A Solid Game, But A Disappointing One
Given the ability of the team at Traveller’s Tales to take beloved franchises and overhaul them with a charming Lego aesthetic, and the success of Harmonix’s Rock Band franchise in recent years, Lego: Rock Band doesn’t seem like such a bad idea at first glance, unfortunately this instalment of the long-running rhythm game series fails to quite hit its mark.
At the base of Lego: Rock Band is what you know and love, it’s the classic Rock Band gameplay which still manages to present as much fun as it ever did, and unsurprisingly stands out as one of the game’s biggest strengths. Much of the wrapper around this high quality gameplay is a little disappointing though. Not that every Rock Band game revolutionises the formula but they’ve all generally brought something new and substantial to the core experience, while instead the only new mechanic you’ll actually find while playing the songs in Lego: Rock Band is the recovery system. After failing out players can now try and complete special recovery sections to get back in play, which may help younger players but altogether doesn’t add much to the game. With the far more lenient difficulty of the game though, I found myself almost never using feature in anyway.
The world tour itself consists of unlocking a number of different vehicles to take you from place to place, and venues such as underground mines, pirate islands, and train stations are accessed by scrolling through your garage and selecting various modes of transport. Not only does this give a rather drab and enclosed approach to the experience of touring the world with your band, but there are also far too many gigs in the story mode for the size of the track list. Lego: Rock Band sports a track list of 45 songs as opposed to Rock Band 2’s 84, but this would be a problem if the length of the story mode accommodated for it, instead you’ll find yourself playing through many pre-built setlists, mystery setlists, and build-a-setlist scenarios, repeating songs you really rather wouldn’t to progress.
The game also lets you buy and assign various different people to your band’s management team as you progress, such as a PR person and a music video director, which boost the number of fans and studs you receive from playing gigs. Presumably this was done to emulate the kind of multipliers that you accrue in other Lego games, and while it is perhaps a mild thrill to see your fans and studs amassing, it doesn’t have quite the same appeal it did in other Lego games where studs were collected more directly through your actions in the game world. What’s more, the game has a tendency to give you more studs than you really know what to do with, and by the time you finish the story mode you’ll likely be left with a considerable number more studs than you could ever spend.
This probably paints a bit of a sorry picture of the Lego: Rock Band career mode but it’s not all doom and gloom, the game does feature a unique high point that other titles of the Rock Band series don’t boast, albeit more of an aesthetic one than a gameplay one. It comes in the form of the power rock challenges, individual gigs where you’ll play songs to special cutscenes where you utilise the power of rock to solve the problems of troubled Lego mini-figures. It may not sound like much but demolishing a building to The Hives’ Tick Tick Boom or scaring the ghosts out of an old mansion with Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters is an intensely fun experience and it makes you wish there were a lot more of these moments in the game.
As for the rest of the game’s visual appeal, it sadly leaves a little to be desired. The other Lego games thrive on taking characters, locations, and objects from well-recognised fiction and giving them an undeniable charm by simulating them in Lego, but without any strongly iconic characters or venues the same can’t be done in Lego: Rock Band. The game tries to make up for it by presenting Lego versions of bands like Queen and Blur now and then, and throwing in a few legitimately charming cutscenes, but the package as a whole never really goes beyond “somewhat cute”. From a technical standpoint the graphics could also do with a little polish as well. They rarely look offensively bad but considering that the game was released roughly a year after Rock Band 2 and that it is trying to pride itself on its aesthetics they really could do with a little spit-and-shine. Taking into account that this is a Lego game it’s also somewhat surprising that there isn’t more Lego in the environments, I want my Lego games to be teaming with Lego buildings and Lego pirate ships, yet for some reason the game seems more contented with offering up more boring realistic materials in their place.
The option exists in the game to customise your characters, from band members to road managers and the game boasts a fairly sizeable collection of parts. This activity is more likely to be fun for younger players of the game, with the restrictions of Lego never really making the customisation feel as flashy as it does in the other Rock Band games, but there is a bit of fun to be had there. Oh, and the fact that some parts are yellow and some parts are real skin colours, and that male and female parts are sort of thrown in with each other does make the whole character customisation feel a little cheaply slapped together. One small but rather weird weakness of the game is that without a way to distinguish between male and female band members, the game will leave a single band member singing both male and female songs, regardless of their sex. You can also customise your “rock den”, which acts as the main menu of the story mode but with a clunky interface, the rarity with which you visit this den, some irksome customisation restrictions, and the general dreary appearance of the area to begin with it’s not an appealing component of the game.
As you’d expect the track list is of a very high quality but it’s important to keep in mind that this is not your usual Rock Band game. Rather than go for a collection of songs spanning all eras and genres, Lego: Rock Band is instead far more focused on compiling a number of family-friendly classic tracks from artists such as Queen, the Jackson 5, and Elton John, and putting them alongside tracks from bands much more popular with the younger generation, such as Blink 182, All-American Rejects, and Sum 41. This orientation of tracks is much more likely to resonate with younger players, while older players may find about half of the track list to be a confusing contrast to the rest.
All in all Lego: Rock Band is a decent game but this is almost entirely because of the Rock Band side of it, while the attempt to adapt it to the Lego universe, sadly often works to its detriment. It’s more likely to be of interest to kids than adults and while it offers up a solid experience for those who really love their Rock Band, it also stands out as the low point of the series.