Fans of Harmonix’s Rock Band and Activision’s Guitar Hero franchises looking for a revolution in the music game genre will be disappointed that The Beatles: Rock Band offers little innovation.
Players still satisfied rocking out with their plastic instruments will find a title with arguably the highest quality selection of music in a game yet and an enchanting art design that weaves together both the songs and the story of The Beatles‘ prolific career.
Magical Mystery Tour
The real star of the show is the game’s presentation, spearheaded by the Story mode which leads players through the career of the Beatles from starting with a performance at Liverpool’s The Cavern Club and ending with their concert on the roof of the Apple Corps Headquarters.
The game is bookended with beautiful cinematics created by Pete Candeland, producer of the opening cinematics for the Rock Band games and the Gorillaz music videos, that capture the span of The Beatles‘ musical evolution in the span of a few minutes.
The game is broken up into several chapters which place the player in a venue and gives them a set list of songs they’ll need to play to progress. An animated collage opens each chapter and frames the point in time the game is taking place in.
The majority of these chapters are placed in a specific venue like the Budokan or Shea Stadium but many of the songs that take place in the Abbey Road recording studios quickly transform into a colorful, often surreal “dreamscape” that thrusts The Beatles into worlds inspired by the song they are playing.
One song has The Beatles in their Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band regalia playing in a gazebo that is suddenly lifted into the air by a massive hot air balloon. Another song has The Beatles playing at the bottom of the ocean as the lyrics manifest in colorful letters and float through the water.
Unlike most music games, The Beatles: Rock Band crafts a unique level for each and every song similar to Elite Beat Agents. This creates a visual identity for the song which in turn increases replayability. A player can revisit not just because they like the way it sounds but also the way it looks.
Every Little Thing
Much of the gameplay minutiae developed in the two previous Rock Band titles are absent in The Beatles: Rock Band in an effort to adhere to the music of The Beatles.
The guitar controller’s whammy bar and effects switch don’t alter the sound of the notes, the drum fills that activated the Overdrive (or Beatlemania, as it’s called in this game) in the previous games is replaced with a single green note, and the bonus finishes that allowed players to wail on their controllers to earn points are absent.
The only real gameplay addition to the series is the inclusion of vocal harmonizing which not only works great but, due to the nature of The Beatles‘ music, is available in almost every song. With the addition of vocal harmonies, up to six players can now rock out, providing they have the bevy of instruments to do so.
Money Can’t Buy You Love But Can Buy You Merchandise
In order to play every part of every song in The Beatles: Rock Band, a player would have to purchase the guitar, drum, and microphone controllers. If two players wanted to play both the guitar and bass sections, they would have to purchase another guitar controller. And if three players decided they wanted to imitate the dulcet tones of John, Paul, George, and Ringo they would need to purchase another two microphones.
Fortunately for the budget-conscious gamer, the previous Rock Band instruments along with the various Guitar Hero controllers are compatible with the game. The microphone peripherals for iNiS’s karaoke game Lips are also compatible with this title. Of course, if someone is looking for more authenticity in their fake instruments, they can pick up replicas of some of The Beatles instruments specifically designed for the game.
Replica guitar controllers of Paul McCartney’s Hofner Bass, John Lennon’s Rickenbacker 325, and George’s Gretsch Duo-Jet can also be purchased but buying all three isn’t a necessity as the game strangely doesn’t offer both guitar tracks for the songs featuring two guitarists.
A Day in the Life
The game is filled with lots of interesting extras a Beatles fan could appreciate. Scoring high enough on the songs in Story mode unlocks photos of the band. Progressing far enough into the game will unlock the Beatles Christmas Album previously released in 1963 only to members of the Beatles fan club.
Harmonix makes great use of their access to The Beatles master tracks by adding snippets of studio chatter before and after a song. Most of it is uneventful, the band tuning their instruments mostly, but a few instances it is used creatively. Restart a song and George counts it as a new take (and the number goes pretty high). Restart too much and he’ll complain about his hand cramping.
And in the End
The Beatles: Rock Band is an excellent title and loving tribute to one of the most influential bands in history.
Although it does not have the variety in bands and genres as other music games do, being that it’s all about The Beatles, this is also its strength. It’s difficult to imagine a band with a stronger library of music. If someone doesn’t like their music they shouldn’t get the game. For everyone else, they can play one of the best music games ever created.