There’s little doubt that the members of The Beatles were idealists. From heartfelt ballads explaining to the world that “all you need is love,” to protest songs calling for a revolution, the band seemed poised and compelled to change the world. When they pressed past the early years of pop, with easy dance numbers like Twist and Shout and I Want to Hold Your Hand, and stumbled into psychedelic mind trips featuring submarines and bulldogs, their progression showed that bands could evolve. In fact, they should evolve. Now, some 45 years since the band formed, with two surviving members, a worldwide allegiance of fans, and a spot in music history as the greatest band of all time, Harmonix has taken the task of immortalizing John, Paul, George and Ringo in videogame history in The Beatles: Rock Band.
Before this review goes any further, it should be clear that if you don’t like The Beatles, you will most likely not care for this game. In that case, we feel bad for you and suggest you take the plunge and give it a shot out regardless – you may be pleasantly surprised. As you’d expect, The Beatles: Rock Band is functionally the same experience as you’ll find in any other Rock Band or Guitar Hero title. You will not find any major changes to the gameplay and there are no new bells or whistles that are interesting enough to make this game stand out above its predecessors. What it does have is an immaculate presentation filled with a repertoire of some of the most sought after tracks in all of music videogames.
The Beatles: Rock Band is an absolute feast for your eyes and ears. We’ll start with what the game does best — present the Fab Four in brilliantly crafted levels that take you from the band’s first concerts in the Cavern Club to the trippy Abby Road sessions. Playing in front of the small crowds in the Cavern or thousands of screaming fans in Shea Stadium certainly makes you feel the band’s natural yet almost exponential growth and success. As the years pass and the band’s touring days come to a close, the game’s settings turn to recording studios and magical fields and oceans. Yes, the band’s psychedelic years are well represented through what Harmonix describes as ‘dreamscapes,’ essentially visual representations of the songs. Since many of the band’s tunes were never performed live, Harmonix decided to create what feels like mini movies or music videos instead of planting the gracefully aging Beatles into unfaithful venues. It’s that faithfulness to the band’s history and progression that makes the experience addicting.
As you advance through the levels, the recreated Beatles members start to age. Their attire changes as the music advances. We felt completely engrossed in the Sergeant Pepper years, with the band mates sporting their classic kooky uniforms. The hippie side of the band certainly comes out during songs like Here Comes the Sun, and we couldn’t help but feel almost shocked and afraid during I Am the Walrus and Octopus’s Garden.
Not only is The Beatles: Rock Band a joy to play, it’s also worth watching, too. Of course, that’s a hard statement for many games to stand up to. After all, not many of us like sitting back and watching someone else play a videogame, but with the visual representations in The Beatles: Rock Band, you can find yourself getting lost just watching the TV as lush colors fill your eyes and leave your brain happily awaiting more.
Of course if you have to sit out a round, you won’t have to just watch. Since the game is all things Beatles, you’ll have an incredible set of songs to fill your ears. Yes, the music sounds good, even if you are not a Beatles fanatic. Casual fans will enjoy the many classics that grace the Blu-ray disc. The true diehard fans will go crazy for the wonderful set list; however, with 45 tracks, we would have liked to see a lot more songs on the disc. We know that means there’s plenty for us to download, and Harmonix was smart to leave out some highly in-demand tracks.
We would be negligent not to discuss the game’s difficulty level. Music games have created quite the pop culture buzz, with seven-year-olds showing how they can play the hardest song at the hardest difficulty level on some random TV talk show. The guitar and drum parts are not any harder than previous Rock Band entries, in fact, they are probably easier since George didn’t shred and Ringo didn’t perform overly complex fills. What is difficult about the game (aside from switching difficulty levels) is harmonizing. This new feature is by far the best addition to the ‘education’ portion of any recent music game. We know Rock Band and Guitar Hero are not supposed to teach people how to play guitar or drums; if anything, it will help their Simon Says skills, but learning to truly harmonize like the Fab Four is almost a master course in ear training. The game is meant to be played with one to six players, meaning one on guitar, bass, drums, and three vocals; but, if you want a real challenge, put those three microphones in front of people actually playing one of the instruments. You don’t have to harmonize perfectly to get a good score, but rocking through Drive My Car with harmony is a completely different experience than playing it solo.
The game is chock full of extras for Beatlemaniacs. Completing stages and earning points lands you extras like historic photos, quotes, and videos. These are all excellent goodies, even if you are a bit indifferent about the band. You’ll feel wrapped in a world of time gone by. You can also purchase the band’s unique instruments, but these only feel necessary for the hardcore Beatles fan, or the Rock Band instrument collector – most of your old Rock Band/Guitar Hero instruments will work just fine. If you want the full experience, sport a black suit and a black tie, comb your hair in a mop-top, and pull out the replica Rickenbacker 325 guitar, Hofner bass, Gretsch Duo Jet guitar, and Ludwig ‘Beatles’ kick drum. For the rest of us who enjoy playing the game casually, stick with your old gear.
The Beatles: Rock Band is certainly not based on a new game, nor does it pretend to be a part of a new genre. Instead, we are presented with one of the greatest bands in the classic Rock Band style many have grown to love. If you have parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, or friends that grew up listening to The Beatles, especially witnessing the band’s historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, they will no doubt get a kick out of the game. Even better, if these ‘older’ friends or family members have never played videogames, they will, almost without a doubt, enjoy playing this game. Even our own aging relatives and friends couldn’t stop laughing, dancing, and singing along (even when it wasn’t their turn) to their favorite Beatles songs. After all, isn’t that what party games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero are all about?
It’s hard to find many flaws in the game, but it’s even harder to find a single game that is absolutely perfect. We are disappointed the disc only comes with 45 tracks, but we know that decision was mostly a business plan (you can bet the downloadable content will sell well). Also, the story mode, which is split up into chapters of the band’s history, start to wane towards the end of the game. As the band members faced more internal tension, pressure from devoted fans, and general wisdom and solemnity, the music took a definite turn in the somber direction. Therefore, the ‘ending’ of the game leaves you a bit blue. We imagine fans of the band felt a similar feeling when the group broke up as we did when we stopped playing. We got a glimpse at pure rock ‘n’ roll. We saw how a band (and a game based on band) should perform and act. We laughed, danced, sang our hearts out, tried to avoid the glaze in our eyes during the psychedelic years, and we felt our chest sink a little when the game, like the group, was finally finished. Without a doubt, fans of The Beatles need this game. Even if you are only mildly interested in the music, the visuals alone are worth the money. Grab your friends and family, plug in, stand up, and get ready to experience The Beatles reborn in front of your very eyes.