Hands On: Fortnite Festival Rekindles Fond Memories of a Forgotten PSP Favourite 2
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You won’t find Rock Band Unplugged at the top of many Best PSP Games lists, but the Harmonix spin-off – released during the peak of plastic peripheral popularity – was one of the finest games you could find on Sony’s handheld during its pre-PS Vita renaissance circa-2009. A stripped-back version of the main console games, this portable reimagining saw you switching between instruments, completing “phrases” by rhythmically tapping buttons in time to the music.

The concept was temporarily revisited for Rock Band Blitz on the PS3, but has largely remained dormant in the decade or so since. As part of Epic’s push into full-blown Fortnite platform, however, the concept has been revived for Fortnite Festival – a music-based multiplayer game which uses the Battle Royale’s Locker in order to enable you to customise your band members using the hundreds of cosmetics you’ve likely already accrued by this point.

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Upon selecting the mode from the title’s increasingly Roblox-esque main menu, you’ll be ushered into a social space where you can select from a list of rotating Featured songs – or any you may have purchased from the Item Shop. Music costs 500 V-Bucks per track, which works out at around £3.50/$4.50 each. Once you own a song, you can play it as many times as you like, and when you form a band with friends, you can share any music you own with them (so you only need to buy it once).

Hands On: Fortnite Festival Rekindles Fond Memories of a Forgotten PSP Favourite 1
Image: Push Square

You can mix and match songs to create set lists, and you can select a difficulty and which instrument you’d like to play. There are unique note charts for the four roles: Lead Guitar, Drums, Vocals, and Bass Guitar. You play notes by pushing face buttons on the PlayStation controller in time to the music, and successfully playing coloured phrases will allow you to trigger Overdrive, multiplying your score.

In multiplayer, you’ll all need to work together to trigger Overdrive at the right time, and it adds a sense of collaboration to the rhythm gameplay. Our only criticism is that the single player is a lot less fun than Rock Band Unplugged; obviously Harmonix is focused on the co-op here, but we reckon a mode where you switch between all four instruments would be fun for those on their own.

Each day a selection of new “featured” songs are picked from a larger pool of tracks, so there’s often something new to try even if you don’t intend to spend any money. Artists so far span a variety of genres, including Billie Eilish, All-American Rejects, and NF. There are also a number of songs from The Weeknd, who’s the featured artist in this debut season.

Hands On: Fortnite Festival Rekindles Fond Memories of a Forgotten PSP Favourite 5
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Interestingly, while your progress in Fortnite Festival will contribute to the main overall Battle Pass, there’s also a second Festival Pass which you progress by completing quests and earning Festival Points. This has its own free and premium reward track, which includes songs by Fall Out Boy and PSY, as well as a skin of the aforementioned Canadian artist. You have until the tail end of February to complete this, so it should be manageable even if you’re only playing casually.

Harmonix has said that this is just the beginning of the mode, and it intends to add in plastic peripheral support at a later date, which suggests to us we could see a line of Fortnite Festival-branded accessories popping up in retailers by the end of 2024. In that sense, it’s wild that Epic’s expanding “everything” game could be the one that rekindles the popular party genre, which has largely been dead since the ill-fated release of Rock Band 4 in 2015.

In addition to the Main Stage gameplay, there’s also a Jam Stage where you can use some of the music you own to perform “loops”. You can switch the pitch, tempo, and more in order to create unique songs with friends or strangers – although this option lacks direction or purpose at this stage. We reckon it needs a rethink.

Hands On: Fortnite Festival Rekindles Fond Memories of a Forgotten PSP Favourite 3
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Surprisingly, though, Fortnite Festival is proving popular – in terms of concurrent players, it’s regularly outperforming Rocket Racing, and gets within touching distance of Battle Royale during peak hours. LEGO Fortnite is the runaway success so far – that’s looking likely to steal players away from Minecraft – but there’s definitely a big future in this rhythm game.

As development continues to iterate, we’d like to see Harmonix incorporate a single player mode that works similarly to Rock Band Unplugged, and we wouldn’t mind seeing some of the ideas of Fuser end up being incorporated, too. For those who didn’t play it, this awesome DJ game allowed you to mix different songs together, and it feels like a gameplay concept that could find popularity when embedded into Fortnite.

To be honest, writing this article is a little odd: we’re still talking about Fortnite here, a game where in the current season you can dress up as Solid Snake and partner him with the cast of Dragon Ball Z. And the beauty is, Fortnite Festival means you can now have RoboCop singing the vocals to Weezer’s Buddy Holly. It’s weird and wonderful – a true realisation of the metaverse vision. And to be honest, it’s great fun: we never expected to play much Fortnite Festival, but here we are, dozens of hours later, and we’re hooked.

Hands On: Fortnite Festival Rekindles Fond Memories of a Forgotten PSP Favourite 8
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Have you given Fortnite Festival a go yet? What are your thoughts on the music-based mode, and how would you like to see it evolve in the future? Do you think this rhythm release has a place in Fortnite moving forward? Jam in the comments section below.