Video Game Review: Lego Rock Band (Wii)

LegoRockBand.jpgWe are not "gamers" by any stretch of the imagination -- somehow, being the sole kid without an Atari 2600 on my block growing up did not lead me to overcompensate by buying every single gaming console ever made.

So when I was offered a copy of Lego Rock Band for Wii for possible review (it came out right around Thanksgiving), my first task was to, well, find a Wii. Which probably gives you a pretty good indication of my gaming experience. (Previous total Wii experience = about 1 hour.) But, having secured a Wii and assorted equipment for a couple hours and my friend Larry (along with his kid) to enjoy the game with, I dove right in.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the whole Rock Band concept, in brief it lets players "play" console instruments (e.g., guitar, bass, drums) and/or sing-along karaoke-style along with popular songs in front of animated singers. The more accurate your "playing" (i.e., press the correct colored button at the proper time) is on these fake, simplified instruments (or the closer your vocals are to actual notes), the higher your score. Basically, it's karaoke without the crowds and with points.

And, in this, the latest version of the Rock Band concept, animated Lego characters.
The funny thing is, after about five minutes, you no longer really think of the characters as Legos, but rather merely as rock stars who are pudgier and more fat-fingered than most. And while you might not think of that as a positive attribute, my friend Larry noted that he much preferred this version as a parent, mostly due to the less risque backgrounds compared to other Rock Band or Guitar Hero games.

As for the gameplay itself, Larry was surprised at how well the kids did with the guitar and drums and bass. (The game did work with Larry's Guitar Hero controllers.) His son (about 6 years old) and Miss Mary Mack (8) did pretty well -- drums I think were easiest to understand, with the guitar and bass probably equal in difficulty. Little Boy Blue (4) I think had more problems -- drums were passable (and who doesn't love randomly banging on the drums), but the rest, not so much.

As for vocals, I think that's pretty hard for kids, especially if you've never heard (most of) the songs. Heck, it was hard for me on the songs I hadn't heard. I mean, I've been hearing Elton John's "Crocodile Rock" for ages, so I didn't need the bar at the top to tell me how to sing "Laaaaaaaaaa la la la la laaaaa...." But some of the newer songs on the play list were an utter mystery to me, and my enjoyment singing those was much diminished. I imagine the kids felt the same; they rarely asked for a turn singing. But familiar (or easy) songs did capture some imaginations -- Larry reports his son was singing "We Will Rock You" for a week, which amused him greatly. There are 45 songs in the Wii version, so there are enough songs with enough variety to satisfy both your older classic-rock-listenin' sister as well as your 15-year-old nephew.

Here's a trailer for the game in French. This amuses me, because I've never really thought of the French as having a big gamer culture. Aren't they all doing parkour?

So, anyway, I think families who've enjoyed the Rock Band, etc. games but have wondered about their appropriateness for their younger kids will really like this version, though kids under the age of 6 will probably find little amusing except the animation. And folks who are new to the whole Rock Band experience will probably find this a good basis for deciding whether or not the series is for you. It's definitely got some allure for famliies -- it's no substitute for learning to play or sing the real thing, but it's an amusing enough diversion.

[Disclosure: I was provided a copy of the game by the game's publicists.]