Review: Lego Rock Band (Nintendo Wii)

Lego Rock Band
Genre: Rhythm Game
Developer: Harmonix/Traveller’s Tales
Publisher: MTV Games/Warner Bros. Interactive
Release Date: 11/03/2009

I absolutely love Lego. If I ever have a kid, I’m going to spoil him with so many Lego blocks that he will not know what to do with them. Then I will build some gigantic space castle with all the blocks, under the excuse that I wanted to have fun with him.

I also happen to absolutely love Rock Band. Ever since the first one came out, I have spent quite a bit of money on downloadable content, both for me and my friends. I just love pretending to be a rock star, despite being unable to play a real guitar. However, I am beginning to think that I could be a kickass drummer in real life, as long as I have some coloured notes scrolling down in front of me.

Does that mean that Lego Rock Band is automatically my game of the year? Of course not. After all, while some things that taste great individually can indeed mix and create heavenly results (peanut butter and jelly sandwich, anyone?), the opposite is just as true (whoever it is in the city of Valleyfield who thought that bacon and chocolate could mix should be sitting in a corner with his dunce cap on). It’s so easy to screw up a formula that seems so simple.

Let’s find out if Lego and Rock Band is a marriage made in heaven or if it’s an abomination that should never be spoken of again.

STORY/MODES:

There is no story to speak of in Lego Rock Band. If you do follow the mode labeled as such, all you get in terms of narrative is a couple of cut scenes linking together changes of scenery and illustrating the purpose of the all-new Rock Challenges (more on these later). You also get an intro, which is quite hilarious I must admit, that shows how your band came to be. Otherwise, the mode is simply a succession of gigs in different settings, just like in the previous installment of Rock Band.

The other modes include the usual Freeplay, which lets you enjoy the songs alone or with friends, and a training mode, which lets you practice the songs without failing. There is no Music Store in the Wii version. Yes, the songs released for the target demographic of this game are still available in the in-game store of Rock Band 2, but if you bought this game as your first music related title, then you are out of luck. The 45 on-disc songs are all you are going to get.

As you can see, the selection of modes is pretty standard for a music game, but the lack of a music store really hurts for first time players.

Story/Modes Rating: Mediocre

GRAPHICS:

The graphics are very irregular throughout the game. Let’s start with the on-screen displays and the menus: they are crystal clear, and nothing more could be asked of them. The notes scrolling down on the screen are sharp and easy to see, even when playing with three other band mates.

On the other hand, everything that uses the Lego characters is blurry and somewhat distorted. The cut scenes showing these characters are blurry enough to make me think that I might have forgot to put in my contacts. The same goes for the shows put on by your band in the background while you play. The graphics are bad enough to the point of being distracting.

I know that this is the Wii and that it is nearly impossible to make something as sharp as on the Xbox 360 or the PS3, but this kind of eyesore screams of laziness in porting the game between the systems. It just looks like the graphics from the other two consoles were compressed and thrown hastily to the Wii development team. Either the development team was lazy or they simply didn’t care. The other Lego-themed games on the system were much better looking, so I simply cannot see an excuse for a releasing a product this ugly.

Graphics Rating: Pretty Poor

SOUND:

This is where the game really shines. From a technical point of view, the sound is loud and clear. The music really shines, as do the sound effects, such as buildings blowing up or the various sounds fighting a giant octopus makes in the Rock Challenges. Whatever is happening on screen, it sounds good and it has a lot of impact.

As far as the musical selection goes, it tries to please everybody with songs from most genres that have hit the mainstream since the 70’s. Old favourites like David Bowie, Queen, The Police and Jimi Hendrix join new stars like Vampire Weekend and We The Kings. You can even play classics that I never thought I would see in a rhythm game, such as Ghostbusters, Kung Fu Fighting and Summer of 69. There’s even The Final Countdown!

This is a soundtrack that is certainly crowd-pleasing, and Harmonix did a good job in finding a nice balance between classic songs and emerging pop acts.

Sound Rating: Classic

CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY:

Most gamers have at least an idea of how to play Rock Band, but since this is a title that is aimed more at the casual market and first-time players, I will try to explain the game as quickly as possible. Coloured notes scroll down to the bottom of the screen, and you try to play them in time with the music. This is achieved either by strumming the guitar, hitting the drums, or singing at the correct time. The game judges your performance on timing, accuracy and pitch.

Harmonix has developed a lot of music games, so you can be sure that they have the technique down to a science. Therefore, the technical aspects of Lego Rock Band are nothing short of perfect. The system has been tested and proven, and it still works just as well as it did in the previous games. You can still save your band mates with Overdrive, and in case this isn’t enough to finish the songs, there’s an all-new super easy mode where all that is required is strumming or hitting the drums in time with the music. There is no need to play the correct colour here.

As far as gameplay goes, the biggest innovation here is the concept of Rock Challenges. You will encounter these during the story mode, once in every setting. The challenges strip the members of their individual meter, replacing it with one that gauges the entire band, so that if one person fails, everybody fails. They also put the band in a silly little situation where the solution is always the power of rock and roll, such as getting rid of ghosts, bringing down a building or fighting a giant octopus. These challenges are a fun little addition, and can be replayed at any time.

Another addition is the Rock Den, which serves as a hub for everything that can be done in the story mode. The Den can be improved by buying decorations using studs (the game’s currency) acquired while playing songs. From the Den, you can edit your band and its members, hire staff to help you on tour, buy new vehicles to unlock new locations or practice songs you’re having trouble with. It’s all very simple and well explained, so you are never left to wonder just what you are supposed to do next. None of these new additions will revolutionize the genre, but the added customization is fun and helps to personalize the experience.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Classic

REPLAYABILITY:

The song selection is fun enough to make me want to play this game again and again. However, at 45 songs, this is by far the shortest set list of every band game, including releases from both the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series. Yes, the songs presented here are replay-worthy, but the small number of songs available means that you can quickly get tired of these songs.

This would be a moot point is there was some downloadable content available, but the Wii version scraps that feature, which is somehow available for Rock Band 2 and The Beatles: Rock Band, both older games. When you know that the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions both offer downloadable songs as well as the ability to play songs you already imported from previous versions of the game, this decision concerning Nintendo’s console is pretty baffling.

Otherwise, playing through the same songs again and again can still be appealing in order to get a 5-stars rating on every track. More stars mean more studs and more fans, both of which can unlock new parts in the Rock Shop to customize your avatar.

The game tries to make best with the available set list, but the lack of DLC really drags the score down here.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

BALANCE:

As usual with the series, the game offers a good balance between easy songs and tracks that will make your eyes melt because of the sheer amount of notes scrolling down at a breakneck speed. There’s a big difference between the steady rhythm of We Will Rock You and the crazy solo on The Final Countdown, but the developers made sure to fill the tiers in between with a good progression to meet the skills of every players.

While this game has a nice progression when taken by itself, when compared to the rest of the series, some of the riffs and drum beats are not as challenging as what you would usually see in the upper tiers of Rock Band 2 and its downloadable content. There is nothing that matches, say, Painkiller by Judas Priest. This is not to say that the game is completely easy, but the challenge is much less steep than in previous installments.

Balance Rating: Above Average

ORIGINALITY:

This is just like the Rock Band you know, but with Lego characters and blocks. Both concepts have been exploited time and time again, from the countless Lego games starring renowned movie series’ to the yearly iterations of the main Rock Band series. In fact, this is the second Rock Band game in about two months, following the September release of The Beatles: Rock Band. The count gets even higher when you include games from the Guitar Hero series, which uses the same basic gameplay.

What I am trying to say here is that by now, the game is far from being original. Even when throwing the Lego charm on top of it all, it still remains the same basic Rock Band experience you have been playing for a couple of years. The addition of the Rock Challenges and the extended customization do little to hide that fact.

Originality Rating: Poor

ADDICTIVENESS:

This is a very hard game to put down. The multiplayer aspect is so much fun that you can build entire nights around it. Even the single player mode is fun enough to make you come back. When you find a song that you like, odds are that you will play it every day until you get absolutely sick of it. I don’t know if it’s the illusion of finally being a worthy musician or the sheer fun of goofing around with friends, but this game hooks you in without even trying.

Addictiveness Rating: Classic

APPEAL FACTOR:

Granted, the Rock Band/Guitar Hero phenomenon is starting to lose a bit of steam, but it still has enough adepts to make the yearly releases worth the companies’ time. Combine that with the ageless charm of Lego, and you have a juggernaut which probably won’t have any trouble selling a good number of copies. The set list is also good enough to convince Rock Band players who would otherwise pass. If you treat this as a 45-songs track pack, the value comes at a little more than a dollar per song, which is a pretty good deal.

Appeal Factor Rating: Good

MISCELLANEOUS:

The Lego characters do add a lot of humour to a game that would otherwise simply rely on its music. The opening video is a very funny spoof of the usual Rock Band intro, where musicians rock out on moving vehicles. This game does for its new material the same that it did for Star Wars or Indiana Jones: it successfully parodies the source without removing what made it fun in the first place.

I would also like to mention that the game takes avatar customization to the extreme: the sheer number of unlockable body parts, instruments and Rock Den decorations is simply amazing. If you take just a little bit of time, your characters and their hangout will satisfyingly represent just what you would expect out of your band, if you were just a little bit more rich or famous. It might not have a lot of impact on the gameplay, but for a guy who spends hours fiddling with his created characters in any game that offers the option, it makes a lot of difference.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores:
Story/Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Pretty Poor
Sound: Classic
Control/Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal: Good
Miscellaneous: Good

Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
If you liked the previous Rock Band titles, then your enjoyment of this game depends on two things: your appreciation of the new set list and your overall enjoyment of Lego products. If you do appreciate the music and like Lego, then by all means, you should buy the game. If one or the other doesn’t quite check out with you, then this should be a pass. The lack of exportable songs or downloadable content for the Wii version is a huge deterrent for Rock Band-only fans, while young Lego fans might not get what’s the big deal about playing songs by Queen and Iggy Pop. Yes, it’s a good game, but make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.

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