Review: Rock Band Unplugged (PSP)June 19th, 2009 | Written by Chris Selogy | Topic: Reviews, Sony PSP
Getting away from the massive pile of instruments that any Guitar Hero or Rock Band fan has is a major appeal for any portable versions of the series. Instead of trying to replicate the instrument experience in miniature form like the DS versions of Guitar Hero, Rock Band Unplugged revisits an older style of music game that Harmonix fans will remember when they were barely known for making Frequency and Amplitude on the PS2.
The biggest difference you will notice between Rock Band Unplugged and the other Rock Band games on the consoles is that you’re not just focusing on one instrument, but all four at once. You play a phrase instead of an entire highway’s worth of notes, which is just a good chunk of notes that you need to play perfectly to keep that track going so you can move to the next phrase that appears. As you play an instrument’s phrase, you can hear the bass, guitar, vocals, or drums above everything else, which adds a nice touch to the song so you can better hear what you’re playing to add to the song. The songs on the disc are charted nicely, especially the vocals and drums when you’re playing some of the more interesting songs. It tends to be that songs with a better band vibe that play better here, like The Middle, Float On, Today, Everlong, ABC, and others that work very well in Unplugged.
Moving from a guitar or drum down to the PSP for Unplugged does mean that some things have to change both in the way that notes are charted and what habits you need to break. Habits like holding down buttons so you could strum and other things that are specific to what the controller provides, so it may take some time to get situated with the way it plays on the PSP. Because there is no strumming that allows for quick notes in succession, these tend to be some of the harder parts of the game as some songs feature entire phrases of chords in very quick succession that makes the lack of strum bar apparent. It may be a skill thing, but those kinds of quick responses will definitely separate the good and great players easily. Luckily, the controls are completely customizable if the default controls are not to your liking and you know of a set-up that works best for you.
It’s safe to say that Unplugged is a port of Rock Band 2, as the main tour mode is pretty much exactly the same as it appeared on the original game. You don’t get nearly as many of the challenges, nor the extraneous modes that appeared outside of the city map interface. Because of the small tracklist and the lack of downloadable song offerings as of the launch, you will end up replaying songs quite a bit until you open up more cities to unlock the rest, which is like the issue that somewhat plagued the original Rock Band early on. The other downgrade that tour mode features versus the console versions is the very shallow customization options for clothing, physical features, and the logo, so you’re not likely to recreate your favorite bands if there is anything specific you require. Other than those issues, it’s still a lot of fun like it is on the consoles, but it’s just a shorter experience to be had.
Outside of the tour mode, Unplugged offers a Quickplay mode that lets you set up your own playlists if you wish for a quicker taste of Rock Band. The Warmup mode is the more casual gameplay mode that you would probably let a friend play if you think they will not be able to handle switching between instruments, as it lets you play any instrument at any point and won’t dock you for not playing other instruments. On the flipside, the Band Survival mode will do all four highways at once and you must keep them all afloat like spinning plates, which is definitely the mode for those that think they’ve mastered Unplugged. Like the other Rock Bands, there are some unlocks that you can enable, like No Fail mode or No Solo mode, that can help you tweak the experience if you need them.
Because the PSP is not capable of the great visuals that the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions show off well, but it does look fine for what you really expect out of Unplugged. The lack of customization is the biggest visual down note, but the filters do return for the most part to make the action that you’re not really supposed to be looking at look more like a music video. There are some moments where the framerate dips a bit, but it never really affects your chance of hitting notes that much to be a big problem. Load times are a bit longer than the already long load times that the console versions had plus a few more loads to get to your tour mode band. The soundtrack is a nice amalgamation of some of the best downloadable songs, Rock Band 1 and 2 songs, and a nice selection of new songs that make for a good selection of songs.
Rock Band Unplugged does a great job of bringing the Rock Band experience to the PSP in a format that fits the portable experience very well compared to other portable ports of console music games. If your only reason for interest in Unplugged is for the new, fresh tracklist, this is definitely not the game for you. However, if you’re more interested in having Rock Band on the go and in a form that works well for the PSP, Unplugged is certainly a game you should check out. Though it’s understandable why any downloadable songs you purchased for the PS3 version of Rock Band, the upfront statement that the DLC won’t be turned out in full force to help the library catch up may be a negative that keeps the game from having as much of a full lifespan without multiplayer or track packs.