At first glance, the PSP game Rock Band Unplugged might seem like a budget-friendly alternative for players who don’t want to buy a set of instruments, or a way to lure primarily portable gamers into the franchise. But in spite of its similarities to Rock Band 2, Unplugged offers an experience that’s distinct enough to make even veteran players want to put down their drumsticks and pick up their PSPs.
Players control the bass, guitar, drums, and vocals all at once. Perfectly playing a verse on one instrument sets that instrument to autoplay for a brief period while you tend to the other components of your song. Leave something untouched for too long and your score starts to drop, and the instrument can eventually fail. Solos are the only reprieve from the constant shifting.
Juggling all the parts can make the game easier and more challenging. If you hit a really tricky part on drums, you can switch over to pounding out a steady bassline until things get manageable. On the other hand, missing a few notes can throw off your timing so that instruments drop off autoplay before you’re ready. When that happens, the part goes mute, producing a strangely sparse sound. Hearing how each instrument affects the music helps keep them distinct, even though they’re all played with the same buttons.
Unplugged’s gameplay and structure mirror Rock Band 2. You’ll hit different-colored notes as they move by, and try to earn enough stars in low-end gigs to move your band into the big leagues. The song library features about half of the tracks from Rock Band 2. Downloadable content can help relieve the burnout, but then you have to ask yourself how much you want to invest in a game with no multiplayer option to keep things interesting.
Beyond the game: Unplugged features nine songs previously unavailable on Rock Band, including Tenacious D’s “Rock Your Socks” and Audioslave’s “Gasoline.”
Worth playing for: The feeling of satisfaction you get bouncing from part to part as you watch your score multiplier climb.
Frustration sets in when: You’re forced to play Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” for the fifth time to keep advancing through the World Tour mode.
Final judgment: Enjoyable for any level of Rock Band player, but lacking in staying power.