LEGO Rock Band Review
Developer: Harmonix, Traveller’s Tales, Backbone / Publisher: MTV Games, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment / ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence, Mild Lyrics) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $29.99
LEGO Rock Band tries to be a family-friendly adaptation of the already over-saturated Rock Band franchise (since when was the series not family-friendly in the first place?) — yet fails to hit the mark with difficult gameplay and even some suggestive lyrics. Bubblegum pop music and cartoony graphics do not instantly equate to something the whole family can enjoy.
The cheeky little rockers in LEGO Rock Band are undeniably adorable, and yes, they will appeal to everyone — they’re based on a timeless toy, after all. You can customize your own LEGO musician, the rest of your band, your entourage, and even your roadies to make sure everyone is looking just the way you want them. It’s not as intricate as other create-a-character modes we’re used to now, but these are LEGOs we’re talking about. Having a decent selection of blocky heads, wigs, torsos and legs is more than enough.
The LEGO theme goes beyond the characters, too. Naturally, the decorations in your home-hub Rock Den and your tour car/van/bus are all made of the same plastic building blocks. The musical notes are little LEGO pieces as well, but it is a little strange that the rest of the graphical elements are old-school Rock Band. Why not make LEGO-fied “star power” visuals, HUD elements, and more?
LEGO Rock Band’s hub world is one of the game’s bright spots. Instead of a simple menu to navigate to the different modes, the Rock HUD is a virtual LEGO home that houses different gameplay options including Free Play, a Practice Stage, the Rock Shop and more. It’s a glorified menu, sure, but here, you can also check out the unlockables you’ve collected and placed in this home, such as LEGO wall signs or LEGO band vans in the garage. In the Rock Shop you can customize everyone in your band, entourage and roadie crew. You can select how they look and buy new instruments for yourself or for your other band mates. In the Office you can check your stats, change your band’s logo and hire new entourage members who each give you different perks and modifiers in the game, such as a Street Team Boss who gives you 10% more fans, a Music Video Director who gives you 30% more fans, an Intern who will help you earn 10% more “studs” (aka, cash) and so on.
Also in the Rock Den are options to re-watch cutscenes, purchase new tour vehicles and replay Rock Power Challenges. These challenges, by the way, could be one of the more interesting additions to the series, giving the game a more campaign-like mode with real story elements — well, “real story” relative to the LEGO universe, that is. But at the very least, it gives players something more meaningful than just the “play here, get more fans, now play there, get more fans again” grind.
For example, in the first Rock Power Challenge you encounter, you’ll see a few construction workers trying to demolish an old building. Nothing they do seems to work, so your band comes along to help bring down the building with the power of screaming vocals, bass and beats, and good ol’ fashioned rock and roll. As you play through the song the game will give each player in the band a temporary break, which causes their gameplay tracks to disappear off-screen so they can watch the destruction as it’s happening in the background. Rock Power Challenges give the player huge stud and fan bonuses if completed.
One doesn’t have to have the best taste in music to be able to recognize that LEGO Rock Band is bubbling over with some of the worst of the worst in pop music, but naturally, it’s up to each player (or potential player) to decide this for himself. The majority of the song list feels like someone just turned on a kid pop station and pulled songs at random without even listening to the lyrics.
Take Good Charlotte’s “Girls & Boys” for example, a song about material girls that only care about money. “She’ll get what she wants if she’s willing to please, his type of girl always comes with a fee” — for such a “family-friendly” game, LEGO Rock Band sure has some surprisingly mature lyrics, ones I wouldn’t necessarily want my younger sisters reading and singing along to.
Perhaps that attitude is on the more conservative “cranky old lady” end of the spectrum. But if those lines are considered appropriate for all ages, then why the distinction in the first place? All Rock Bands are thus “family friendly.”
In LEGO Rock Band, you can find all the standard difficulty settings from past Rock Bands, with the addition of Very Easy, which is a big misnomer. We’re used to easier difficulties giving us fewer notes and tracks to deal with, so one would expect a kid-friendly Very Easy to be simple enough for very, very young players to try out. Instead, it has just as many notes as Easy (and in LEGO Rock Band, Easy isn’t really that easy!), only it’s more forgiving. With drums, for example, the kick pedal is automated and simultaneous beats (say, red and green at the same time) only need one of them to be registered (just the red or the green will count for both). Why not go through the development effort to make it truly “Very Easy” with even fewer notes or just two colors, so that six-year-old Hannah can play along with her older brothers or sisters?
LEGO Rock Band completely misses a lot of the marks. I would not recommend the game unless it’s to someone out there who is a diehard LEGO fan — and if there is such a thing, they’re probably better off building another life-sized LEGO dinosaur than playing this watered down Rock Band. Although giving players a home base hub to showcase their in-game LEGO unlockables and a pseudo story mode are great ideas, this game’s roller-coaster difficulty is just too unfriendly for casual-gaming families to enjoy thoroughly.
When the game was announced, everyone asked “Why?” Unfortunately, we still don’t have the answer to that.