reviews\ May 27, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Rock Band Unplugged - PSP - Review

The Rock Band franchise has been one of the most popular yet in the rhythm game genre, pioneering the multi-instrument format and allowing up to four friends to jam together through a bevy of licensed tracks on instrument peripherals. So, when it announced that Harmonix would be developing a PSP game from the franchise without instruments, fans of the series became fairly curious as to what the game would entail. Luckily, the experiment paid off, as Rock Band Unplugged for the PSP is a solid and fun portable iteration from the series.

Rock Band Unplugged takes the familiar look from the Rock Band series and applies gameplay that is similar in feel to the PS2 classics Frequency and Amplitude (also developed by Harmonix). The result does a fine job of creating a fun and compelling rhythm game with challenging gameplay.

Those who’ve played the aforementioned Frequency or Amplitude will undoubtedly feel at home with Rock Band Unplugged. Instead of focusing on one highway devoted to one instrument, each song has you juggling between four, one each for bass, drums, vocals, and guitar. By pressing the corresponding button on the screen at the right time, you’ll be able to rack up streaks and get higher multipliers and more points. However, falling behind on one track can cause the other ones to fall behind, requiring you to be able to keep the rhythm and switch tracks on the fly in order to complete each song. The game also utilizes Rock Band-specific gameplay elements, like Overdrive, which allows you to bump up your score multipliers as you play.

The game captures the essence of the console versions quite well. The tour mode is pulled from the series, allowing you to play through the game’s songs in order to unlock new ones. You’ll be able to create an entire band, customizing their individual looks and styles, and buy new customization features as you earn money and fans.

The game’s tracklist isn’t quite as huge as the console brethren, but is still a pretty decent sized offering. The 41 licensed tracks are all master recordings, and represent a nice variety of tracks from various genres, including rock, metal, punk, and even a little Motown. While there are some cool exclusive tracks like “ABC” by the Jackson 5 and “Rock Your Socks” by Tenacious D, the majority of the songs here are featured in other Rock Band titles, so fans of the franchise can expect to retread some familiar territory. Fortunately, the game employs the use of downloadable content, allowing players to buy and download new songs from the Rock Band Store as they become added.

The gameplay is quite a compelling enough reason for rhythm game fans to hop in regardless of the setlist. The game can be quite challenging on Medium and Hard, while Expert is extremely difficult compared to the console iterations. The toughest part is trying to get those ever-elusive five-star scores, which requires near perfection and spot-on use of Overdrive.

One of the biggest caveats in Rock Band Unplugged’s gameplay is the lack of multiplayer. While the ability to sit down with friends and jam is one of the console iterations’ strongest selling points, there is no such feature in Unplugged, which could be a problem for some gamers looking to extend the life of their playtime with the game.

Graphically, the game does a fine job of emulating the look of the console versions of Rock Band. The presentation is lifted from the original games, from the menus and the character modes to the sound effects. The master recordings also sound great, and using headphones is definitely preferred to the PSP’s somewhat tinny speakers.

The lack of multiplayer is a bummer, and the majority of the setlist is familiar territory for fans of the Rock Band franchise, but fans should still have a blast with this challenging entry to the series.

Review Scoring Details for Rock Band Unplugged

Gameplay: 8.5
The instrument peripherals have been replaced with a challenging and addicting rhythm game feel, and the gamble pays off in a big way. While the setlist may be familiar territory for fans, the inclusion of DLC is a great touch to giving the game some longevity.

Graphics: 8.5
The game does a nice job of emulating the look of its console brethren.

Sound: 8.0
While the background sounds are a little muffled, the songs themselves sound great.

Difficulty: Hard

Concept: 8.0
A solid entry to the series, the gameplay is very challenging and engaging. Unfortunately, the lack of multiplayer is a minus.

Overall: 8.5
Rock Band Unplugged is a great addition to the Rock Band series, offering a refreshing rhythm game mechanic that feels very comfortable on the PSP. Even though the game lacks multiplayer, the DLC feature should help give this game some legs in the future.


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