The natural conclusion to plastic guitars.
The words "Lego Rock Band" make the pessimist in me conjure up images of plastic yellow midgets bipping and bopping to a setlist of Hannah Montana, Jonas Brothers, and Blink 182 in front of an audience of screaming tweens and a pile of dead parents who have blood running out of their ears. But given that the Lego brand of video games has a history of turning would-be gore and murder into family-friendly coins and hand-slapping without sabotaging any of the fun, I didn’t need to worry.
[image1]Though Lego Rock Band sits well within the framework of its franchise by catering to kids – or more precisely, people with kids – it’s careful not to dumb down the solid gameplay of Rock Band. The setlist does have corny pop songs like "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker Jr, "So What" by Pink, "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas, "In Too Deep" by Sum 41, and "Aliens Exist" by Blink 182, but it also chooses energetic and catchy tunes that have wider appeal like "Ruby" by Kaiser Chiefs, "Let’s Dance" by David Bowie, "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and The Waves, and "Fire" by Jimi Hendrix.
As you might expect, a healthy portion of the 45-song setlist are guilty pleasures or songs that most of us will only sing if we have had somewhere between three to seven beers. (A case-in-point fill in the blank: I will sing "_______" before I sing Pink.) Since kids have short attention spans and probably won’t understand the intricacies of Rush or Dream Theatre, the lack of hardcore rock songs is understandable. There’s even a toggle for the short "radio edit" version of a track so that your hyperactive fourth-grader doesn’t get bored by the sixth chorus of some song by The Police.
[image2]Any downloadable track for Rock Band that passes through a content filter can be imported into Lego Rock Band – you don’t want little Timmy playing Nine Inch Nails next to grandpa on Easter. If you would rather play on Rock Band, you have the option to turn Lego Rock Band into what is essentially a 45-song track pack for a small licensing fee. As always, most pre-existing peripherals for Rock Band and Guitar Hero will be compatible, and thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be any plans for a plastic guitar made out of brightly colored bricks (…oh, what have I done).
Several features have been introduced to make Lego Rock Band more accessible to children, notably the Lego credo of not being able to "die". Players who miss one too many notes won’t fail out but instead lose all the studs (or points), the in-game currency, that they have earned in the song so far. But to be gentle, they can recover up to all of their lost studs if they hit the notes in the recovery phrases that follow. In addition to Super Easy mode where players only have to strum the notes at the right time (you can hold down any button), the option to automate the kick pedal for the drums has been added not just for kids with short legs, but for those with leg disabilities.
[image3]More substantial, the traditionally straightforward and staid World Tour mode has been sprinkled with Lego cheer in the shape of adorable avatars and cut-scenes. Ninja, pirate, wizard, a werewolf with a pegleg – your character can be outfitted from everything within the fantasy realm of rock awesomeness where unicorns with glam hair gallop to power chords and apocalyptic thunder… or something like that. Using studs, you can purchase new clothing, new furniture, and new vehicles to get to new venues (no word on whether you can be Iggy Pop’s or David Bowie’s in-game Lego avatars, but one can dream).
Among the revised World Tour setlists are Rock Power Challenges, story-based tests that have your band channel the power of rock to solve a problem or defeat a boss like, say, a giant, angry mollusk. These challenges are the one exception to the "no fail" rule, serving as a reminder to children that video games are supposed to be tough and unfair and everything frustratingly wonderful we have come to love about them.
Lego Rock Band doesn’t seek to conquer the world of music games but to share this world with the people who will hopefully come to learn and appreciate its riches. Let them be children, let them have fun. Check out Lego Rock Band when it snaps into stores November 3, 2009.