it had one of those little fret things, like the Nintendo DS Guitar Hero. The 40 tracks is a bit tight, especially if you have spent a lot on Rock Band DLC; it sucks to have to buy it all again. Rock Band: Unplugged obviously lacks the party-game feel of its big brother and could be said to be a bit of Rock Band for Jonny No Mates. Still, it is a fun, if a little guilty, bit of pleasure.

Rating: 8/10

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