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Rock Band without the plastic instruments: Rock Band Unplugged for PSP, hands-on

Rock Band has gone portable, but without the plastic instruments. How does it work? Let us tell you.

Our fantasy of a tiny set of plastic pocket-drums will have to wait till next year.
Harmonix/MTV Games

Rock Band has gone portable, kind of: MTV Games, Harmonix and EA have officially shipped Rock Band Unplugged to stores, meaning you'll finally have a new UMD game for your dust-gathering PSP. Although the game won't go on sale until June 9, we thought we'd give you an idea of what to look forward to just in case you find someplace putting this on the shelves a little early.

With 41 tracks on disc and a full World Tour mode, the band creation and unlockable wardrobe/swag are everything you remember from the console versions. But what, you may ask, has been done about all those plastic drums, guitars, and whatnot? Does it come with fancy mini-instruments that interface with the PSP?

How can Rock Band be portable?

The answer is, unfortunately, by cutting corners: unlike Guitar Hero On Tour for the Nintendo DS, there are no dongles with colored buttons. The press-the-button-now gameplay is accomplished by hitting the PSP buttons, much like Harmonix' old series of games Frequency and Amplitude for the PS2. Also, there is no multiplayer: every instrument track is controlled by you, a single player, by switching between tracks with the shoulder buttons.

Before you run off screaming, know that Rock Band Unplugged is actually very fun to play. More fun, we might say, than the Guitar Hero: On Tour DS games, mainly because the GH dongle gave us carpal tunnel after a handful of songs. The PSP also has decent audio quality when listening through headphones, something the DS has never had. Because you're playing as the whole band, your band's identity becomes more important. Or, at least, we started to feel that way after a few hours of earning gigs. The tracks are mostly callbacks from older versions, with some new exclusives peppered in.

Further exciting or insidious news: Rock Band Unplugged has an online store for the PSP. That means lots of extra content to be downloaded. The price, however, is as high as console Rock Band tracks. Is that worth the purchase? Personally, we'd prefer if Rock Band Unplugged shared tracks from the PS3, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

The UMD will set you back $39.99. Or, you could spring for a whole Rock Band PSP bundle for $199.99, which comes with a "Piano Black" (as opposed to "black?") PSP system, the game, a 4 GB Memory Stick Pro Duo to stick all your track downloads on, and a voucher for a download of the movie School of Rock.

In a nearly-dead PSP software landscape, Rock Band Unplugged should be embraced. New third-party life for an abandoned platform is always nice to see. And at least you'll save on all those plastic instruments: this is the cheapest Rock Band money can buy.