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“Lego Rock Band” sure is a “Rock Band” game with Lego people in it. It’s got the exact same core gameplay engine as “Rock Band 2,” but there are some nice improvements to the surrounding fluff that make it a more accessible experience.
Improvement one: No failing all the time. “Lego Rock Band” promotes “Rock Band 2’s” progress-disabling option from second class citizen to the only way to play. “Lego Rock Band” developers Harmonix and Traveller’s Tales and “DJ Hero’s” FreeStyleGames arrived at the same conclusion I did last summer: Failing sucks, and stars are a much better measure of progress. To unlock more songs, venues and other crap, you just need to exceed certain career star totals. Since it was impossible to pass a song with less than three stars in previous “Rock Band” titles, the progression is basically the same thing, only you avoid the frustration of failing a song. You just practice until you get good enough.
Improvement two: The rough edges of the Rock Band tour experience have been smoothed out (perhaps excessively, depending on your point of view). The character creator is now Lego people, and consequently, there are exactly four parts you get to change around: hair, head, shirt, pants. The world tour mode, previously a web of interlocking cities, venues, and unlocks, has been simplified into a straight line with the same sort of theme: get a bus, get a manager, what have you. Currency is no longer an abstract number of dollars and is instead simply a running total of the same points you earn playing songs. The entire soundtrack is also unlocked in quickplay as soon as your turn on your console, so if you don’t want to bother with the metagame, you can just play all the songs you already paid for. Brilliant!
Of course it all has that Lego aesthetic most of us are familiar with by now. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but it has the same charm as the rest of Traveller’s Tales Lego lineup, and this time, there’s Lego Queen and Lego David Bowie! Unfortunately, they don’t sing together on “Under Pressure.”
The tour mode also has a lot of fun Lego mixed in. Silly dialogue-less animated cutscenes accompany your band’s rise to stardom. There are special events that are similar to “The Beatles: Rock Band’s” dreamscapes, in that they are specifically tailored to whatever song you are playing. The first one had my band, Mostly Puppies, rocking out hard enough to help a demolition crew take down a Lego building. You can also buy and unlock various accessories for both your characters and your “Rock Den,” which is just a graphical menu system that represents how awesome you are. One of the first things I got was one of those classic green Lego trees, and I hope there’s more of the awesome old school Lego callbacks that remind me of when I was but a wee boy.
This is all really window dressing on what is basically a Rock Band song pack, though, and the song selection is pretty schizophrenic. It’s all rated E for everyone, and there are some fun choices like “Ghostbusters” or “The Final Countdown” padded out by a whole lot of whiny-ass modern rock that I personally am not a huge fan of. It certainly seems to skew pretty tame as far as difficulty goes, if you care about that sort of thing. Fortunately, for a small fee, the entire thing is exportable to “Rock Band 2” on consoles that have a hard drive (sorry Wii owners), and the lineup can be augmented with a subsection of the Rock Band catalog Harmonix has deemed acceptable for a family audience.
Still, the Lego-ness has its place. I’d certainly play this until I hit the brick wall (ha) in tour mode, and this is ideal for people new to music games. It and “The Beatles: Rock Band” should do a lot to expand the audience of the genre, though they don’t do all that much to advance its core. Maybe “Rock Band 3.”
Impressions based on a rental of the Xbox 360 version of the game after roughly three hours of play.