Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Rock Band Unplugged

Rock Band Unplugged

Developer: Backbone Entertainment

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Release Date: June 9, 2009

System: PSP

ESRB Rating: T

Official Web site

0:00 I loved Harmonix's Frequency and Amplitude, which inspired the gameplay here, and the Rock Band games, which inspired the look and song selection, so this one should be a slam dunk for me.

0:01 Loading, logos, then a simple title screen with some rotating ... stuff in the background.

0:02 Controls explained: left and up on the d-pad for red/yellow notes, triangle and circle for the green and blue notes. Not a bad setup ... more symmetrical than the three-track setup in the earlier games.

0:03 I'll skip the training and go straight to the Tour. The game gives me the random band name "Metro Wheelie," which is so awesome I don't even change it.

0:04 Only four hometowns available to choose from? What a gyp. San Fran it is, I guess. The game generates a band with Justin, Chandra, Chuck and Frank. They look decent enough and I don't want to waste time editing them, so let's go.

0:05 "Congratulations! Your band has been offered a gig at Alice's Free Love Cafe! Welcome to the wonderful world of touring!" Man, that's a lot of exclamation points!

0:06 Let's start off with "I Was Wrong" on Medium difficulty, just to get a feel for things. See ya on the other side.

0:11 I'm so used to regular Rock Band, I forget that I have to switch between tracks every few bars to switch tracks. Once I get that down, the note patterns are incredibly easy. Having to tap the shoulder buttons three times to go from one side of the tracks to the other is annoying, though. I got a 19-phrase streak, 90 percent of the notes, a 4-star rating and 25 fans! I think I'll turn up the difficulty next time.

0:13 "Livin' on a Prayer" on Hard. The loading screen has a couple of big burly guys in yellow security shirts. I always find those guys hilarious.

0:18 Hoo boy. Hard is ... a lot harder, mainly because I have to use BOTH THUMBS at the SAME TIME! I KNOW! I'm pretty good about figuring out which hand to use, but I get confused about which button to press when the notes are this quick. I accidentally switch note tracks even when I miss a note, meaning the phrase isn't complete. This game demands perfection, and has a lot to keep track of. The worst part: This great song sounded like ass because I played badly.

0:19 Up next: "My Own Worst Enemy." Seems appropriate, given my horrible performance on the last song.

0:22 Man, that was quick. I got 3.5 stars. The drums part is brutal -- I have trouble when I have to use one thumb for two notes in quick succession. Still having trouble switching tracks too. It's a whole new set of skills here. On the plus side, there were a few points where I hit "the zone" and instinct got me through some tough note patterns. I just have to be able to get to that level regularly.

0:24 "Make a Setlist" lets me choose from 10 or so songs at the Warm Up and Apprentice difficulty levels. They mostly seem to come from other Rock Band games. Bleh. I choose "White Wedding," but the game gives me no indication to how hard the song is. Seems like a big omission to me.

Rock Band Unplugged

0:29 I get 3.75 stars this time. I think part of my problem is that I have to keep recalibrating my brain. In regular Rock Band, I know which part is mine, and generally what my rhythm is going to be. Here, I keep switching between four different parts with very different note patterns and rhythms. I have to use my peripheral vision to plan ahead before the switch, which is a new skill too. It's a lot to handle ... but I'm loving the challenge.

0:30 I've unlocked the Battle of the Vans, my first two-song set. Here we go!

0:34 I finish just a hair away from four stars on "Float On." I'm still confusing the "left" and "up" notes regularly. I blame pinball videogames, where any button on the d-pad activates the left flipper.

0:38 I really focus on "Today" from the Smashing Pumpkins and keep a strong 5x-multiplier streak going for nine whole phrases. I hate the way missing one note can screw up two whole phrases if you time it right (or wrong, I guess). It really throws off rhythm. Also, I find myself spastically moving my thumb when I don't need to. Anyway, I unlocked 10 new gigs in two new cities, so yay. Also got a manager and a 1975 Econowagon van, which has "a hole in the floorboard big enough to relieve yourself through." Whoo?

0:40 Still only Warm Up and Apprentice songs available in the new cities. That's OK ... let's try old favorite Buddy Holly. The guitar part is rated at five stars. Gulp!

0:44 I finish a hair away from four stars AGAIN! I'm mapping the notes better in my head, but I suck on the transitions... I can't switch my brain fast enough, I guess. "Miss Murder," with another tough guitar part, is next.

0:49 I finally break through and get 4.5 stars on "Miss Murder." I think not knowing the song that well made me focus more ... instead of going on rhythmic auto-pilot, I had to really pay attention. I also activated my overdrive in the exact right spots for top scoring, I think.

0:50 Running low on time, I crank it up to Expert for the Jackson 5's "ABC."


Rock Band Unplugged

0:52 My first utter failure (in this game, I mean)! The quick rhythms would be relatively easy for me on Guitar Hero or Rock Band, but since I don't have the buttons subconsciously mapped to the notes yet, the split second I have to think each move costs me dearly. Retry!

0:55 I pass this time with a mediocre 3.5 stars. I'm proud of how well I did on a drum solo that had an incredibly quick set of notes alternating left and right.

0:56 A one-song mystery setlist on Expert is gonna finish this out.

1:01 I get 4.25 stars on "Dead or Alive" again. It felt easier on Expert than it did on Hard, actually. I think I'm beginning to automap the notes and buttons in my brain. I also managed to hit an absolutely INSANE set of notes at the end of the guitar solo. I don't know how I did it ... it's like my fingers were moving of their own accord!

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.

Why? Great rhythm gameplay in a portable package. Who needs plastic, instrument-shaped controllers?

This column is based on a retail copy of the game rented from GameFly.