Two successful franchises merge in hopes of making tons of money in LEGO Rock Band. Not exactly news, but the past LEGO ventures with Star Wars and other film properties have fared much better than their Bionicle line. Will merger magic strike triple platinum this time around, or is LEGO Rock Band just another brick in the wall of me-to music games?
If you've played a Rock Band game, you know the drill. For the uninitiated, you can play any song on the disc from the get-go, solo, with full band, or anything in between. The competitive tug of war and score duel modes are missing in action. The more gamey conceits are found in the story mode. Create a LEGO person, form a band, and play gigs, gain fans, and cash. Except instead of cash, it's bricks, the currency and very life force of all things LEGO. These bricks let you acquire more modes of transportation for new gigs, hire personnel to raise fans and bricks, and purchase body parts for your rockers and bric-a-brac to customize your pad.
Gigs usually consist of playing songs or a set, but you'll occasionally experience flashbacks and step into the LEGO mono-colored pants of rock luminaries like Bowie or Queen. Likewise, there are rock challenges that throw a bit of LEGO narrative into the mix, where your playing affects what happens in the background. Most of the time, though, you'll be too busy staring at the highway of incoming notes to notice.
The 40-plus songs included have been chosen to be kid-friendly, with a heaping pile of classics and some newer hits that fall under the emo banner. There's nothing more risqué than, say, questionable Bryan Adams number "Summer of '69."
So, you've put a band together and are ready to rock. Rock Band hasn't changed much in its LEGO incarnation. Guitars, bass and drums make music by responding to a constant barrage of notes running down their respective lanes on screen. Simply match the colored note with the guitar fret or drum pad and strum or hit respectively. Vocalists need to carry the tune within a generous pitch range with lyrics racing across the screen. The core concept is simple; it's in the mastery where the fun rests.
LEGO Rock Band is consciously using its LEGO heritage to appeal to kids, with a couple game-assisting additions. Super easy mode asks you to just hit anything, drum, guitar or mic, when there's anything to hit at all. An auto bass kick option let's you save wear and tear on your ankle. Most telling is what happens when you fail. You loose a portion of your bricks, but are put back in the game with a chance to reclaim them, even at the hardest difficulty. The only events you can actually fail are the rare rock challenges.
The vocal harmonizing element seen in The Beatles Rock Band is absent. The final addition is the ability to switch to shorter versions of the songs. They're like radio edits, getting in the good parts without having to go round the chorus again and again. For the most part, it works, though some songs seem to end abruptly. Also, playing guitar to Queen's "We Will Rock You" is pretty stupid. It's Rock Band with some optional training wheels--basically what was advertised. The songs aren't by Raffi, but fit within a top 40 radio playlist that plunders past decades.
The game starts with a promising opening, aping Rock Band's own van odyssey, with occasional pantomimes in the story section as well. A lot of the unlockable items aren't specifically LEGO, nor are many parts of the background. The result ends up feeling like a missed opportunity to inject some LEGO flavor into the presentation.
Purchasing things with bricks instead of building them, even if just in name, seems fundamentally un-LEGO-like. Half the fun with LEGOs should be building, and even with the constant unlocks, it never seems to live up to the ideal of customization you'd expect.
Any game with the Ghostbusters' theme is already on a pedestal, but the song list looks a little thin and not as consistent as we've seen in games based on specific bands. This is probably what happens when a game relies on the banner of family friendliness instead of solid a musical motif.
There's nothing all that wrong with LEGO Rock Band. There're some fun songs to rock out to, all with most of the functionality of its big brother, and a handful of alterations to make the game easier. It's $10 dollars less than most titles, but it costs a tenner to export the songs. There's no instrument bundle, so if you don't already have an arsenal of plastic instruments, you'll need to buy them separately. The LEGO appeal is ultimately superficial, so you'll only really buy this if you like the music. If the 40-odd songs seems like a good deal for 50 bucks, than pawn the Fender Stratocaster and start rocking.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.