LEGO Rock Band DS

LEGO Rock Band DS
LEGO Rock Band DS Cover
Platforms Nintendo DS
Genre Rhythm and repeat
Score 6  Clock score of 6
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Rock Band 3 is due out very soon and I just read that there will be a Nintendo DS port of the game. Unlike Guitar Hero: On Tour, there will be no bonus peripherals used to control the game, just the regular buttons. If this sounds odd to you, well, the experience is already available! Harkening all the way back to Harmonix's first game, Frequency, released in 2001.

After Frequency and Ampltude grew a cult following, the rhythm music game world exploded with Guitar Hero and Rock Band. No more would we press mere buttons on a controller, but now we will press buttons on a plastic guitar (not hating, I love the Rock Band series)! I thought we would never see the classic button pressing gameplay ever again, but gaming history likes to repeat itself, and I recently discovered that Harmonix has brought it back with Rock Band: Unplugged and LEGO Rock Band DS.

Seeing as I don't own a PSP, I sat down to the odd combination of LEGO and Rock Band. Released about a year ago alongside its PS3/Wii/Xbox 360 big brothers, the DS version was hampered with a smaller soundtrack and no downloadable content, but it is available on the go. And of course, if you're a fan of Frequency and Amplitude, then it might be time to return home.

What I loved: Since being introduced to Frequency by First Hour writer Steve back during college, I've loved the gameplay and concept. LEGO Rock Band DS mostly manages to keep that alive, though it's been dumbed down a bit for the LEGO audience, I'm assuming. Each track is still a different instrument and you still need to play a few measures of one instrument in a row before moving on to the next. The way the tracks are aligned you can usually see what notes are coming down on the next instrument so you can prepare, and there's big rewards for keeping all the band members in a groove during the song.

In the style of Rock Band, there's a few challenges on the tour that don't let you switch tracks at all but switch instruments for you automatically on one track. These aren't necessarily more fun than the regular type of gameplay, but it's nice to have a change of pace at times, especially as this mode ups the difficulty a bit.

Lego Rock Band ds GuitarWhat I liked: Some of the songs are pretty good, I personally enjoyed Song 2, So What, Free Fallin', and Accidentally in Love the most. Most of the songs have guitar solos (and even a few vocal solo portions) that you're forced to play that mix up the gameplay a bit. The tour mode is pretty basic, just head to different gigs and play either a pre-selected or self-selected set list, make some cash, and spend that cash on more LEGO vehicles to unlock more gigs. You can fully customize your four band members if you're into that, and there's a shop with tons more instruments and clothing options available.

What I didn't like: A lot of the songs are pretty bad. In theory, playing tracks like Ghostbusters, The Final Countdown, and Kung Fu Fighting seems like it would be awesome, but in reality they're just obnoxious. And then there's songs that are both in theory and in reality annoying to play like I Want You Back by the Jackson 5. That isn't a guitar/bass/drum song and the singing is by high-pitched tweener Michael Jackson. Its inclusion is baffling.

Gameplay wise, there's some annoyances. For example, the game is very strict about which instrument you should be playing. It generally rotates them in order, but sometimes it tries to be smart and picks some other character to take over for. If you're not paying close enough attention, you may end up playing the wrong instrument messing up your band's multiplier. Other times you may just sit idle because the game wants you to play drums but there isn't a drum part right now (yes, you can switch instruments during this downtime but you'd darn well better hit the very first drum note that comes up and play the rest of the measure perfectly or you'll again lose your multiplier).

There's also some odd glitches, mostly around hitting the purple notes that "finish off" an instrument and signal that you can move to the next one. If a purple note is preceded by a hold note and you don't hold it long enough, the purple will jump to the next note. When you're in the groove and have carefully calculated in advance when you can switch tracks, this can be disorienting. There's also the imbalance I mentioned above where the game wants you to play one instrument but it's not available right now, so you have to hit every note perfectly the first time when they do finally appear.

Lego Rock Band ds Pirate BandWhat I hated: Here we go, this section doesn't appear often but it is warranted here.

LEGO Rock Band DS features over 70 gigs, this may seem like a lot, until you realize there are only 25 songs in the game. Let me repeat that: ONLY TWENTY-FIVE SONGS. This means that if each gig was one song, you would have to play each song a minimum of three times to finish them all. But each gig is more like three songs, so by the end of the game, you have played every song at least five times, and some of them a lot more. The songs are simply not good enough for this to be worth it. And the only thing you can do to change the experience from one gig to another is raise the difficulty (when it's not that hard of a game in the first place), you will become bored very quickly.

The game really could have used the full 45 track list from the console versions of LEGO Rock Band as I don't know what else they could have done to salvage it. Yeah, they could have cut the number of gigs to hide the fact that there's not a lot of content, but that would be skirting the real problem.


Gameplay: 8
Classic Frequency/Amplitude gameplay is executed pretty well with only a few semi-minor issues.

Fun Factor: 5
I wish I could push this higher but the lack of tracks really hurts. I did have a good time before I realized I was about a third of the way through the game and had played almost every song twice already.

Graphics and Sound: 7
The music actually sounds like the real thing and the instruments go in and out if you miss some notes just as you would expect. They also increase the volume of the current instrument you're playing so it comes through better, great decision! Graphically, I guess there's some stuff going on on the DS's top screen, but you can't be bothered to look since you're, you know, playing a game that requires you to constantly be paying attention to the bottom screen.

Overall: 6
Good gameplay marred with repetition and lack of difficulty, LEGO Rock Band had a lot of potential. It's unfortunate that Rock Band 3 for the DS will also only feature 25 songs. I understand there are technical limitations, but I would have sacrificed all the pointless LEGO dancing animations for a few more songs.