For some crazy reason, LEGO –themed video games caught on. First the little dudes saved the universe in the Star Wars series, then the block men and women played out the Indiana Jones tales, and next year, they’ll shapeshift into Harry and company in LEGO: Harry Potter.
But today, LEGO fans can take to the stage and play as the miniature men in LEGO: Rock Band, one of the oddest digital endeavors in recent memory.
Publisher: MTV Games/Warner
Developer: Harmonix/Traveller’s Tales
Nov. 3, 2009
The formula is simple. Take one part acclaimed and beloved music-game franchise, Rock Band, and add to it the cute-beyond-belief LEGO series, and what do you get? An unusual idea, but a compelling one too.
First off, and definitely most importantly, LEGO: Rock Band applies the same winning formula applied in every Rock Band title to date. The notes cascade down the virtual fretboard, you hit them in time for drums, bass, and guitar, and pitch-match for singing, yadda yadda yadda, you get it.
Additionally, in the game’s campaign, you’ll again start a band and rock the world, though in the LEGO flavor. You get the chance to customize your own LEGO avatar, give him or her Mohawk, a rockin’ t-shirt, and lots more.
The game progresses through a series of gigs, as we’ve become accustom to, but the main point of consideration in this title is the LEGO spin on everything.
Traveller’s Tales, the development team behind every LEGO video game, know what the heck they’re doing in terms of storytelling. Anyone who’s ever played LEGO Star Wars or Indiana Jones can attest to that. The narrative in LEGO Rock Band is surprisingly compelling and rich, and even more impressive when you consider no one speaks a word throughout the game. It’s all hand gestures and hilarious sequences.
I won’t lie, during the opening sequence, when you’re graced with a cutscene of a band audition session, I LOL’dâ€¦ a lot. Traveller’s Tales knows just what buttons to press to get the laughs, and applied that formula; somehow, to this music game, and best of all, it works!
Additionally, in true LEGO game fashion, LEGO: RB is all about collecting LEGO bits and pieces. These pieces, dependent on your level of success in any given song, are awarded to you, and can be used in the Rock Shop to buy everything from new clothing, to instruments, and even new vehicles to get from gig to gig.
When I played LEGO Indiana Jones, I was the whoriest of collectors. I had to have every last piece, it’s just the OCD I have for such a thing, and in LEGO: RB, that trait burst through too. When you finish a song, you hear and see the "stud tally" rack up and might I say, it’s quite a satisfying moment.
LEGO: Rock Band is also extremely accommodating to new users. A new Super Easy mode, which you could ace at a comatose level, is kind of a joke, but I guess some people are just that bad. Additionally, in the options menu you can toggle off kick pedal notes for drumming, therefore scaling down the level of needed percussive proficiency.
Furthermore, you pretty much can’t fail a song, at any difficulty in the game’s career. To stay in the game and not fail out you simply spend the studs you’ve collected, and voila, you’ve made it!
A final move made in LEGO: Rock Band towards accessibility is, and as a musical purist I hate this, a Short Song mode. This alteration allows you to play a shortened version of nearly every song in the setlist. Sure, I can see why some might want this. Who needs that fourth chorus anyway, right?
But as much as I enjoyed my time with LEGO: Rock Band, I had some serious gripes with it as well. Things that truly left a throwup taste in my mouth, and things you need to know.
First, the game’s song-list is unacceptably brief. The game ships with only 45 songs and sells for $50. Let’s see, I could buy Rock Band 2 for less than that and get 84 songs, which would I choose? I think you know.
Second, of those 45, I wanted to play no more than 6 of them. Now, this is an extremely personal assessment based on my musical preferences, but it truly destroyed the experience for me. For this reason, trudging through the campaign felt like stabbing myself in the ears, only to become somewhat musically-aroused by the occasional great song "Fire" by Jimi Hendrix or Tom Petty’s "Free Fallin." Simply put, I hated the song-list, which can be seen here just scroll down a bit.
I also was dismayed at the choice to abandon Rock Band 2’s graphical presentation in favor of that of The Beatles: Rock Band. LEGO: RB feels like a downgrade from Rock Band 2, and maybe it was supposed to, but nevertheless, I didn’t like it. Notes don’t pop and explode in the same graphical fidelity as in RB2 and the entire experience feels softer. And again, perhaps this was an intentional decision made, but I still do not agree with it.
I also believed in Harmonix and their seemingly deep appreciation for music, but that thought died when I played LEGO: Rock Band. To me, this game feels like a very real attempt at cashing in on a profitable brand name, LEGO.
Harmonix has always stood for the most authentic music experience out there, and the company achieved this by making you feel like the rocker on stage. But with LEGO dudes and dudettes on-stage, I never once felt like I was the center of attention. I could not connect personally with the game, and ended up just not caring, which is completely opposite how I feel about Rock Band 2. The game just doesn’t feel right.
But does this even matter? The game is clearly aimed at the younger demographic, who very well might not care at all. That said though, Band Hero, Activision’s attempt at the same market, does create that sense of immersion and is a definite reason to consider that title before this one.
Somewhat of a saving grace for the title, if you’re gifted it, is that all 45 songs can be transferred to your Rock Band library for an acceptable fee of $10. Maybe I’ll do that, but it’s still ten dollars.
Of note: LEGO: Rock Band does not support online multiplayer. You can download age appropriate songs from the Music Store to play in the title, but that’s all you can do online. No battling other bands, teaming up with friends or anything. Sad, huh?
Blast Factor: For all intents and purposes, LEGO: Rock Band works. It does what it needs to. You’ve got the engaging and proven Rock Band formula laying a solid ground work and as a music game, it’s fine. The LEGO theme is odd. On one hand, the LEGO-specific bits are fun, different, and mostly welcome. But at the same time seeing a LEGO Freddy Mercury sing "We are the Champions" is slightly disheartening. I never felt engaged enough in this title to fully enjoy it, due to the fact that I’m not made of blocks, at least last time I checked. The game’s song list is eclectic to say the least, and you’ll most definitely want to look it over at length before purchasing.
LEGO: Rock Band is available today for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo DS. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for review purposes. I am not a 12 year-old girl. Maybe that’s why I didn’t enjoy it.