Traveller's Tales has found surprising success over the past few years with its playful action adventure games that combine familiar intellectual properties like Star Wars and Batman with that finest of Danish exports, LEGOs. Traveller's Tales has taken this chocolate-and-peanut-butter idea in an intriguing, peculiar direction with LEGO Rock Band, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a standard Rock Band experience that's been coated in those distinctive plastic building blocks.
Unlike Traveller's Tales previous LEGO efforts, the LEGO element feels more like cutesy window dressing here than an integral part of the experience. With the LEGO license and the E10+ rating, LEGO Rock Band is ostensibly an all-ages, family-friendly angle on the Rock Band formula. But in pursuing an everything-for-everybody design, the game ends up with a track list that's just as unfocused as Activision's competing Band Hero, though without that game's overall polish. There's nothing inherently faulty about the underlying ideas here, but in execution LEGO Rock Band is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.
LEGO Rock Band largely abides by the basic structure that you've come to know from the other Rock Band games. You've got full support for guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, and you can play with any combination thereof in either a free play mode or the game's story mode. Other than the addition of a new super easy difficulty and a generally more forgiving level of difficulty than the mainline Rock Band games, the only real significant difference gameplay-wise is the LEGO Recovery Mode. Usually, when you fail out of a song in Rock Band, it requires another player to sacrifice some portion of his or her overdrive meter to bring you back into the action. With the LEGO Recovery Mode, you can earn your second chance to keep going after you've failed out by successfully hitting a series of notes. Beyond making it possible to keep yourself going when you're playing solo, it's not necessarily a better way to handle keeping everyone in the game, but it's different.
Alternately, the story mode in LEGO Rock Band feels like a more confined version of the world tour mode that has helped Rock Band turn its persistent experience into more than a list of songs to be played through. The issues I take with the story mode are twofold. While you still open up new songs, new venues, new modes of transport, and additional support staff for your band as you play, you get none of the globe-trotting feel of being a rock band out on tour. It is, admittedly, primarily an issue of presentation. The menus just move from one room to another inside your Rock Den, which serves as a customizable base of operation for your band, rather than some kind of world map. My other big issue is that I felt there were more choke points in the story progression where I found myself forced to play, or in the more bothersome circumstances, replay songs that I had little interest in playing in order to advance.
This second issue is exacerbated by the fact that the track list in LEGO Rock Band is just all over the place in a way that makes me suspect that the folks behind this game weren't really sure who they were making this game for. Goofy crowd-pleasers like Bon Jovi's “You Give Love a Bad Name”, Queen's “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You”, Carl Douglas' “Kung Fu Fighting”, and Ray Parker Jr.'s “Ghostbusters” seem to be aimed at a more casual crowd than the usual Rock Band game, and that seems like the right direction for LEGO Rock Band. But then the novelty songs and Top 40 stuff is accompanied by b-sides from bands like Counting Crows, Blink 182, Supergrass, and Good Charlotte, and a number of bands that I've just simply never heard of. Maybe that's a personal failing, but I feel like a track list that's meant to be Fun For the Whole Family should be more consistently familiar and hummable. To its credit, LEGO Rock Band has support for Rock Band DLC, opening up the music you can play here. You can also export the track list out of LEGO Rock Band for an additional, fairly nominal fee, making them available for play in other Rock Band games that support general DLC. In the context of a larger Rock Band play list, the songs available here make a whole lot more sense.
For as fundamentally similar to past Rock Band games as this is, there's something about the basic gameplay in LEGO Rock Band that just feels off. It's pretty subtle, and if you haven't played a whole lot of Rock Band, you might not notice, but it's somehow more mechanical, like there's more of a disconnect between what you're hearing and how you're playing.
In the end, LEGO Rock Band just doesn't do a terrific job of justifying its existence as a standalone game. The LEGO hook doesn't go too far beyond the superficial novelty of watching little Lego people jump around bombastic venues as you play, and too much of the music just feels mismatched to the underlying concept. Even if you're looking for an experience that's more kid-friendly, there are still better ways to rock.