Rock Band Unplugged – hands-on

Believe it or not, it's just as fun without the instruments

There’s been some discussionas to whether Rock Band can “work” on the PSP. Without diving into too much history and boring you with the details of which developer did what, we can quickly tell you “yes, it can,” because Harmonix has already proved this gameplay concept works. See: Frequency and Amplitude, the dev’s pre-Guitar Hero gems.


Above: Maybe too crazy for the mainstream…

Look familiar? Flowing tracks with jewels you burst by pressing buttons at the appropriate time? That’s PS2’s Amplitude, and that’s more or less how Rock Band Unplugged works. Each instrument (guitar, drums, vocals and bass) is represented by scrolling tracks and you have to juke between them, playing each instrument’s phrase or melody before moving on to the next.

So, instead of worrying about the one instrument you’re playing (as with the console versions), you’re in control of the entire song. Hop over to the vocals on “Mr. Brightside” and you’ll hear Brandon Flowers’ voice rise above the rest of the instruments until you successfully nail all the notes in that phrase. Once you get ‘em, the vocal track keeps playing on its own, while you use L and R to swap between the remaining tracks. And, by the time you’ve cleared drums and guitar, the vocal track has returned and you quickly realize just how fast, chaotic and downright zen-like the gameplay experience can be.


Above: The drum track in action, L and R switch to Bass, Vocals and Guitar

As with Rock Band, bursting the gems is all about pushing buttons to be beat. In this case there are only four colors to worry about (plus the usual two and three note chords), and the default arrangement is as follows:


Above: If you really despise this setup, it’s all customizable

The experience is still similar to the originals due to the Rock Band branding and the borrowed set list (41 master recordings from 1 and 2, nine of which are exclusive to PSP), but the actual act of playing is entirely unique and worth exploring even if you utterly loathe the plastic instruments of the consoles. Think of it as a fast-paced music puzzle game.

Speaking of the Rock Band brand, the name brings with it requisite modes like World Tour (with customizable band), plus new concepts like Band Survival (the four tracks never disappear, forcing you to constantly juggle all simultaneously) and Warm-Up (pick one track and stay there without worrying about the others).


Above: Band creation isn’t 360/PS3 deep, but it exists

Another first for the PSP version is the inclusion of online DLC, with 10 songs available for purchase from launch day on. No word on what those songs will be, but given that the on-disc songs include a mix of Rock Band 1 and 2 tracks plus exclusives, we expect the DLC will follow suit. There’s also this thing:


Above: PSP bundle for $199.99

Side note: we really like how, for once, there’s a game that requires all the constant button pressing that’s depicted on TV and in movies (you know, where the kid is mashing everything on the device instead of actually playing). This gameplay setup worked once in 2002, and it’ll work again when Unplugged shows up in June. As a parting gift, here’s what we can share of the track list:

Apr 15, 2009

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