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LEGO Rock Band DS Review

By Neilie Johnson, 12/2/2009

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Ever since taking the game world by storm two short years ago, Rock Band has seemed unstoppable. And just when people were claiming the franchise was all played out, it once again captured our imaginations with the stunning The Beatles: Rock Band. Not a license that's willing to rest on its laurels, Rock Band has already moved on from the Fab Four and this holiday season is coming to us once again—this time in handheld, family-friendly, LEGO form.

LEGO Rock Band for the DS, made by Backbone Entertainment, is a unique contribution to the series not only because of its LEGO connection but because it doesn't make use of the usual Rock Band instruments or singing mechanics. Of necessity, the game's controls have changed to fit pocket-sized play, replacing plastic instruments with buttons and directional pads. Gameplay will feel both familiar and alien to fans of the series. Conceptually it's the same; you go on tour and you play guitar, bass, drums and vocal tracks, with your job being to hit the buttons that correspond to the musical notes. Scoring too uses the same five star system as other Rock Band games, with point multipliers and Overdrive (which can be activated by hitting B or, for some inexplicable reason, by blowing into the DS mic). The most notable difference is that in the DS version, you swap among tracks using the L and R buttons to try and keep all four band members “happy”. If you hit enough correct bricks (notes), a purple brick appears which when hit, makes its matching band member smile. The goal is to score high while keeping all four band members smiling until the song ends. (This is tricky. Even scoring very high, I still only got three out of four to show me the love. Damn musicians.)

As you progress through the tour, you unlock fantasy-themed venues (like an ice cavern, a haunted house and a pirate ship) and weird little themed mini-games that might ask you to use your musical skill to “help the ghosts to rock to the next life” or “fight off a giant octopus”. During these minigames, all four tracks are combined into one which is considerably easier than the main four-track method. Speaking of easy, LEGO Rock Band features five difficulty modes: Expert, Hard, Medium, Easy and Super Easy. Having tried the Super Easy, I'm thinking that mode's meant either for children under the age of two or people born without rhythm.

Anyway, in addition to having many gameplay similarities to previous Rock Band titles, LEGO Rock Band also contains all the unlockables gamers have come to expect. You can buy different tour vehicles that take you to different clubs, name your band and customize their look and instruments, hire staff, trick out your private lounge, and practice songs in the Stage training room. The best of the unlockables though are the “costumes” that let you dress your band members like rock icons such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Freddie Mercury. Sadly, in spite of the hilarity of watching the likes of Freddie Mercury sing into a banana (isn't this supposed to be a family-friendly title?) the fascination of these is short-lived.

This is due not only to the fact that all the rock icons represented share the same animations (as well as the same intro/outro sequences), but to the game's limited musical selection. The big draw of Rock Band is of course, the music and that's where the DS version crashes and burns. The game features Bowie, Queen and Iggy Pop in LEGO form but only features one song each by Bowie and Pop and only two by Queen. And while LEGO Rock Band for PS3 and 360 gives players 45 songs and the option to download more, the DS has a scant 25 with no download option. Maybe if the LEGO element added more to the game, that limitation might be bearable but unfortunately, the LEGO bits are limited to visual customizations—there's no LEGO-centric gameplay at all. Gameplay that's entirely dependent on your repeated performances on a scant 25 songs becomes tedious. Fast.

Yeah, the song list contains both rock classics like Queen's “We Will Rock You” as well as more current tunes like the Kaiser Chiefs' “Ruby”, but there's not enough of either to even call the selection a “mix”. And while 25 songs might seem like enough at first, think of it this way; with eight tour vehicles, two to three venues per vehicle and four sets per venue with one to three songs per set, that means to finish the game you're going to be performing each song from four to six times. And if you take into consideration the songs you never play because you hate them (I'm talking to you, “Final Countdown”), the amount of repetitions quickly increases. I'm just saying, unless you have a superhuman, toddler-like tolerance for hearing the same song over and over, by game's end you'll never want to hear any of the songs on the track list ever again.

In addition to a quickly-tedious single-player mode, LEGO Rock Band offers a four player local multiplayer mode. Some people might enjoy that but somehow four people sitting around pressing buttons and staring intently at tiny screens kind of kills the rock god fantasy for me.

LEGO Rock Band for the DS is ultimately a disappointment, unless you're someone who can't go ten minutes without a Rock Band fix. The game does a decent job of staying true to the Rock Band franchise while creating gameplay unique to the DS, but fails to provide a broad enough track list or take real advantage of the LEGO license. The result is a shallow, repetitive Rock Band with the shelf life of your average pre-fab pop song. Skip this one unless you have an obsessive-compulsive need to hear “Walking on Sunshine” twenty times in a row.

Overall: 70%



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