While most of the accusations of cash cow milking are usually aimed at Activision and its countless Guitar Hero games, Rock Band developer Harmonix isn't exactly innocent when it comes to spin-offs. The difference is that the likes of The Beatles Rock Band, Rock Band Unplugged on the PSP and now Lego Rock Band at least try to do something different with the genre instead of essentially being glorified song packs for the main series.
As the name suggests, Lego Rock Band is essentially Rock Band 2 with Lego characters instead of the realistic rockers from the main game. You get to put together a band made up of different Lego characters (new outfits and instruments can be unlocked as you earn extra cash, which naturally comes in the form of Lego studs) and rock out in a variety of weird and wonderful Lego-based stages like pirate ships and medieval castles. As well as the usual Free Play mode you usually get in music games, there's a Story mode where your Lego band gets in all sorts of scrapes, illustrated with humorous cut-scenes that should have younger gamers chuckling. Eventually, through the course of the Story mode your band will end up playing every song in the game's track list.
The Story mode also features special Rock Power Challenges where you have to use the power of rock to save the day, such as playing Ghostbusters to rid a haunted house of spooks. The scenes that play during these missions are adorable, but it can be annoying when the game stops giving you notes and makes you watch bits of the story instead of actually playing the song, which is sort of meant to be the point.
They're also annoying because they give us time to study the one aspect of the game that really disappoints us, the graphics. Simply put, they're atrocious. Lego Rock Band contains some of the worst textures we've ever seen in a Wii game. For example, as you play through songs in the Story mode you can unlock and buy furnishings for your rock den. One of these is a street sign saying "No Busking", according to the item's name at least. When you buy it and place it in your den all you see is a blue sign with blurred, unreadable text on it. What's the point in that? In other versions of the game it can be read perfectly legibly, but the developers didn't even try to make it readable on Wii.
This isn't a case of the Wii not being powerful enough. Rock Band 2 was fine and The Beatles Rock Band looked sensational so "it's the Wii version, what do you expect" isn't an excuse that's going to cut it with us, especially considering how much easier it should be with Lego characters. How come highly detailed, stylised versions of the Beatles can look fantastic but four lads with completely yellow, cylindrical heads look so bad? Even their clothing is blurred beyond belief. It's laziness on the part of the developer, who couldn't be bothered to properly optimise the textures for the Wii version, pure and simple.
This Wii laziness extends to the online side of things. Put bluntly, there isn't one. There's no online multiplayer at all, though at least that's the case across the board with other versions of the game too. What's more galling is the fact that Xbox 360 and PS3 owners can access a Lego Rock band music store, a cut-down version of the Rock Band music store featuring only family-friendly tracks. They can also import the tracks they've already downloaded from Rock Band 2 and play them in Lego Rock Band, as well as exporting the Lego Rock Band tracks for use in Rock Band 2. Absolutely none of this is possible on the Wii version: you're stuck with the 45 songs on the disc and that's it. This isn't acceptable. The Wii version of Rock Band 2 did incredible things and proved that the Wii was just as capable as other formats when it came to full online multiplayer and downloadable content (it saved tracks to an SD card). Lego Rock Band gives all those achievements a sound kicking and takes both the series and the concept of Wii ports as a whole three steps back.
As a standalone game, Lego Rock Band is entertaining enough. It's fun for kids and should keep them entertained. When you look at the bigger picture and compare it to other versions of the game however, the complete lack of effort that's gone into making sure the Wii version offers similar value for money is nothing short of disgusting and lazy.