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LEGO Rock Band DS Review Package Art
Backbone Entertainment
Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment

LEGO Rock Band DS Review

An interesting comment made in other reviews of this title has been that LEGO Rock Band's gameplay is seemingly brand new; apparently these reviewers never played Harmonix's Frequency or Amplitude on PS2, which are the genesis of the Rock Band titles we love so much today, or Backbone Entertainment's Rock Band Unplugged for PSP. What truly is unique for DS owners who are considering this title is that, unlike Activision's Guitar Hero On Tour and Band Hero DS titles, no DS-only peripherals are required. Instead, LEGO Rock Band is a fun little rhythm game that can be played with no extra baggage, on either DS or DSi.

Gamers only familiar with the console Rock Band experience won't be totally out of sorts when trying the DS version: a four-lane-wide note highway is presented for each of the four band members during a song: lead guitar, bass guitar, drums and vocalist. And, as usual, note "gems" (or in this case, being LEGO, note bricks) slide down the screen towards the player, who must then press a corresponding DS button when the brick crosses a capture area. If timed correctly, the brick will be zapped and a note, word or beat of the song will be played. Unlike Guitar Hero On Tour, a guitar grip is unnecessary to play: instead, left and up on the d-pad handle the first and second lanes of the note highway, while X and A address notes on the right two lanes. Alternately, gamers with the twitch reflex skills of the android Bishop from the movie "Aliens" can attempt to play the notes by tapping them with the stylus, though that's an exercise in futility in higher difficulty levels.

Consecutively hitting notes correctly will fill up a purple meter that borders the edges of the selected highway. Once completely filled, a subsequent note brick will be purple, and if that purple brick is hit, the respective band member goes into happy place auto-pilot, allowing the gamer to temporarily switch to another one of the other note highways via the L or R buttons. The ultimate goal during a song is to get purple bricks on all four band members' note highways. When all four members are on this earned auto-pilot, the current score multiplier can max out to as much as 6x the points, but the gamer can never kick back: just as the fourth person's auto-pilot is achieved, the on-screen face of the first member who was set to auto-pilot will begin to flash, letting the gamer know to switch back to that note highway to achieve another string of good hits and a purple brick. If the gamer can't reactivate auto-pilot during the flashing face's time limit, the entire band's 12x multiplier will be lost until all four members' auto pilot is restored.

The last classic Rock Band element is the overdrive score multiplier. Certain, often tricky, bits of note highways will show up as all white bricks. If the entire string of white notes is hit correctly, an overdrive meter will fill up. After obtaining a half-full or greater overdrive meter, shouting into the DS's microphone or just pressing down or B will activate overdrive until the overdrive meter runs out. Overdrive doubles whatever your current multiplier is, which means point bonuses of as much as 12 times.

That's all there is to the core gameplay, and with multiple difficulty levels ranging from easy to expert, Rock Band or Amplitude aficionados and neophytes will find plenty of scaling challenge, even in the top 40/pop-centric 25-song soundtrack. Yes, this is a LEGO-branded game, but gamers may be surprised just how tricky the guitar and drum parts are in Pink's "So What" or Counting Crows' "Accidentally in Love." Yet, also being a LEGO game, it's also forgiving and failing out of a song is nigh impossible, even on the sometimes brutal expert level. Playing well in the single player tour mode is handsomely rewarded with points and the traditional 5-star scoring system of other Rock Band games, both of which translate into LEGO studs (the tiniest LEGO piece of all) that can be cashed in to buy new vehicles that provide access to new venues, or to customize the band by purchasing new instruments and LEGO body parts/outfits to completely transform each of the four members.

If you're familiar with the original Rock Band presentation, seeing the series' tattoo-inspired artwork and zany videos LEGO'd out is a real kick. From the increasingly complex (and ridiculous) vehicles the band plays on in the computer animated intro, to seeing your band's world-traveling vehicles built brick-by-brick in the single player tour mode, the LEGO license is charmingly and effectively used. The only significant shortfall in the presentation is the lack of animations for the band members-- they'll do the same one move before and after every song, and play their instruments the same, too. Worse yet are the overly simplistic venues, which echo classic LEGO themes like pirates, aliens, and haunted houses. Often, the venue names and occasional story-infused "rock power challenges" in single player mode (outrun the dinosaur! power the UFO!) sound cooler than they're ultimately executed. Whether a power challenge or fun-named stage, the camera seldom shows anything other than one or two random props near the stage, maybe one instance of an off-stage animation, and standard camera angles of the band members. This may be because the DS game card's memory is primarily dedicated to the decent-sounding song list, but the presentation still feels too simplified. Given a choice between seemingly 500 different clothing options or more detailed sets, we'd take the latter. There is one off-setting little touch, however-- a LEGO David Bowie shows up in the tour mode for his song "Let's Dance," and all four members of Queen swap out with your band during their tracks in the game; once completed these LEGO models are added to your customization collection. Other guest stars show up as well, and it's fun to see just who that will be.

Being a DS game, LEGO Rock Band's portable track list is 20 tracks shorter than the console version-- 25 songs total-- but that's no less than what shows up in the Guitar Hero On Tour titles. A few songs also seem cut a bit short, but the 2/3rds-through guitar solo (if a song has one) and a chorus or so afterwards is always included at the minimum, so gamers are unlikely to feel ripped off. As mentioned previously, the audio quality is fine, though it really shines with basic, tiny headphones plugged in. In fact, to hear most songs' bass part at all, headphones are a must as the DS speakers aren't up to the task.

On the multiplayer front, local multi-card gameplay is supported for up to four players. Standard multiplayer allows four players to fill out each player to play a single part of a four-member band through successive songs, while the rock power challenge version, like in single player mode, focuses on one part/player at a time.

Even as a licensed spin-off, Rock Band is long overdue and heartily welcomed on the DS: especially since no hand-cramp-inducing accessories are required. Instead, basic button tapping bliss is all that's required, and while the single player tour mode may recycle the game's 25 tracks across a few too many set lists, the soundtrack is bound to have some family friendly tracks anyone will love-- who doesn't want to rock out the Ghostbusters theme? While the presentation is a bit disappointingly simplistic, the core gameplay is fun and a worthy challenge to even the most seasoned of button tapping rhythm vets. Don't be put off by the license-- this is a fun one.

final score 7.9/10

Staff Avatar M. Noah Ward
Staff Profile | Email
"Death narrowly avoided, thanks to another friendly NPC."

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