Just child’s play?
Well the new year is upon us and after a slightly longer break than anticipated I feel it is due time for some reviews. After much thought on what my first full review of the year should be (and honestly, it was a difficult choice) I decided it was only right to kick off 2010 with a closer look at the newest offering from the rock band family. Yes, I know its kinda predictable, but it is sort of my thing!
I write this in honor of all of you who still have the tatty plastic box of mismatched Lego bricks buried at the back of the wardrobe, you just can’t bear to get rid of. I know who you are…
Lego to me is an institution. A childhood symbol of freedom, creativity and mess which has brought hours of Joy to generations of children the world over. I believe that most of the true creatives in the fields of architecture, sculpture, product design and art have their roots in lego and for this reason I feel that we owe lego a great debt of gratitude. With this in mind it may shock you to hear that initially I was dubious about the prospect my favorite genre being merged with lego. Afterall, with the Rockband series no longer in its infancy it is necessary for the games to improve with time, and I was curious about how the integration of Lego would be able to move the gameplay forward and not turn it into pure ‘Childs play’. I was prepared to log on full of criticism, after-all I love the more serious music games (if there is such a thing) with lifelike character creation and more hard core set-lists and hated the thought of losing these elements. However from the moment my Plastic band climbed onto their plastic stage, with their plastic instruments and started their first plastic gig I couldn’t help but find myself smiling, I like this game.
Firstly this title is very similar to the previous Rock band titles, so don’t go expecting any dramatic changes. The concept is still the same, you are a new band, gradually rising to fame, fortune, stardom etc… You are able to progress through the game by earning lego bricks which allow you to build various modes of transportation for your band. A simple idea, but one which gives the game much needed structure making it easier to navigate than previous titles. The game is Lego themed seamlessly from start to finish, with everything from the notes to characters and titles screens having the same, nieve plastic feel. This aesthetic is as chaming and simple as the previous Lego titles, and though there are no surprises here it is very well executed. The level of dedication to the lego theme is especially obvious in the entirely customizable nature of not only your band, but your Rock den, offices and instruments. Throughout the game you are also able to hire staff, such as roadies, various managers, stylists and promoters who will also aid you in your rise to stardom. Unlike previous games, in this title you are able to change the appearance of your staff, who will then appear to mosh at the side of your stage during certain gigs. Though turning your roadies into a horde of rock grannies wont aid your performance, it will certainly keep your band entertained, and after-all if this game isn’t an opportunity to be childish what is?
Though the gameplay was pretty much as expected, there were some surprises. Firstly I must mention the Rock power challenges, which have to be the most entertaining addition to the gameplay. The challenges are the boss fights of the Rockband world, cropping up as encores to end of level gigs. In order to progress onto the next level, you must use the power of rock to complete certain challenges. In this game your plastic instruments have the power not only to scare away ghosts (to the tune of Ghost busters I might add) but also the ability to destroy buildings (Tick tick boom, the Hives) and even save a sinking ship (In too deep, Sum 41). In order to complete these feats of rock heroism and save your band, each band member must play their own section of a song before all joining in for the final, almighty plastic killing blow. I found the addition of these challenges reminded me of the very first guitar hero boss fights of GH3. I was disappointed when guitar hero abandoned this feature in favor of a more simple set-list based game and am really happy that rock band have brought it back to life once more. The fact that these challenges include all of your band makes it more of a party/team game than ever before. So if you want to get the most out of Lego rock band I strongly suggest that you recruit one or more willing friends/brothers/sisters/parents (Voluntarily or not) to play through the career with you as a band. Usually I like to play the career alone, but the novelty factor of these challenges is really worth sharing, trust me.
As for the set-list it is much softer than previous Rock band titles, but it makes up for this in the classic, and quite often novelty choice of songs. The set-list somehow manages to be both family friendly, and entertaining, with song choices which are as much about childhood reminiscences as the lego bricks are themselves. With its mix of retro classic songs and future hits including You give love a bad name, Bon jovi, Summer of 69, Brian adams, Kung fu fighting, Carl douglas, A-Punk, Vampire weekend, Walking on sunshine, Catrina and the waves, and The final countdown, Europe, all generations are likely to find themselves erupting in a chorus of ‘No way, I remember this!’ which only adds to the party potential of this game. In fact the mainstream yet quirky set-list makes me sure that Lego Rockband is going to take over from the Beatles as the family party disk of 2010. After-all, the sing along potential of the game is just truly epic.
A quick footnote in relation to my previous statement. Yes, this is a party game, however I am also very much aware that the difficulty level has been well….changed back to normal when compared to the previous offering of the Beatles Rock band. Generally I liked The Beatles rock band, however I did find it very easy even in its hardest modes. I am pleased to say that though this game is not the most challenging made, they have slightly upped the difficulty which to me is a great relief. I am all for family gaming, including everyone, hugs and hippy flowers etc, but that is what easy/normal/hard mode is for. Expert mode, in my opinion should keep getting harder, otherwise you lose the challenge. It is nice to see that Rockband has now rectified the one mistake they made to an otherwise great title. There is hope for the hard core fans yet, as long as you like tacky rock. (Which I do, and I mean I REALLY do.)
Another, less obvious change to the gameplay is the re-invention of how band members may be saved from failure. As you will probably know, in previous rock band titles if a band member fails they can be brought back into the game through another player activating overdrive. However in Lego rockband this is not so. In lego world on the point of failure each band member is responsible for bringing themselves back into the game through successfully hitting a section of highlighted notes. If the band member is able to hit these notes they are brought back into the game, making every lego rocker completely in control of their own plastic fate. Though this is very useful if you band are, well for want of a better word quite crap, I find it takes away from the whole team aspect of the Rock band series. Part of the fun of Rock band is working together and helping your teammates out, and though this change makes the game easier it does kind of take away from the sense of achievement the band gets when working together. This one of my only criticisms of this game, and though it bothers me a little it is not really something which will spoil the game for most.
I also could not write this piece without mentioning the obvious changes to the character creation menu. We are all familiar with the interchangeable heads, limbs and torsos of lego men, and the character creation takes full advantage of this basic modular system. Though the initial character creation offers a somewhat disappointing choice of heads, bodies and limbs, it is soon made apparent that most of the ‘Shinyer’ body parts can be earned very easily throughout the game. Though this may be frustrating to start with (I couldn’t find anything to wear!) by the end of the game the offering of lego fashion is actually quite good, so hang in there! It is also nice that the various lego fashions are linked to the venus/challenges you play. For example, by completing a pirate ship level you can win all of the parts to create your own pirate band, and as they are interchangeable with the normal rock attire it is possible to come up with some quite weird and wonderful combinations. This attention to detail is to me exactly what gives this game its charm. Its creative yet nieve combinations embody the true spirit of Lego, giving the game a sense of purpose and style.
On the subject of style the real beauty of this game is that it in no way takes itself seriously. This laid back attitude to itself somehow gives the game a sort of magic, charming quality which makes it truly hard to dislike. It is almost as though in losing of some of my favorite elements (the competitiveness, the lifelike characters, the hard core metal) the game gains something new, something quirky, something fun. I know, I know. Lego IS fun so what did I expect, but I suppose my point is that this game is a real breath of freah air, especially when the format of its predecessors seems to grow somehow tired. Even the animations, though child friendly and quite innocent, have a kind of charming quality which I found very hard to resist. To hate this game would be like to kick a puppy, and everyone knows thats not nice.
In a sentence, all in all I found the spirit of Lego rock band much more like the Beatles rock band than 1 or 2, so if you liked the Beatles, you will like this.
Stay tuned, big fat juicy Plus Xp video surprises on the way soon. I will keep you updated, I promise…