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Rock Band Jumps the Lego Shark

posted on April 23rd, 2009 by alexis

It’s official. Lego themed games are slowly killing the entire Lego Systems franchise.

Lego Rock Band can be expected this “Holiday 2009” on the Wii, XBox 360, PS3, and supposedly the Nintendo DS (although I cannot say for sure if that includes the Nintendo DSi, which lacks the GBA slot presumably needed for a strumming widget), as announced this week by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Traveller’s Tales Games, Harmonix, MTV Games, and I think your mom is involved with the project too. Seriously, I feel like some sort of “stacked like legos” jab is in order in respect to the collaboration efforts of this motley crew, but you know what? I can’t even muster that much effort.

Let me get right to the point. Beyond my cynicism, I can see some value in this game. It has a widespread target audience: think Rock Band obsessed dads bonding with their Lego Game loving sons… and try to avoid the ensuing case of diabetes. According to PC World, it will probably incorporate scenery from past games for one to “rock out in”. How charming. And finally, you can literally build your band, not in the way that you could build your own band in past incarnations of Rock Band. No, in a wholly different manner. This time they won’t even try to look realistic. Supposedly, existing Rock Band controllers will be compatible with this game, but there may be specialized controllers available for this latest incarnation. This can only mean one thing: if you think you had blisters on your fingers before, buddy, just wait until the buttons have warts on them so that they resemble the classic Lego System Bricks. Oh, boy! But if you are like me, these reasons are not going to convince you that a Lego Rock Band game is a good idea for the franchise or for the gaming community.

Tardy Preamble: I LIKE Lego System Bricks, and I like playing with Lego System Bricks. I call them Lego System Bricks because I am engaged to a man that insists that they be called nothing but Lego System Bricks lest I invoke the wrath of the Rocket Shrimp (long story). That’s how much I like them. My boy and I, we have custom Lego System Brick key chains (for those of you not gagging yet, yes, they are inscribed with lovey messages). See that down there? That’s me fawning over my walk-capable Lego AT-AT, and don’t even get me started on my Lego AT-ST. And what’s more, I think that Star Wars is the best thing to ever happen to the world of Lego, so it’s not that I am opposed to cross-pollination in the land of Lego.

Me’n’My AT-AT

I played Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Swapping heads and defiling sacred pop-culture scenery, you say? All about it! I reply. But something about this Lego Rock Band idea reeks of wrongness to me. Think about it: Lego mini figs singing, that is, forming intelligible words (for the most part, depending on the song). Can you? I, for one, cannot. Now consider the evolution of Lego games, from the late-nineties onset of Lego-themed PC games to the undeniable success of the award winning and widely appreciated Lego Star Wars games (including Lego Star Wars I, II and TCS.) Whether or not you enjoyed or even liked them, this inter-breeding of the Star Wars and Lego franchises has made a niche for Lego themed games despite an otherwise underwhelming selection. You know it’s true. Outside this revered Star Wars family, Lego themed console games have met with scattered success and often relative failure.

The pinnacle achieved by the most recently released Lego Star Wars made me expect big things from the 2008 announcement of the titles Lego Batman and Lego Indiana Jones. I was on the waiting list for the former game (for the Xbox 360), and while it certainly provided amusement, it didn’t live up to my expectations. Lego Indiana Jones fared about as well. In fact, I am surprised to find out that it fared considerably better than Lego Batman in the eyes of most critics, because after plummeting to my death about a dozen times due to what I considered a failed game mechanic, I have had nothing but scathing things to say about it. Apparently, the Nintendo DS versions of both games were right on target, but the major console versions didn’t seem to capture the reception and flavor that had been expected as a culmination of the Lego games we had seen thus far. But the consensus follows (and I swear this is not just my opinion, check the wikz): Lego Batman and Lego Indiana Jones were just not as fun as Lego Star Wars.

Ok, so now that I am done ranting about why I think Lego themed games are currently engaged in a downward spiral, let address the issue that I think most people would raise at this point: Lego Rock Band will not be in the same format as those already mentioned. It won’t be an narrative-style adventure, and it certainly won’t be following the premise of a movie or preordained storyline. It will be a Rock Band game with a Lego Systems flair. Fair enough. But I think that it will be little more than that; a replica of Rock Band, albeit with a new selection of songs, but now your band, your stage, and probably your scrolling “notes” will be composed of Lego System Mini Figs, Bricks, and Studs respectively. Big whoopity deal. Risking the wrath of the Rock Band ring, I would like to propose that the world doesn’t need another simulated music game. And so help me, if I hear one more reference to rocking out with one’s block out, I will do something drastic. They’re bricks, numbnuts! Lego System Bricks!

In conclusion, I have to point out that we saw some of the best Lego System products (excluding the Mindstorm line) spawned of the marriage between Star Wars and Lego, and we also saw some rather interesting and profitable Batman and Indiana Jones Lego collections released in conjunction with those games. What can we expect from Lego Systems along with the release of Lego Rock Band? If anything, whatever it is, it will never live up to this.

So what’s the big picture here? Let me make this abundantly clear: Lego Universe better rock a hell of a lot harder than Lego Rock Band, let me tell you, or else there will be hell to pay.

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6 Comments

  1. GJ said on April 23, 2009:

    I called this when I blogged after the Beatles stand-alone was announced about the degradation of the brand in the name of the almighty dollar. Since then we’ve had a Rock Band portable announcement (with a few good songs that will be limited time exclusive to frustrate core users), and now the Lego expansion. They also are doing a “Classic Rock” track pack– by the way, Stone Roses Love Spreads, while a great song isn’t classic rock… I hope.

    Although Harmonix isn’t going as aggressive as Activision in terms of stamping out as many boxes as possible, it seems pretty obvious they are whoring the brand out when it “makes sense”. The slope gets ever more slippery with each new licensed product.

    Which gives me a great idea for their next product: Rock Band, Bon Jovi Deadliest Catch Edition: Slippery When Wet. Harness the awesome power of 80’s hair band rock in order to capture as many crabs as possible.

    In other news, Golden Jew is leaving videolamer to take a marketing VP position at MTV.

    On a serious note, I understand that they are doing this to have a “sanitized” version for kids– parents can buy it and not worry about suggestive lyrics, a line Rock Band has walked well. On top of it, they get licensing fees for Lego (I assume). If they’re going this route, let’s get a hardcore track pack that involves all the songs with dirty words that we love to sing. My two nominees are Puddle of Mudd “She Hates Me” and Seether’s “FMLYHM”.

  2. Don said on April 23, 2009:

    Unless there is a Rock Band: Scorpions, I don’t give even a single shit.

  3. christian said on April 23, 2009:

    The idea of a gentler Rock Band for kids seems great on paper, but I don’t think that that is what this actually is. If it was, you’d see a handful of very well known classic rock tracks, and a lot of modern rock/pop stuff. But this is getting tracks like The Final Countdown. That isn’t for the kids. That one is for the nostalgia hungry twenty somethings that like to enjoy things ironically, which is the group of people that made The Final Countdown popular again (I told my thirtysomething coworker about this and he laughed out loud).

    I don’t want to give them credit, but EA and Harmonix are becoming marketing geniuses. They can make something like this, which is the same kind of brand dilution that GJ refers to, and the fans will come up with things like “well…its okay because this is Harmonix”, “this one is okay because Activision does it more”, and “this is okay because its cool”. And I would answer each one of these with “it doesn’t change the principle of the matter”. In any case, somehow they’ve convinced their fanbase that they can follow down the same path as “evil” Guitar Hero, complete with degradation in quality, and it will still be a brick of gold, rather than a brick of shit.

    And as for Rock Band PSP, don’t get me started. They took the brand name, style etc. and slapped it onto a sequel to Frequency and Amplitude, rather than just giving us Frequency and Amplitude.

  4. Spyder Mayhem said on April 23, 2009:

    I have nothing positive to say about this. This is not good. Never have a played Rock Band and thought to myself “This needs more Legos.”

    I don’t want to buy this. I have a child, and she loves Rock Band. She may even love a version of Rock Band with easier difficulties. Regardless, I don’t want this to exist.

    But I do want “Song 2” by Blur. And I do want Rock Band to become more adult and release songs with swear words. If Lego Rock Band becomes the kid-friendly version and Rock Band moves on to songs with naughty words, this may be worthwhile. But I suspect Rock Band will remain censored and that the only way I will be able to get “Song 2” is to buy Lego Rock Band. That sucks.

    This seems vastly different, to me, than The Beatles: Rock Band. I can understand that one. The Beatles are very picky on how their intellectual property is used, and that pickyness forced Harmonix to give The Beatles their own game. Cool, great.

    Lego Rock Band, however, is just a cash-in. Yuck.

  5. pat said on April 24, 2009:

    shifting gears, when you say lego system, is that as distinct from lego duplo and technic? in other words, does system specifically refer to the normal legos i remember so fondly?

  6. Alexis said on April 27, 2009:

    I believe that “Lego System” refers to all things Lego, including Lego Duplo and Lego Technic, whereas “Lego System Brick” refers to the classics, the foundation of the system: bricks, studs, mini figs, beams, etc. It’s called a system because everything fits together. You could feasibly make something out of lassic, Duplo and Technic pieces. There’s a whole pseudo-cult around this; check out this site if you are curious. http://www.lego.com/eng/create/designschool/lesson.asp?id=1_b

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