E3 Impressions – Lego Rock Band

I had initially dismissed LEGO ROCK BAND as a kiddy product, albeit an aesthetically-appealing one. My hands-on time at E3, however, has convinced me that it’s actually the best version to play if you want to hang out with some friends and enjoy some adult beverages.

The other weekend, some college friends were in town and I introduced them to the magic of ROCK BAND. They were soon caught up in the world of plastic instruments and Journey songs. But when my novice friends started struggling with the medium difficulty, I found myself saving my overdrive power solely to save failing band members. We still had a good time, but it would have been nice if we could have all rocked out in a more carefree manner. Sure, there’s “no fail” mode, but you still want to preserve some sense of drama, right? Well, thanks to LEGO ROCK BAND, I now have my solution.

Other than its cheerful Lego aesthetic, the main twist of LEGO ROCK BAND is the way that it handles failure during a song. As opposed to previous ROCK BAND games, the failure of one individual will not cause the entire band to stop playing. Instead, if a player fails, they’ll lose a certain number of studs (the point system in LEGO ROCK BAND). After a few measures, they’ll automatically be put back into the game. If they’re able to hit all the notes in the measure immediately following their re-entry, they’ll recover all the studs they previously lost (a helpful meter tracks how many studs they’ve recovered). This system ensures that no song will ever end prematurely, but still maintains some sense of tension for the players. Since your studs determine how many stars you earn on each stage, repeated failures without proper recovery will ensure that you’ll never get that five star ranking.

(There’s also a new novice mode that takes almost all the challenge out of the game. Instead of having to press specific buttons or hit specific pads, you merely need to hit any button with the beat. This mode is, quite frankly, designed more for very young children, but I imagine that it would be equally useful for very drunk and/or rhythmically-challenged adults.)

The number of studs you earn also measures your progression through the game – a common theme of the Lego game series. The studs can be used to build new Lego vehicles which, in turn, unlock new locations. Some of these new locations feature special Rock Power Challenges.

The structure of these Rock Power Challenges is slightly different from the regular songs. Instead of the full band playing together at all times, there’s a series of solo sections for each instrument. Once these solo sections have been completed, everyone plays together (generally during the chorus). You’ll cycle through this progression (solos then full band) about three to four times per song. Although you can’t fail out of a song, you can fail to beat the challenges if you don’t earn enough studs.

Only one challenge was on display – “Breakout” by the Foo Fighters. During this challenge, your band rocks out to help a demolition crew to “break out” (or, I suppose, break down) a building. The harder you rock (going all the way up to ten stars), the more Lego explosions you see. Future challenges will also feature some kind of thematic link between the chosen song and the actions of your characters.

Currently, story mode progression will be required to unlock all the tracks. If I could send a plea to Harmonix and MTV Games, I’d ask them to make an about face and simply unlock everything from the beginning. The time for treating music games like traditional video games has passed. The majority of people purchasing and enjoying ROCK BAND aren’t looking to play through an artificial quest (as entertaining as it may be); they simply want to play some plastic instruments with their friends. With the added level of accessibility they’ve added to this edition of ROCK BAND, it would be a mistake to retain such an archaic feature.

Now for the most important question – DLC. According to MTV Games’ Marc Nesbit, no decision has been made regarding the compatibility of existing DLC tracks, the ability to import LEGO ROCK BAND songs into ROCK BAND 2 (or vice versa), or new DLC for just LEGO ROCK BAND. They are, however, aware of fan demand for these features.

It’s worth noting that although Harmonix and MTV Games are involved in the project, the publisher will be Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (as opposed to the traditional publisher for ROCK BAND products, EA). I wonder if this change will end up entangling the existing licensing arrangements and make importing an impossibility. But since I don’t know if the licensing agreements run through Harmonix, MTV Games, EA or Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (or any combination of those entities), I can’t really make an educated guess.

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