Review: LEGO Rock Band

What do you get when you combine the innocence and hilarity of the LEGO universe with one of the most successful music simulation titles going right now? A bona fide hit, of course. The latest entry into the Rock Band saga, LEGO Rock Band, is a fresh look at the franchise, as well as a great place to start for younger gamers or those of us who just love toying around with LEGOs. Was its release necessary? The gaming populace will say no, but frankly, I’m thankful this project came to be. It’s cute. It’s wacky. It’s just what you would expect from the world of LEGO, and I’m actually quite pleased.

All of the traditional Rock Band conventions have returned in this installment. You can, of course, sing, drum, and strum. It’s the exact same game you’re used to, except much like Activision’s Band Hero, LEGO Rock Band is geared more toward the little ones and the families who play with them. Because of this, you have a more kid-friendly soundtrack (with some questionable songs that I wouldn’t exactly include) as well as a more colorful and fun storyline that never takes itself too seriously. You’ll start off by creating your very own LEGO rock band — of course — and adorning your diminutive drummer (or vocalist, or guitarist) character with items available from your Stash. Unlike in previous iterations, not counting The Beatles: Rock Band, there are significantly fewer LEGO parts with which to build your character, so settling on an overall “look” feels just a bit stunted. Still, I suppose the lack of detailed customization goes hand-in-hand with the game’s “geared-for-kids” motif, much like its exclusion of online multiplayer.

Once you’ve assembled your Motley Crue, or aspiring rockers, it’s time to kick out the jams. As in every other music/rhythm title produced as of lately, you’re aiming to become the very best. Like no one ever was. To jam on is your real test, and to headbang is your cause. Similarly, you will travel across the world in various different vehicles, unlocking new venues, challenges, and special items to add to your stash. In a nutshell, you’ll obviously be doing the exact same things you’ve done in all previous installments. The only real and discernible differences come in the form of minor gameplay tweaks, tongue-in-cheek LEGO humor, and most notably, the inclusion of special LEGO-themed challenges that correspond to several songs on the setlist.

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While you’re adventuring across the world aiming for stardom, certain setlists will feature challenges that can involve the entire band, or just you if you’re flying solo. In these special circumstances, you’ll be presented with wacky cut scenes prior to playing your set. For instance, you’ll need to help out a construction crew who’s having a bit of trouble bringing down an old building. While playing through The Hives’ “Tick Tick Boom,” rather than watching your band perform, you’re treated to the very destruction of that building via the power of rock. It’s quite the hilarious display, especially a later segment featuring “Ghostbusters” and chasing away ghosties so that your band can perform. It’s an interesting spin on the typical scene where your rockers are flailing about onstage, and a direction I found myself wishing the more “serious” Rock Band titles would take. In instances where you’re playing with friends in your living room, it turns a typical, boring song into a miniature adventure, and a reason to carry on with the World Tour when you feel like dropping out.

Though initially you can’t do too much with your band nor your custom rocker, simply playing through the main campaign mode will net you plenty of cool extras to decorate your in-game hangout with. There’s even a “Very Easy” mode for gamers of all skill levels to join in and bag all kinds of goodies to decorate with. It seemed that after just about every gig, I was unlocking an ungodly amount of bonus items, which was just fine and all, but obviously the overall difficulty has been lowered to accommodate casual players and children — perhaps so as not to disturb Mom and Dad with crying about “how hard” the game is for not tossing out rewards.

Even though LEGO Rock Band is, essentially, a re-skinned, more family-friendly version of Rock Band, it’s most certainly not without its merits. It’s all about the little touches, such as the tidbits of LEGO lore on the loading screens, and the quirky humor that could only come from the LEGO universe. It all works hand in hand to keep the game fresh when it could feel as old and stale as early attempts at Guitar Hero spinoffs. I found myself pushing forward through songs I’d never dream of playing simply to unlock new challenges and find out what the devs had come up with. The LEGO universe has a certain whimsy about it that you can’t quite turn away from — perhaps that’s one reason the LEGO Batman, LEGO Indiana Jones, and similar titles sell so well.

While the track list can certainly be considered a bit meager, especially with retreads that have been in more recent music titles, it’s quite varied and should provide great choices for the entire family. The All-American Rejects, T-Rex, Good Charlotte, Bon Jovi, and more offer up toe-tappers that we’re all familiar with, though there are a good amount of unknowns interspersed with popular songs, which to me was a bit of an odd decision, seeing as it’s aimed toward families and children whom I’m willing to bet don’t peruse the indie scene quite so often.

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There’s no online multiplayer, so if you’re looking to take the show on the road you might want to think again. Of course, as staff writer The Herp has pointed out to me, that’s most certainly a good thing — it encourages youngsters and families to play together rather than hopping online to shout obscenities and tell me to get back in the kitchen. And I’ll trade that solace for a lack of online multiplayer. Why not?

Though the visuals may seem dated to those who expect the nuanced Rock Band models, they’re bright, chipper, and fun. The LEGO band members don’t speak, as per usual, but communicate via usage of sly gestures and facial expressions. Guest appearances by Freddie Mercury and David Bowie up the ante as well. The LEGO versions of the stars are simply too cute for words.

The amount of swag you can rack up simply by playing through the game is staggering, however, and you can theme your in-game lounge practically any way you want by putting it all to good use. Coupled with several different vehicles, stages, and accessories, there’s plenty of gameplay here if you want to sink the time into it. It looks great. It sounds great — if you enjoy the music, and there’s lots of doodads to mess around with.

LEGO Rock Band may be an old dog with a few new tricks, but that’s not stopping it from being entertaining. A few small, tasteful tweaks allow me to highly recommend it for younger games, casual gamers, hardcore gamers — anyone who’s a fan of music. It might not reinvent the Rock Band franchise, but it’s a smart, earnest effort at bringing the LEGO brand to the music world, and just between you and me, I welcome more!

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