Rock Band is back with LEGO, but does it stick?
It's easy to picture LEGO Rock Band from the title alone but it's much harder to understand how it came together. Someone might have lost a bet a long time ago, but for whatever reason we have lego characters and the Rock Band format coming together in one gaming package. A review could probably be summed up in a few simple questions. Do you like legos? Do you like Rock Band? Do you like the songs included on disk? However, there's a bit more going on beyond the obvious. While it's true this game plays like any Rock Band or Guitar Hero title, it has plenty of little features that might make or break a purchase. Most long term fans are probably wondering if this game is anything more than a 50 USD (plus 10 USD export fee) expansion pack featuring legos. It won't take long to find out the game takes full advantage of its lego crossover . . . but does that make it fun and entertaining? The answer is tougher than you might expect.
The soundtrack is the most important thing to consider when buying any rhythm game. The set list of LEGO Rock Band is more family friendly oriented than previous installments but it's pretty good about staying away from songs too sugary or syrupy to play along with. It ranges from brilliant choices like "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker Jr., "The Final Countdown" by Europe, "Song 2" by Blur, and utterly forgettable songs. Anyone planning to export LEGO Rock Band should take a hard look at the set list and what they're willing to live with. Export is a block download so there's no opportunity to pick and choose like Rock Band's export function. It's all or nothing.
Additionally, this game will play havoc with your DLC. Any songs that violate the family friendly goal of the game will be locked out and excluded from the set list. This is the most crippling aspect of LEGO Rock Band. Out of the 400 plus songs I had downloaded, a little less than half showed up. And what makes a song family friendly is a bit confusing. For instance, "Ride the Lightning" by Metallica was understandably left out, but "Electric Crown" by Testament was left in. Also "Toxicity" by System of a Down is apparently fun for the whole family, but if you're looking to play "Hella Good" by No Doubt you're out of luck. Establishing censorship so late in the DLC lifespan can't be easy, but it's still a real shame. I really wanted to see a lego character grunt out "(We Are) The Road Crew '08" by Motorhead.
The game play of LEGO Rock Band is what you would expect. Players attempt to hit notes scrolling down a highway to play a song, or match a pitch indicator if singing. A few tricks are included along with the basic package. There's a new difficulty included as Super Easy. And if you go into the options you can enable auto-kick for drummers. This plays the orange kick drum lines automatically. Also, you can select short versions of songs before you play them if you're in a hurry. Most importantly there is no failing in LEGO Rock Band except for specific challenges in story mode. The only penalty for failing out of a song is losing points (which also counts as in game currency). For every new feature I couldn't help but think it should be patched into Rock Band 2. Especially auto-kick, if only to pass "Painkiller" on expert for once. LEGO Rock Band is more flexible for new or upcoming players, but still pulls no punches on expert.
The strongest part of LEGO Rock Band is the level of customization in the story mode. It takes full advantage of all things lego. You can mix and match pieces of your band mates, your road crew, and even your staff as you unlock them. If you want a pumpkin headed guy wearing a bowler hat rocking out to "The Passenger", go for it. If you want your manager to look like a guy in a heavy diving suit, nothing is stopping you. You'll also have the opportunity to buy furniture and plenty of crazy knick-knacks for your rock den (hub) during story mode. None of this affects game play, but it can be amusing. Of course, this depends on how much you like legos and how they snap together. With that in mind, LEGO Rock Band is heavy on unlocking stuff. The only thing you don't have to work for is the list of songs, which is instantly available in Quick Play.
Other than that you'll play through venues, make set lists, record albums, and face challenge songs. Challenge songs are the only time you can actually fail in this game. They're like music videos of your band demolishing buildings, bustin' ghosts, and making it rain with the power of rock alone. The pacing of these challenges is a little weak. If you think it's hard to follow up "The Final Countdown" with what they have in the game, you'd be right. And you can probably guess the final song just by looking at the set list.
Lastly we have lego celebrities. David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Blur, Queen, and another gang of guest performers will show up in story mode and quick play from time to time. They're good for a laugh or two but ultimately they feel like Harmonix poking fun at the whole concept of including digital representations of famous artists. It's pretty hard to make out who they are without a prompt or the song telling you who it is. Especially the guys from Blur, who look like any number of the hundreds of lego characters you'll unlock throughout the game. And these are guest performers only. You won't be able to mix and match Lego Bowie's suspenders with Lego Brian May's pants. And no lego dude will ever look as ripped as Lego Iggy Pop. It's probably for the best, but it's still a bummer. I had the gaming expectation that I could get Lego Iggy Pop to be the front man of my band at some point. They're novel, they're kind of funny, but that's all they are.
LEGO Rock Band has a few interesting features and gimmicks but it doesn't have the staying power of previous Rock Band games. My copy was plauged with freezing issues on loading screens, between menus, and venues with or without the hard drive install. Also, the family friendly element feels like a concession for parents rather than kids who might actually play the game. The ten year olds I know are already listening to Slipknot and Avenged Sevenfold and wouldn't know who David Bowie is or even care. If you do end up buying it, play through it once, export the set list, and remember it how you want. It's the weakest entry in the series, but it's still Rock Band at heart.