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Rock Band: Unplugged Review

No Multiplayer Option Makes This A One Man Band
by Matt Helgeson on Sep 22, 2009 at 02:04 PM
Reviewed on PSP
Publisher MTV Games
Developer Backbone Entertainment
Rating Teen

Harmonix and MTV Games were lucky in one respect. As opposed to Guitar Hero, which had to cut out the full band approach and hamper its product with an uncomfortable DS peripheral, Harmonix could look back to its own lineage for a solid handheld game design: its overlooked PS2 music games Amplitude and Frequency.

Like those cult hits, Rock Band Unplugged lets one player (and no more – multiplayer is sadly absent) control all four instruments at once. If you haven't played Amplitude, it's pretty ingenious. Using the d-pad and face buttons, you hit gems in time to the music. However, now you can use the shoulders to swap between four tracks on the fly. By hitting every note in a phrase, you can keep a track autoplaying for a limited time while you tend to the others. By juggling all of them perfectly, you'll soon be playing an entire full band song all by yourself. It works perfectly, adding a new level of depth for veteran players.

The foundation of this game could support something truly special. It's too bad that developer Backbone and Harmonix disappoint in an area in which this series usually excels: the soundtrack and career mode. The career mode is essentially identical to that of Rock Band 2, which sounds like a plus on paper. However, the game ships with less than half the songs of the console game. Remember how repetitive Rock Band 2 was without DLC? Try that with fewer songs. In the first three cities, I'd already played ''More Than A Feeling'' by Boston three times! I understand that, given the sheer amount of DLC that Rock Band has released, getting an entire soundtrack of new tracks would be hard, but some of the choices here are so overplayed and obvious. In particular, Modest Mouse's ''Float On'' was on the discs for both Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero: World Tour.

Throw in such music game warhorses as Foo Fighters' ''Everlong'' and Bon Jovi's ''Livin' on a Prayer'' and you've got a soundtrack that – with some notable exceptions – feels a bit stale. It's a shame, too, because the gameplay is strong enough to make this much more than just a solid handheld music title.

Apply the gameplay design of Harmonix's underappreciated Frequency and Amplitude to the Rock Band franchise
Impressive features, detailed and crisp character models and a ton of cool video effects
The UMD format might be in decline, but it allows for near CD quality sound. A vast improvement over the DS versions of Guitar Hero
A nice reminder of Harmonix's great early works. The perfect way to incorporate full-band play into a single-player format
A great game that fails to live up to its potential due to a poor (by franchise standards) tracklist and repetitive career mode

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Rock Band: Unplugged

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