When I was growing up, I used to be very rigid when it comes to music. My rhythm vocabulary was on the older side, barely paying attention to new bands like Pearl Jam or Nirvana, and instead focusing on classic groups like The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath. But one band stood above the rest in terms of its musical prowess that I still listen to every day for the most part, and that is The Beatles.
The Fab Four, love them or hate them, changed rock and roll back in the 1960’s, and it is nice to see them get a proper tribute in video game format with “The Beatles: Rock Band.” A project so ambitious that I am honestly surprised the game came into fruition, with the super protective rights to the Beatles catalogue of music being in the hands of several distributers and musicians. Thankfully Harmonix did not Let it Be, as it were, because it seems like a perfect storm ascended the heavens and gave light to a really fun, if short, game experience.
“The Beatles: Rock Band” for one does a lot of things right when it comes to being a standalone experience for a rhythm game. Unlike games released by Guitar Hero for standalone bands, “The Beatles” is more of a tour of the bands own history, showcasing the quartet from their early days in Liverpool all the way to their final, rooftop concert in 1969. The game is almost like a story piece tied together by the music, taking you from the dingy club scene to the Ed Sullivan show to Shea Stadium to the fantastic studio recording sessions, interpreted by clever and varied dreamscape scenes that capture whimsical magic that many of The Beatles later songs implied.
As a rhythm game, not much has really changed. You’re still strumming, drumming, or singing for the most part, like all the other Rock Band’s and Guitar Hero’s out there. The only difference here is that for some select tracks you can have three vocalists at once, performing a 3 man-harmony section. It adds a lot of fun and also ups the number of players in a single game, making it a nice addition that does help separate itself from being nothing but a clone of “Rock Band 2.” In fact, that is one of the good things about “The Beatles: Rock Band,” it is different from “Rock Band 2.” Unlike the aforementioned “Guitar Hero” standalones which feel like they are cheap knock offs with a theme in mind for their game, “The Beatles” is pure Fab Four. There are no guest spots on this game, and you pretty much play as The Beatles throughout in full 3-D glory.
The caveat, however, is the length of the journey. Since the average length of a song is around three to four minutes, and the game contains a rather tame 45 songs, you can complete the game rather quickly on your own or with a band. The only motivation to continue playing here are achievements and unlocking exclusive content from the Beatles archives, including video and pictures of the band in their six year history. The Beatlemania lives on this way, but it unfortunately doesn’t keep the game going for too long. And unless if you are a diehard fan, it’s unlikely you’ll play it for long sessions either.
While there is some downloadable content in the form of three extra Beatle albums, the big problem with the game is the incompatibility of the set list to other Rock Band games. While this is a standalone that does most things right, this is perhaps it’s biggest flaw, mainly because making it mesh with the rather impressive 1,000 plus song archive on Rock Band would be magical in its own way. But again, I can see why they could not do this due to licensing reasons.
The game is really colorful and impressive graphically, again going for a more realistic tone like in other “Rock Band” games. Since you can only play as the Fab Four, the real treat here is to see the dreamscape sequences while playing the studio session songs. They are an absolute treat for the most part, offering almost movie magic scenes to crazy drug trip outs in one sweep. It’s good to see the Walrus with the Eggman all buzzed out of his mind, and even better to watch a black and white, almost “Sin City” style video go with the beat to “Hey Bulldog.” The live segments are really good too, not offering a crazy color palette like before, but again providing a backdrop of realism as we grow with the band.
The sound is also amazing, but again it’s The Beatles, so it should be. One oddity is that whenever you mess up, the music does not cut out in any way, which is kind of odd. Otherwise there really is not much to complain about. In fact, as an added bonus during the audition sessions you get to hear The Beatles chatter amongst themselves from unreleased recording sessions. It is another little bit that makes the game more of a tribute than an actual game, a nugget of appreciation to the fans as it were.
But despite the brevity of the game, “The Beatles: Rock Band” is definitely worth a look. It is a standalone title that does a LOT right to make it worth a buy and hell, its The Beatles you get to play as, and that has to count for something. And with a little help from your friends, it can be a great experience.
Final Score- B