Too busy to devote 12+ hours a day to your gaming habit? Here's a review that's sensitive to your needs: Short and focused on just the things that a busy gamer like you really needs to know.
Reviewed On: Xbox 360. Also available for PlayStation 3 and Wii. Different version available for Nintendo DS.
In a Nutshell: The Rock Band "pretend music" rhythm game experience, ported to a more family-friendly format filled with those familiar interlocking bricks. Unlike past Lego-branded console outings, this isn't a smash-'em-up puzzle adventure. You do still collect studs to spend on costumes, characters, and instruments - including a rad octopus mike, dinosaur drum set and lightning bolt guitar (to name a few). And the scenes that introduce challenges are pure Traveller's Tales silliness (bring down a building with the power of rock?), right down to their trademark Lego character reactions throughout.
At first glance, it looks more or less like Rock Band with lego bricks traveling down the note highway instead of the solid glowing rectangles. But there have been some tweaks and new features added, most notably Rock Challenges. As your progress through your band's career, you open up vehicles which lead to new, exotic venues such as a skyscraper, pirate ship and coral reef.
Each area is punctuated by a challenge that begins with a lengthy intro scene and then brings up a special play mode where all players are scored as a team rather than individually and the guitar and drum parts drop in and out (the vocalist doesn't get a break, unless the song has an instrumental stretch). Do well, and you'll escape a pursuing T-Rex or defeat a giant octopus intent on wreaking his vengeance on the band.
The game offers the widest range of difficulties to date, from Super Easy to Expert. But it lacks refinements seen in recent outings such as the long overdue 3-second countdown when returning from pause that Harmonix introduced in The Beatles: Rock Band. Our little drummer has a habit of hitting the Guide button on the drumset during his exuberant fills; it always takes him a few seconds to get us back in the game (since only the pausing player can unpause) and we always miss notes/vocal phrases when we launch back into the song without warning.
Learning Curve: If you're played Rock Band or Guitar Hero: World Tour, you'll feel mostly at home here. If you're new to the genre, you'll need at least a plastic guitar peripheral or two and maybe a microphone and drums to complete the set. Then run through the tutorials and stick with it until you get the hang of things. As with learning a real instrument, it may take some practice - but you'll eventually get it. (Here are some starter tips from the original Rock Band; these are generally applicable here too.)
The game does include several nods to the younger fans it hopes to ensnare. There's Super Easy mode where hitting any note counts, as long as it's more or less timed right, and you can't fail out. Alas, there's no separate No Fail Mode, so younger/novice players may hit a steep difficulty curve when they attempt Easy. This is lessened slightly for budding drummers (like our own) who can turn on the automatic bass pedal option that is hidden away in the Extras section (instead of Options).
The Save Game: The game saves after every set list and when you quit or buy something for your character. The save screen actually comes up a lot, though it's usually pretty quick. If you quit in the middle of a gig, you may lose fans (a small penalty) - but that's pretty much standard issue for these types of games. Expect to set aside 5-15 minutes for each play session, and you can always go longer.
Family Factor: The game is reasonably family friendly, though this depends a little on your taste in music and what you consider appropriate. The musical choices (and any Rock Band DLC that you are permitted to pull in) have been vetted by Harmonix, so you won't be shredding to "El Scorcho" or that Serj Tankian song (you know the one). Some of the included tracks are a bit obscure, though there are some crowd pleasers such as "Ghostbusters," "Accidentally in Love" (from Shrek 2), "Life is a Highway" (from Cars) and "Crocodile Rock." There's also some Foo Fighters, Iggy Pop, Spinal Tap and Jimi Hendrix, no doubt to try to pacify the grownups. Kudos for not going with all kids' songs, but the resulting mish mash is all over the map (full song list).
Buy, Rent or Skip? Since Lego Rock Band is expandable via qualifying DLC for the other Rock Band games, this is a buy if you love Rock Band and yearn for a version that's designed specifically to rock out with your kids on. If you just want to play the songs and challenges but don't expect to be jamming, family-style, into 2011, make it a rental. You can export the songs from Lego Rock Band to your other Rock Band games, but it'll cost you $10 (using a single-use code that it's included in new copies; don't expect to get the code from Gamefly or Blockbuster!). And it's not nearly as useful as a code to export the songs from Rock Band 2 to Lego Rock Band would be; why can't we have "Nine in the Afternoon," "Everlong," "Float On," "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Livin' on a Prayer" (to name a few) in our family game?! Can somebody get on that, please?
On a Personal Note: This was our 6-year-old's big request for Christmas. He adores all things Lego, and a chance to join his parents on their musical outings (after years of mostly watching us play the first two Rock Band games) seemed nothing short of awesome to him. The game has exceeded his expectations (you can hear his mini-review in our Dec. 27 podcast; it's adorable!).
The unexpected highlight came several days into the game when we unlocked a challenge that began with our band crashing the tour vehicle into a hotel swimming pool. The manager called in a Securi-T-Rex dinosaur rent-a-cop to chase us away, and we were off - racing (and rocking) to safety while playing "Monster" by The Automatic. We'd never heard the song before, but it instantly resonated with our son. The chorus ("What's that coming over the hill?") has become a common catch phrase around our house, and we bought the track from iTunes and have a new favorite song on our iPod playlist.
Our son has begin to master the drums more successfully than he did with the original Rock Band games, in no small part to Super Easy Mode coupled with the Auto Kick Drum (we were prompted to use this latter feature on first play, possibly because our modded drum pedal was unplugged at the time). Again, we'd love if No Fail Mode were available as an option for Easy, just to ease the transition. He's really eager to make the move up the difficulty scale, and probably will in the next week or so - at least for songs that he's practiced. We'll probably still suggest Super Easy for new songs since some of them have quite fast drum parts and might scare him off if things get too difficult too fast.
This won't serve as a replacement for regular Rock Band for us grownups, particular since a large portion of our DLC library is off-limits - including the full 5-pack of Alice in Chains we picked up recently. Is it the band name, or do all of those songs have some naughty lyrics I've forgotten?
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