LEGO Rock Band (Xbox 360)
I first jumped into LEGO Rock Band after playing through Activision's rival family music game, Band Hero. Since I no longer memorize a music game's playlist before release -- there are just too many to keep track of -- my first moments in LEGO Rock Band were almost ecstatic. The career mode greets new players not with Hilary Duff and Taylor Swift, but with Supergrass and T. Rex. Cue an escalation of hope and interest. Is this a family music game that gets it, that doesn't equate "family" with crappy music? As it turns out, no. But not for lack of trying.
While Band Hero is really little more than a re-skin of Guitar Hero 5, LEGO Rock Band is a slightly more noticeable deviation from Rock Band 2. As in the parent game, this game's career mode requires players to advance by playing single songs and mystery showcases. But many song tiers have new Power Challenges, which are little story-based vignettes in which you have to fight off an octopus or demolish a building with the power of your rockin'. And there are all sorts of LEGO doodads to unlock, with which you can decorate a little green room of your very own.
The LEGO aesthetic is a big change, yes, but in practice it doesn't actually have that much to do with gameplay -- with one exception. Every song you successfully play earns studs (currency in the LEGO world), and those become your ticket to passing difficult songs. Fail out of a track and you'll automatically spend some of your accumulated studs to get back in the game. It's a nice little mechanic, especially when a song turns out to be more challenging than you expect. Forgot that "The Final Countdown" had a big power-metal guitar solo? Studs will save you. Didn't take the prowess of Mitch Mitchell into account when selecting Expert drums on Hendrix's "Fire"? Send in the studs.
With respect to gameplay, a few small new elements go beyond the stud-based save. There is an option to turn on auto-kick drum, which goes hand in hand with the new "Super Easy" difficulty level. Players with extremely short attention spans can also choose to play "short versions" of each of the game's songs. That's the most puzzling feature, as the song edits often seem arbitrary and, when you get down to it, bad. More to the point, in a game that is all about revering music and exposing players to new stuff, the song edits seem to represent a completely opposite ethos.
Really, though, it all comes down to the songs. These days, any music-game playlist is going to be hit-and-miss. But with only 45 songs on disc, I'm less willing to overlook true garbage like the Rascal Flatts cover of "Life is a Highway" when the sticker price is 50 bucks, with another 10 as an optional fee to export songs for use in Rock Band.
Personal mileage is always going to vary, so you should be more proactive than I am and peek at the full tracklist for the game. I found about 10 tracks that I could really love, with the rest ranging from passable filler to teeth-grinding annoyances like Good Charlotte's "Girls and Boys" and "Check Yes Juliet" by We Are the Kings. But "Fire" and Iggy Pop's "The Passenger" are great to have, as is Bowie's "Let's Dance" and even "Ghostbusters." It's a pretty thin set despite those highlights, and if this isn't your first Rock Band purchase, I can't recommend it as a viable expansion pack.
I've enjoyed previous LEGO games from Traveller's Tales; though skewed for young audiences, previous titles like LEGO Indiana Jones have evidenced a playful spirit and no small wit. The playfulness is in LEGO Rock Band, but the wit is mostly absent. The cut scenes that precede the Power Challenges are overlong and rather dull, and in general the cute LEGO front end does little more than require players to scroll through more screens than usual before getting to the songs in career mode. The cute stuff comes with additional processing overhead, too: Load times are longer here than they ever were in Rock Band 2.
This is LEGO Iggy Pop again. Unite him with LEGO Bowie (included) and a custom-made LEGO Brian Eno to recreate the famous Berlin Period.
Quickplay, at least, is the same as it ever was, so you can still get to all the songs quickly if you're only interested in rocking out. Inasmuch as anyone can rock out to Korn's cover of "Word Up!," that is.
I do have to nod in sage approval of the decision to LEGO-fy icons like Iggy Pop, Queen and Blur. (Yeah, I guess Blur is iconic; deal with it.) It's that sort of move, and the fun backgrounds on "Ghostbusters" -- where LEGO ghosts zoom around and plastic men intrude on the screen to chant the chorus -- rather than the cutesy Power Challenges, that could have made LEGO Rock Band a better bridge between the family room and the rock show. Then again, every parent I know who has played a current music game with their kids has seen the kids respond well to the songs without any toy-based pandering. So maybe this new version is gratuitous after all.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 game provided by the publisher.