Hands-on: 'Rock Band Unplugged' For PSP

When "Rock Band Unplugged" was first announced, I had visions of tiny plastic instruments or four people sitting next to each other rocking out on their PSPs. Not so.

Unlike the console iterations of "Rock Band," "Unplugged" is a one-person band.


Taking cues from Harmonix's older music games "Frequency" and "Amplitude," Backbone Entertainment developed "Unplugged" as a beat-matching rhythm game. All four instrument tracks (vocals, guitar, bass, drums) run on-screen and are broken down into different phrases.

Obviously, the vocal and drum tracks are mapped for best button-hitting experience; there's no actual singing involved and there's no kick drum (whew). And you'll notice that the note highway you're playing is highlighted, both visually and audibly -- the instrument you're playing will be noticeably louder than the rest of the song. This will help you focus on the particular part you're trying to nail.

Matching more beats in succession scores higher multipliers. Hit the the left arrow, up arrow on the d-pad for the red and yellow notes, and the triangle and circle buttons for the green and blue notes. When you finish a phrase for a particular instrument, you'll be prompted to switch to a different note highway using the left and right shoulder buttons.

As simple as this sounds, it's not that easy to pick up and play. I started off with Weezer's "Buddy Holly" on the Easy difficulty and though I got through it, I felt a bit frazzled and couldn't talk to the Harmonix rep at the same time (sorry, Alex). Next, I tried Queens of the Stone Age's "3's and 7's" and Nine Inch Nails' "The Perfect Drug." Both were on Easy, but I got better each time (and could talk a little bit), so there's definitely a bit of a learning curve. But by the time I was brave enough to try Medium -- the difficulty I play on the console version of "Rock Band" -- my time had run out.

However, for those who feel intimidated, there's a "Warm Up" mode that lets you play just one instrument without having to switch back and forth between the other tracks. And for the more hardcore players (read: insane), they can play the "Band Survival" mode, which lets all four note highways run at the same time. To complete the song, the player must switch between each track on their own and pay attention to how well they're doing in each one. You can keep an eye on this by watching the meter on the left-hand side, and switch between them as needed and when you can. This reminds me of the time I tried to play all four "Rock Band" instruments by myself; the PSP version of this seems more do-able, though the Harmonix rep at the demo said that only a few guys at Backbone could play this mode.

Like the console games, "Unplugged" will feature the World Tour mode, solo of course, and let you play gigs across 24 cities with pre-selected and choose-your-own setlists. The game also has avatars and instruments you can choose from and decorate by earning cash from your tour.

And though MTV owns the name "Unplugged," named for the TV series that showcased popular artists playing acoustically, the game does not have any acoustic versions of these songs (so no Nirvana's cover of "Lake of Fire," etc.). However, the game will have 41 tracks of master recordings, with nine tracks exclusive to the PSP for a limited time before it hits the other consoles. There will also be "Rock Band" music store built in-game, which will be open at launch with ten tracks available. The cost of the tracks hasn't been revealed yet, and though the store won't be updated weekly like the console versions, we can expect frequent and periodic DLC additions.

I enjoyed my brief time with the game and could see myself getting addicted, trying the harder difficulties and constantly missing my subway stop with it. However, as far as replay value, I'm one who already spends a lot of money on console DLC... to play with friends. I'm not sure I'm ready to fork over more cash for the same songs on a strictly single-player experience.

Here are the tracks announced so far:

Exclusive PSP tracks:

* 3 Doors Down - "Kryptonite"

* AFI - "Miss Murder"

* Alice in Chains - "Would?"

* Audioslave - "Gasoline"

* Black Tide - "Show Me the Way"

* Blink-182 - "What’s My Age Again?"

* Freezepop - "Less Talk More Rokk"

* Jackson 5 - "ABC"

* Tenacious D - "Rock Your Socks"

Other announced tracks:

* The Killers - "Mr. Brightside"

* Queens of the Stone Age - "3's and 7's"

* System of a Down - "Chop Suey"

* Judas Priest - "Painkiller"

* Nine Inch Nails - "The Perfect Drug"

* Nirvana - "Drain You"

* Weezer - "Buddy Holly"

* Bon Jovi - "Livin' on a Prayer"

* The Police - "Message in a Bottle"

* Kansas - "Carry on Wayward Son"

* The Who - "Pinball Wizard"

"Rock Band Unplugged" will be in stores on June 9, as well as a limited edition entertainment pack that includes the black PSP-3000, a 4GB memory stick and a PSN downloadable movie voucher for "School of Rock."

[Note: MTV Games owns "Rock Band" developer Harmonix.]

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