Released on November 3, 2009, Lego is the latest in the series of Rock Band games developed by Harmonix. This entry was developed in tandem with Traveler’s Tales, known for the Lego series of video games. LRB plays just like the other games in the series, with some minor aesthetic changes, thus allowing veterans pick up and play gameplay.
This review is addressed by a Rock Band neophyte with input from an expert who can play blindfolded on certain songs. Lego Rock Band is a great place to start for those new to this game series. I can only say that having this unique perspective on the game should pose for an interesting review. The story/career mode is Lego’s version of the Tour mode from previous games. In this, you form a band and rise through the ranks by playing gigs, attracting fans, and generally becoming more popular. As you gather more followers, you unlock new venues and more songs, with the ultimate goal being to become the Ultimate Rock Band. Simple and clean.
Graphics in Rock Band are somewhat hard to gauge, due to their games being wide releases and looking different on most consoles. Playing the Xbox 360 version, I was pleased by the Lego presentation of this game. Having only tried the original Rock Band, I find that the Lego palette does a lot to make this game different from the other in the series. This includes the whimsical look of the Lego band member avatars; those based on real bands such as Queen, and the everyday Lego people that you encounter on your road to superstardom. The PS3 version has no apparent visual differences if played on a similar setup. Perhaps looking at the Wii version would be strictly different…
The little touches, like the notes being Lego bricks and the opening a Lego recreation of a cutscene from an earlier series game, make me smile at the clever little touches. This was done to appeal to the younger crowd and those looking for a farcical take on the game franchise. I imagine that those who like Rock Band and like Legos will instantly favor the graphics.
Later on in the game, multiple players can engage in Rock Challenges, which involve tasks like exorcising ghosts from a haunted mansion while strumming to Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters to fending off a particularly gigantic octopus, dubbed “Rockoctopus” while set to Sum 41’s In Too Deep. These challenges are full of amusing details in the backgrounds and unlike most band games where you are too busy watching the notes to notice the background, LRB has players play in sections so that the inventive visuals are noticeable. My favorite bit was your running crew chiming in on the chorus on “GHOSTBUSTERS!!” Sweetness.
Given that Lego Rock Band is a music/rhythm game, it would be quite odd for the sound to not excel. The songs are all master recordings, and I’m glad that they didn’t skimp on that appeal even though the game was meant for younger audiences. It shows that Lego is still meant to be enjoyed by all Rock Band/Guitar Hero aficionados.
The song selection is a little light at 45 songs when compared to the 80 initially available in Rock Band 2, with similar numbers in Beatles Rock Band and Guitar Hero 5. The intended age doesn’t serve as an excuse, nor the price tag that is full retail. The songs run the gamut from fluffy pop like “Kung Fu Fighting” to different genres like Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” and Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name”, making the song selection quite diverse and definitely not solely intended for the younger crowd.
Gameplay is identical to previous Rock Band titles, with the player taking the role of one of 4 band members: guitar, bass guitar, drummer, or singer. For this review, I played bass guitar alternately with regular guitar and the same for my friend. Given that the game required instruments to play (unlike some previous Guitar Hero games) the logistics can be difficult if you don’t own the instruments. Sure, the controller can be cumbersome to use, but it should still be a viable option for those who don’t necessarily want to invest in the plastic instruments.
This aside, the gameplay works like this. You hold one of 5 colored buttons and strum the guitar accordingly. First time I tried the game, I played it like Dance Dance Revolution by just pressing the colored buttons (and proceeded to fail miserably). Getting the notes right consistently produces combos which nets you overdrive power. Once this bar reaches a certain level, the player can raise the guitar similar to the moves of many a guitar front man, and Overdrive mode activates. Depending on the amount in the bar, you can use this time to score additional points, which is very helpful for getting the highest numbers of stars (5) and essential for the best scores.
The drums plays more like DDR, in that you must hit each colored stand in time with each note. The foot pedal is used for each colored line, sometimes simultaneously with the drumming. Too bad I didn’t learn about the foot pedal until like my 3rd drumming session (though it does explain my average performance…)
Singing/microphone is actually more about the pitch and tone of your voice rather than getting the actual words right. This is a great idea, as having to know the correct words would limit the number of songs you can casually play. The tone varies throughout each song and requires practice to get just right. Luckily the game is pretty forgiving on exact timing. Overdrive mode works a bit differently as well, having you tap your hand on the mike at certain parts to score more points. I’m glad that overdrive plays differently for each band member.
There are the solos, in which one band member is the key to the song. The percentage correct grades your solo and factors into overall song performance. A new kind of solo is present in Lego Rock Band in the form of Rock Challenges. During these scripted events involving everything from demolition to ghost hunting (mentioned above), the member playing can jump in and out suddenly, making for an interesting experience. You have to keep a close eye on things, or you may find yourself messing up big time.
Another addition to Lego is the recovery/no fail mode. No doubt added to allay the challenge for younger players, this feature prevents a band/player from getting a game over at the expense of their money (studs). A bar near the left side of the screen monitors your progress. If it gets too low, you enter this mode, costing you a certain number of studs. If you hit the notes correctly, you have a chance to recover all the studs that you lost. I find this an interesting addition to Rock Band’s sometimes frustrating difficulty, but an option to turn it off would have been welcome, as this feature is present on all difficulties. People play Expert because they want a challenge. Speaking of…
Challenge in Lego Rock Band is better addressed by my counterpart on the PS3 version. From a Guitar Hero/Rock Band expert, Lego Rock Band leaves you very unsatisfied for those hoping for a challenge. Granted, it’s a Lego game and they’re made for a younger demographic, but the difficulty of this game is absolutely insulting. Developers should take note that there are people that want to purchase every rhythm game since that’s the genre they love playing. Reports of Expert mode being as difficult as previous series’ games are greatly exaggerated. Beatles on Expert was easy, this is just pitiful.
For a neophyte, Lego Rock Band still provides no challenge due to no possibility of game over. Super Easy mode is designed for “budding musicians” but because it only requires the player to hit any button or pad on the drums to succeed, it will not lead to anyone discovering the control nuances any time soon. The auto pedal kick makes more sense, as it may not be possible for younger players to reach the pedal.
Easy games don’t make players want to tackle more challenging fare; it makes them regard difficulty as a bad design choice. Remember Ninja Gaiden in 2004? It was praised like crazy, but many reviewers disliked the old-school difficulty, as if it was something alien to gaming. Replay value is present, but besides tour mode, the game never really ends. The whole repertoire of songs takes time to unlock, as well as collecting all of the minutiae that one can obtain via studs, so there is plenty to do. You’ll find yourself playing the songs more than more, especially with the ability to add the Lego library to other Rock Band games; for a fee that is.
In summation, Lego Rock Band is an interesting attempt to appeal to a younger age group through its decreased challenge. Veterans will balk at these changes, but new directions in gaming always result in this. Just look at the Wii. When games are as popular as the rhythm genre, not everything is going to be praised by all. I just don’t want Lego’s new features to be forced on other games in this genre.
- Ugly Bob