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Lego Rock Band

Lego my franchise!
I still remember the reaction to the original Lego Star Wars. It was, if I recall, rather derisive. Combining Star Wars and Lego? Why bother? But the game turned out to be not just addicting fun, but also the best Star Wars game in years. It was so good, in fact, that we got a sequel (two if you count the Complete Saga set), and several more high-profile Lego games, including Batman, Indiana Jones (now also in its second incarnation) and the upcoming Lego Harry Potter. Almost overnight, the Lego brand had a video game franchise, and it wasn't just for children. The gameplay was often sophisticated and fun for adults as well. When Traveller's Tales (the development company behind all the Lego games) announced a partnership with Harmonix to create a Lego Rock Band, it seemed like a prime opportunity for some cross-market branding.

The problem, though, is that the game was actually developed by Traveller's Tales instead of Harmonix. Harmonix was busy working on The Beatles: Rock Band at the time, so their absence is understandable, if not exactly excusable. The problems with the game are apparently immediately. For one thing, while the game is more graphically robust than Rock Band (your main menu is actually a customizable rock den), the load times are noticeably longer than on the more grown-up version. I've also heard reports of the game freezing during some of the load screens. Not a great start.

Far worse than this, though, is that the dreaded timing issue windows have returned. These have thus far not graced any title to carry the "Rock Band" moniker, but the problem is prevalent in the Guitar Hero titles. The game's timing is terrible, perhaps the worst of any major rhythm game I've played since Guitar Hero III. I tried calibrating manually, then using the auto-calibration with my Beatles Hofner bass, and then the recommended calibration numbers from the manual, and I could never get the timing to be as tight as it is in the other Rock Band games. And if that isn't bad enough, the tracklist is the worst of any Rock Band to date. Now, I know that Lego Rock Band is geared towards kids first and foremost, but whoever decided that kids must have crap tastes should be fired. If you enjoy songs by Blink-182 and Good Charlotte and Rascal Flatts, then this game is for you. However, I do not wish to know you.

The game has other little annoyances. When you first open a venue, you only have a few songs to choose from. The more you play, the more you can access. So far, so good. But in between the listed songs, the game will throw challenge sets at you that have different criteria you have to accomplish (usually getting a certain number of stars). Also not a problem, until you discover that often these challenge sequences feature the exact same songs you just played! These are not randomized, either, so it wasn't a case of bad luck. Also, when you start a gig, there's no sound until the song begins. In the other games, you always heard crowd noises leading up to the song. Little touches like that may seem insignificant, but their absence severely detracts from the game.

The game isn't a complete failure, however. While some of the song choices make my stomach churn, there are genuine classics here from artists like David Bowie, Queen, Tom Petty, Jimi Hendrix, T. Rex, Iggy Pop, and more. You even get to play some of these with Lego versions of the artists. You haven't lived till you've played We Will Rock You as a Lego-ized Freddie Mercury. There are also some pre-scripted events that can be downright hilarious (including the absolute highlight of the game, Ray Parker Jr's "Ghostbusters Theme"). In addition, you can export the songs into Rock Band 2 to escape those pesky timing and loading issues.

Lego Rock Band will also recognize your previous Rock Band an extent. Using a system of filters probably designed by the same people who gave us our latest government bailout, the game will automatically block out songs whose content might be objectionable to kids. Forget making these decisions as a parent for your own kids. No, Traveller's Tales has already done it for you! That's progress, right?

It seems like this game was made with the motto "Make it cute" instead of "Make it fun." There's all sorts of sight gags and other things that are sure to make kids giggle, but is it fun? Generally, the answer is no. And since the other Lego titles have proven that these games can be both cute and fun, I see no excuse for the poor showing on this one. Aside from trying out a few of the songs and doing an export to Rock Band 2, I can see no reason to own this disappointing, underachieving, two steps back game. Rent It.