My first reaction to Rock Band : Unplugged on the PSP was one of scepticism. The basic appeal of the Rock Band series was that you get to feel like a genuine rock star – thanks to the plastic guitars and drum kits that made every 'air' musician's dream come true. What's the point of a handheld game using the same mechanic, but without the cool instruments? Lame, right? Like the mobile versions of Guitar Hero.
But Rock Band : Unplugged is immensely fun in its own right, and thank the gods of rock for that.
If you can look past the lack of instruments and get used to hitting the face and shoulder buttons in rhythm, you'll find that Rock Band :Unplugged delivers a great portable rhythm game experience – similar to and yet different from its console cousins in the best possible ways.
The Rock Band franchise has always been about delivering a 'complete band experience' , and the PSP version manages to do that surprisingly well by incorporating a smart new innovation – by hitting the left and right shoulder buttons, you effectively switch between playing the guitar, bass, drums and controlling the vocals. Hit every note for a short period, and that particular instrument will go into 'autopilot', playing itself for some time while you focus on the other tracks. You'll need to make sure that no track fails – ignore a track for some time and it goes into a 'red zone' of sorts. You will then need to play that track and hit every note for a while to bring it back to speed. Thus, the game makes sure that you're always switching between tracks, devoting roughly equal time to each one in every song you play.
While this sounds a little clunky and awkward, it's in fact far from it. Once you get used to the controls, you'll be effortlessly switching tracks, playing solos and rocking out like a pro band. You actually do get the 'band' feeling, and it's extremely satisfying to nail some of the harder solos later on in the game. This could also be partly because you create your entire band from scratch, giving them names, dressing them up, and kitting them out. You can't help getting attached to the little buggers, and share in their successes as they zoom up the international charts. Your band starts out small, and eventually grows to international superstardom, playing gigs all over the world, travelling by private jets, and picking up groupies, managers and even their very own spiritual guru. It's all presented very well, too – sharp, colourful visuals and impeccable audio (play this with headphones).
Rock Band isn't the first handheld rhythm game that I've enjoyed (Elite Beat Agents on DS, Gitaroo Man on the PSP), but it is without doubt the most satisfying one for the rock fan in me. The song list, such an important part of any such game, is extremely solid and covers a wide range of genres. Among the more fun to play tracks, early on in the game, are The Jackson Five's ABC, Pearl Jam's Alive, Billy Idol's White Wedding and Boston's More Than A Feeling. You can also download songs through PSN, but for players in India this isn't an option, obviously.
Rock Band : Unplugged on PSP offers a great way to pass the time at airports, waiting rooms and queues of all kinds – you're gaming and listening to music at the same time. What could be better?