Rock Band Unplugged’s gentle learning curve, varied soundtrack and solid gameplay create a terrifically enjoyable portable experience.
Frequency and Amplitude were two of the first games to have popularized the music genre in America. These titles were just amazing as they were refreshingly unique, had interesting mechanics, an engrossing gameplay and featured music from well-known artists. In 2009, Harmonix decided to reuse this style of gameplay for Rock Band Unplugged and the result was surprisingly good.
It’s worth noting that the gameplay has been updated and refined to meet contemporary standards, but in the end, the control scheme is pretty much the same as the one from classic Harmonix games. While in Guitar Hero and Rock Band you only played one instrument, in Rock Band Unplugged you represent the whole band. Four different instruments are featured simultaneously: bass guitar, drums, vocals and lead guitar. Each song is divided into phrases and in order to move on to the next instrument you are required to flawlessly play at least one phrase. Once you do that, that instrument will start playing automatically for a while and you will need to switch tracks and play a different instrument to keep the song going. The game realistically conveys the fact that you are the one playing the music, and on higher difficulties, the main gameplay becomes hectic really fast, as sometimes you need to switch more than one track.
The control scheme is pretty simple: the shoulder buttons are used for track switching and two of the directional buttons, along with two of the face buttons, are used to play the notes. You can also activate overdrive by pressing the x button which not only is useful to get more points, buy may also be used to save an instrument that has failed. For those not familiar with Amplitude’s main gameplay fear not, as the learning curve is quite gentle, but those people who have more experience playing games in the music genre and expect a challenge should definitely play it on harder difficulty levels. Additionally, the use of headphones is highly recommendable as the bass line is almost inaudible when playing without them.
When you first start playing Unplugged you have various choices, but the core of the game can be found on the Tour mode. There, you can create a band from scratch and provide each member with more personality by changing their clothes, attitude or hairstyles. Apart from going on Tour, you may select other modes like Quickplay, training or extras, and even though each one of them offers different challenges, they represent mere diversions.
The soundtrack includes 41 master recordings performed by a variety of artists. Some of them include: Audioslave, Blink-182, Bon Jovi, Boston, The Killers, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Weezer and many more. Moreover, most decades and music genres are represented in the game, making the main setlist pretty complete overall.
Although you won’t confuse this portable game with any from the console versions, Rock Band Unplugged looks really good on the PSP. It’s great to see your band performing in the background, as each member has a different set of animations that add visual variety to the gigs. 24 venues are also featured and all of them represent a real city. Each one has something that makes it unique from the rest and even when their designs are pretty simple, they have some little, distinctive touches.
The audio and visual feedback the game offers is also pretty precise but unfortunately, on higher difficulties, the game seems to suffer from an inconsistent frame rate. This issue doesn’t make the game unplayable or anything like that, but it’s definitely noticeable when there are lots of notes at the same time and particularly when you activate overdrive. In a game where timing is paramount, technical issues like this one definitely pose a problem.
In addition, both graphics and soundtrack will seem awfully familiar to those who played any of the other Rock Band titles and you’ll definitely find some recycled content, as the exact same aesthetic has been reused and most of the songs have appeared on previous games in the franchise. Fortunately, Unplugged allows you to get new songs in the form of downloadable content and even though this seems like a great idea, especially for a portable game, it’s not so well executed. All songs cost U$s 1,99, and this is way too expensive particularly for those who own the same songs on any of the other titles in the series. A different pricing would have made much more sense, but at least the game does offer the possibility of playing new content, even when the method to do so is woefully inadequate. As usual, when you buy new songs from the music store, they blend seamlessly with the rest of the game’s content and they integrate quite well with the main mode.
A couple of bonus songs would have also been a great addition to the main setlist, as most Rock Band games have featured some less popular (but really talented) artists. If you don’t download any DLC though, you are likely to keep playing some songs over and over again, and at one point in the game this will probably get overly tedious. But one of the most prominent omissions is online play as it’s not included in any form. Playing with others has always been a huge part of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band experiences, and the fact that this portable game lacks that social part is definitely a shame. Playing locally would have been superb, but for some reason, it’s not possible at all.
In conclusion, Rock Band Unplugged is a great game as it mixes the nostalgic gameplay of classic titles with the new graphical style so proper of the Rock Band series. The gentle learning curve, varied soundtrack and solid gameplay create a terrific portable experience. Unfortunately, some minor technical issues, expensive DLC and lack of multiplayer detract from this experience. Unplugged isn’t a genre redefining game, nor is it intended to be. Its concept tries to mix the best of both worlds, and it definitely succeeds at that.