Retro Review: The Beatles: Rock Band
For most Beatles fans around the world, 9/9/09 held some special significance. It was the day that the entire remastered collection of Beatles CD’s were released, and it’s also the day that Harmonix and MTV Games released the eagerly anticipated The Beatles: Rock Band. Music and gaming geeks rejoiced as one of the most popular bands in the world got their own games that was dedicated entirely to them. From the minute you put the game in your experience is uniquely and exclusively one of the Beatles. The only real question remained, is it enough to make the game worth it. Can a game that focuses solely on a band that disbanded 40 years ago resonate with a younger generation, or will appeal solely to the Beatles enthusiasts? Especially since the Collectors Edition version with the custom Beatles instruments will run a cool $250.
A band specific title within Rock Band is nothing new, with the AC/DC expansion that was released last year. But The Beatles: Rock Band is something entirely different. From top to bottom it’s exclusively the Beatles, with the stunning intro sequence through the various locals and the final session on the Apple Corp rooftops. The amount of detail that Harmonix has put into the game is unlike anything we’ve seen from any of the previous music game releases, and that includes the Guitar Hero franchise as well.
Right from the start, all of the songs are immediately playable within the Quickplay Mode, but it’s the Story Mode that really draws you in. Just like the career modes in the previous music games, Story Mode takes you through the Beatles start at the Cavern Club to their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show and some of their most memorable concerts from Shea Stadium and the Budokan. Playable either locally or through Xbox Live is broken up in chapters, each of which are comprised of anywhere from four to seven songs that are relevant to that particular time period.
The Party Mode has all of the songs unlocked, allowing a group to pick and choose which songs they’d like to play immediately. This is great for the casual gamer who just wants to jump in and play. There’s an on-line component to it as well with the Score Duel and Tug of War modes. These pit players, or entire bands against each other via XBox Live or the Playstation Network.
At the completion of each song you’ll earn stars, depending on how well you did, which in turn unlock special pictures that can be viewed from the main menu. Earn a certain amount of pictures and you’ll unlock even more special features. Content includes a special Christmas Album recording that the band made for its fan club back in 1963. You’ll also find interviews with the surviving members, as well as one that includes George Harrison.
If you’re already familiar with Rock Band, you’ll feel right at home with the gameplay mechanics, although a few minor tweaks have been made. The Overdrive bonus is now know as Beatlemania, and now you can play with up to six players. A guitarist, a bassist, a drummer and three singers. Yes, now you can have three people signing on any given song. What Harmonix has done has lead to a new approach, having the game track and scores each of the microphones separately. When multiple singers are playing there are also multiple pitch indicators that track the melody and two harmonies. Lastly, a new feature is the built-in achievement tracker. It shows your progress for each achievement and also lists songs needed to pertain certain achievements.
The presentation of The Beatles Rock Band is absolutely outstanding. The Fab Four have been carefully crafted and look fantastic, and there are some signature animations included, such as the way John holds his body when he’s playing the guitar or how Ringo sways his head while drumming. Seeing how they progress, as the years go by was great as well. From their clean cut look from their early years to the long hair and thick beards, it’s all there. And let’s not forget the memorable cut scenes that start each chapter, with images portraying the various memorable points during that time and the animations that are included within. It makes for a very surreal experience and only gets more surreal the further you progress. The Dreamscapes are like dream sequences that start in the Abbey Road recording studios, then launch into surreal, psychedelic, fantasy worlds that have relevance to each particular song. From to Octopuses Garden to Back In the USSR, each Dreamscape is like a personalized music video that’s trippy to say the least. It’s a real treat watching the various animations.
Let’s not forget how great everything sounds too. The songs sound great and the attention to detail is astounding. During loading screens at the beginning and end of each song you’ll hear the Fab Four banter amongst themselves. From talking about trivial matters to hearing Ringo complain about the blisters on his fingers after playing through “Helter Skelter”, the level of detail given to the sound really stands out. It’s just as impressive as the visuals.
Adding to the realism of a Beatles game, Harmonix has released a set of new instruments that can be purchased in a bundle or separately. The Special Edition bundle comes with a microphone with a stand, Paul McCartney’s Hofner bass and a Ludwig drum set. You can also purchase the Rickenbacker 325 guitar and a Gretsch Duo Jet guitar. The accurate details to the instruments really give you the complete Beatles experience, one which die hard fans will be hard to ignore.
Unfortunately it’s not all roses, although it’s close. Early on Harmonix was adamant that fans would be playing an entirely reworked Rock Band, and not one that was simply Rock Band featuring music from The Beatles. Unfortunately they must have forgotten about that because while it’s exclusively Beatles, the game is very much still a Rock Band product. It uses the same mechanics and controllers, there’s nothing new or reworked about the game. And that’s ok, because let’s be honest here, Rock Band is a good game and does it right for the most part. Still, Harmonix promised one thing and delivered another, and for that they should be called out on it.
The other negative is the limited song list. Featuring only 45 songs, you can easily get through the Story Mode in about three hours. It’s a bit disappointing not having the opportunity to play classics like “Hey Jude”, ,”Elenor Rigby” or “Help”. It’s inevitable that they’ll be available as downloadable content, but for a $60 game it would be nice to get a few more songs without being fleeced. Especially since complete downloadable albums will cost $17. Despite these concerns, The Beatles Rock Band is still a wonderful game.
Overall, Beatles fans will absolutely have to pick up this game. Fans of music games in general will enjoy it because it’s filled with great music that offers an amazing visual experience. Harmonix really outdid themselves and deserve recognition for it. Let’s just hope that the sales will reflect it, given the gamer demographics.