Something incredible has occurred. After spending the last few days with Lego Rock Band not only am I able to pick up a guitar and perfectly execute a rousing rendition of Tom Petty’s ‘Free Falling’, but I can also drum and sing to such a degree that for once the neighbourhood cats don't convene by my window to screech along with my warbling.
Of course, this is all nonsense – rhythm-action games are as good a simulation of real instruments as Mario is of plumbing. But while the illusion of playing the songs may be even more compromised by the lack of any plastic accessories in this latest DS release, Lego Rock Band still manages to generate moments of musical posturing that will please all-comers to the genre.
As with its predecessors, Lego Rock Band tasks the player with playing along to music by co-ordinating button presses to falling (Lego) blocks on screen. Get the timing right and the instrument plays as normal, get it wrong and it sounds terrible.
The title alters the core gameplay slightly from its bigger brethren in that you can switch instruments freely during play. After hitting a certain number of notes consecutively as one of the band members a purple block appears that, when properly struck, increases your score multiplier.
Occasionally white blocks will appear on the track. Hitting these builds up your Overdrive meter, activated by pressing a button or by blowing into the microphone. In Overdrive mode your multiplier is doubled and misses no longer count against purple blocks appearing.
Manage to hit a purple block for all band members and the game transforms into a quick-fire balancing act in which you must keep each individual member happy by hitting a purple, or else lose your multiplier.
Instead of a plastic instrument accessory, Lego Rock Band uses the D-pad and face buttons to activate the notes. There is an option for stylus play in which you press the notes on screen, but it’s practically impossible to play chords using this method (not to mention slower) so is best avoided.
All in all the controls work well and do draw you into thinking you’re actually playing the various instruments. This is helped by some good note tracks that manage to stay consistent to the song from the very easiest difficulty to Expert.
There is one exception to this though. The vocal tracks already suffer the most from being moved to buttons, but are also the most prone to making up notes than the other tracks. The amusing flipside to this is that mis-pressed vocal notes cut out suddenly like swear filters in a radio-edited Gangsta rap, which can actually improve some of the more awful songs like ‘Two Princes’.
They’re playing our song
The playlist is large, managing to pack in 25 tracks on the cartridge, cherry-picked from the home console version. Rock fans will be confused as to why this game isn’t called Lego Pop Band, however, as there’s practically no rock to speak of.
Instead, what you get are family-friendly songs spanning five decades' worth of music. Most of these are from modern bands like Vampire Weekend, All-American Rejects and The Automatic, but there are a few timeless pop classics from Bowie, Jackson 5 and Queen lurking in the background to please older audiences.
The one drawback with fitting so many tunes into the game though is that they all suffer from some pretty heavy compression, causing some of the quieter/older tracks like the aforementioned ‘Free Falling’ to fight with hiss when playing a less prominent instrument.
While the quality of sound is slightly compromised by the format, thankfully the quality of the game certainly isn’t.
The graphics and animations are well presented and full of character, helped to no end by the chaotic humour that runs through all Lego games. From the silly Lego-fied version of the Rock Band intro to the colourful venues that vary from pirate ships to spaceships, there’s rarely a dull moment to be found.
It’s a long game, too, bringing with it a very meaty Career mode that will take many hours to play through, and much longer to fully complete on the higher difficulties. The downside of this is that the tracks repeat frequently, but a lot of the tasks are short and self-made playlists so you can avoid the absolutely, mind-bendingly terrible ‘Two Princes’ for most of the game.
In fact, you can even avoid losing a song. If you do happen to foul up terribly at some point, you’re always given the chance to get back almost all your points instantly by hitting the subsequent ten notes in a row.
As you gain more fans and Lego studs (the universal currency of Lego games) more customization options open up allowing you to dress your band members in threads more fitting for whatever silly name you chose (‘’Rain Again?’, said the Machine’ being my crusaders of yuletide cheer.)
Of course, this being a Lego game the customization doesn’t stop at just the clothes. Hair, instruments and even entire heads can be plucked out and replaced. There’s even an option to decorate your band’s hideout for the real obsessives out there.
If you have three other real-life band mates around, Lego Rock Band offers local multiplayer with each player taking charge of one instrument and handing the one they like least the bass part.
While it’s always great to have multiplayer on offer, it’s a shame it can’t be played through Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection as I doubt many people will get to experience the full band experience otherwise.
Still, this isn’t that much of a problem when the single-player offering is entertaining enough in its own right and likely to delight players of all ages.