Game Info:

Rock Band Unplugged
Released: June 9th 2009
Developers: Harmonix and Backbone Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Teen
Available On: PSP
Genre: Rhythm
Number of Players: 1
Price: $27.99
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Rock Band Unplugged is the first foray into the portable market by the Rock Band franchise. The game plays very similar to Frequency and Amplitude, two previous Harmonix games. In those games, and in this one, you play a song by pressing buttons in time with the music and note charts to earn points. The more points you get, the more stars and fans you will get. The more stars and fans you have, the more venues and songs you can unlock. When you start a band, you must create all four characters for your band. The game offers some very diverse, but limited options for customization. Rock Band 2 has a more expansive system, but this version isn\'t too shabby. I was not terribly impressed with the customization options, so I tended to leave everything at its defaults. During a tour, you travel to different cities and play in different gigs to earn money, fans, and stars. This can get very tedious at times, especially if you are like me and want to play those high-level songs right now. Money can buy you equipment, clothes, and staff. Again, I wasn\'t terribly impressed with the customization options, and the clothes are no exception. The equipment is, like clothing, aesthetic, and for people who love certain brands or models of instruments, there are plenty to choose from. Staff will add modifiers to the game, such as earlier access to gigs you would not otherwise have or more money at the cost of fans. Other notable staff can add more fans at a cost to money, or add more special opportunities. The staff could have been a little clearer, since the game tells you a short summary on what they do, but with no hard numbers behind them. For instance, on the money-earners, I would have loved to know how much more money I was earning by choosing them. The special opportunities I mentioned are offers such as "Earn an average of 4 or more stars on this gig and get double the fans" or such. These offers are completely optional but add some risk and reward to the game. Once you get very good, some of the offers will be no-brainers to choose, like the "quadruple or nothing!" offers.

Quickplay in this game adds lots of new variety. Among the available options are "No Fail mode," "Warm-up Mode," "Band Survival mode" and "No Solos." The "No Fail mode" does just that, allows you to play without the fear of failing. "Warm-up" mode, my personal favorite, makes it so that only the active track can miss notes, thus allowing you to play guitar on your favorite song the whole way through. "Band Survival mode" is quite the challenge; in it, the crowd meter is slowly falling for each instrument, and you must keep all instruments active. I found this to be the most challenging mode in the game, making the game more challenging without upping the difficulty.

Strong Points: Portable Rock band game; very nice and diverse song selection; DLC available; adds a new dimension of gameplay.

Weak Points: No multiplayer capabilities; no way to import songs from other Rock Band games; game can lag when there is lots on the screen.

Moral objections: Some suggestive outfits; some songs have curse words or negative messages in them; minor dark imagery.

The controls depend on the configuration, but in standard setup, the left D-pad, up D-pad, Triangle and Circle buttons represent the red, yellow, green and blue notes respectively. Unplugged adds a new dimension to the franchise by forcing the player to play the whole band during a song. To accomplish this, you must play a series of notes (A Phrase) correctly, and then switch to an active track using the shoulder buttons. The tracks are laid out in this order: Bass, Drums, Vocals, and Guitar. If you fail to play a phrase correctly, or do not play on an active track for a certain period of time, its sound will drop out of the song, and drag the whole band down. Once you correctly play a track, it will play on its own for a short period of time. On most songs, at least one instrument will have a solo. When a solo comes up, you are automatically switched to that instrument, and all other tracks begin to play correctly. During a solo, you cannot switch to any other tracks, and other tracks are invisible. Once you complete a solo, you get bonus points that are added to your total score. Some of the solos can seem impossibly hard though, especially since you are pushing buttons instead of using a peripheral controller. Overdrive appears in this game, and is handled similarly to the other Rock Band games. Hit a set of white notes to earn Overdrive power, and press down on the D-Pad or X to activate once you have a half full meter. This can be quite the bother at times. For instance, on songs with fast tempos and many notes, finding time to engage Overdrive can be near impossible, and more of a pain than being fun.

The only stability issues I encountered with the game where when there were multiple tracks on the screen, and I activated Overdrive, or something similar. The graphics in this game are decent for a PSP game, about midway between a PS1 game and a PS2 game. The edges of models are jagged at times, and the models have a fairly low polygon count (Making them look rougher). The Texture work in this game is fair by PSP standards, but since this game runs at a low resolution it isn\'t terribly noticeable. The audio quality is excellent, and the game is best played with headphones.
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 90%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 82%
Violence - 9/10
Language - 8/10
Sexual Content - 7/10
Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

The song selection on Rock Band Unplugged is very diverse, including metal, alternative, punk and grunge. All the songs have been previously available on either Guitar Hero or Rock Band games as on-disc tracks or downloadable ones. There are popular and well-known hits like "Livin\' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi and “Message in a Bottle” by The Police to more obscure or niche songs like "Would?" by Alice in Chains. The note charts for this game are spot-on, and the tracks are very fun to play. Thankfully, all songs on this game are master recordings, and are of good quality. As some of you may recall, the original Guitar Hero had practically no master tracks on it. This was probably the most game-breaking qualm for me, as I love my studio recordings dearly.

The game is about as appropriate as the other Rock Band games; it has suggestive outfits available, some of which are very revealing, and some songs have censored or uncensored curse words. All strong words are censored, while lesser words are a little more ambiguous. The messages behind a few songs could be considered negative; some of these messages are sexual, like "What\'s my age again?" by Blink 182, some violent, like "Laid to Rest" and some are morally ambiguous like "Gasoline" by Audioslave. There is some minor dark imagery in the game, mostly on instruments and clothing. This is mostly limited to skulls, horns, goth styling and similar.

In the end, Rock Band Unplugged is a decent addition to the Rock Band franchise, though the lack of multiplayer is very disappointing. The only online content in this game is the downloadable content, which unfortunately has been discontinued. The game is very well polished, and is a worthwhile rhythm game for the PSP.

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