A few years ago, of all the licenses that could have been signed by a music game, a child’s set of building blocks must have been quite near the bottom of a rather lengthy list. We’ve seen Metallica, The Beatles and even Van Halen all attach their names to the current craze of plastic instruments and yet here we are with the oddity of Lego Rock Band. Cue gags about Bloc Party, Another Brick in the Wall and Block Rockin’ Beats.
A few years ago, however, we didn’t have Lego Star Wars, Batman or Indiana Jones. Each of which has slowly built the Lego brand into more than a Danish ambassador. The Lego world has developed a character all of its own with an unerring knack in distilling film plots into amusing cutscenes. It has taken three franchises and made them into family friendly experiences where prior knowledge is in no way a prerequisite. And it is this identity that EA have coveted in order to take Rock Band to a broader audience.
Traveller’s Tales have done a superb job in taking the traditional Rock Band experience and encasing it in a Lego bricks. Everything from the opening car chase cinematic to the menu’s background has been tweaked to incorporate blocks whilst still keeping the original’s essence. The biggest change, for it is still Rock Band 2 under this veneer, is in the story mode and its outlandish venues. Rather than clubs and stadiums it starts you off busking at the railway station and moves on to zoos, prehistoric caves, pirate ships, haunted mansions and palaces.
The Lego theme isn’t just limited to scenery however, and as you rise to stardom special gigs will become available. Some offer the opportunity to embody the likes of Blur, Queen and Bowie, all perfectly recreated in minifig form. Others will get your band to turn their hand to some rather specialist tasks. Were you aware that the power of rock can be used to banish ghosts, bring down buildings and even defrost explorers who became lost in the Arctic? No?
Although silly, the accompanying videos are packed with all the charm that you expect from the Lego series; the only negative being that you have to watch your stream of notes and not the unfolding shenanigans. Everyone in your band and management team can be seen capering about the stage with each and every one of them customisable. Currently my band has a peg-legged pirate on vocals, a ticket conductor on bass whilst a deep sea diver plays lead guitar on a par with Hendrix himself. As for me, the least said about my giant vegetable drum kit the better.
Despite all that, disappointment creeps in as Lego Rock Band is a twelve-month old product hiding behind a new wardrobe and it shows little sign of progression. Although tuned for accessibility – you can’t fail a song, there’s a super easy move, and drummers can ignore the foot pedal entirely – it still lacks basic features. There’s no option to jump in mid-song, or even mid-tour, and the Thomas brothers will once again have to fight over the drum sticks as the opportunity for two people to play the same instrument remains absent. These omissions are made worse by rival Guitar Hero having addressed them both.
Whether Lego Rock Band is for you will be down to an individual’s position. Those previously put off by the brand’s rocker image should put worries aside and start clearing space for your plastic band now. For Rock Band veterans, it’s a harder sell. Treating it as a bonus song pack will be dictated by personal taste but the clincher should be whether the enticement of having a band made completely out of minifigs can be resisted. Either way, what it does well is add a much needed sense of humour to what is becoming a formulaic experience.
Now do excuse me, I need to go and chase away an octopus from my lead singer’s ship.