Do You Want To Know A Secret? I Am The Walrus and I Want To Hold Your Hand
Judging on its title alone, The Beatles: Rock Band (or Rock Band: The Beatles… I don’t care that I’m wrong) has all the makings of a sure-fire winner. Combine one of the most popular rhythm franchises with one of the greatest, if not the greatest, bands in music history (cue the hate mail), and you’re bound to create something spectacular, no matter how you manage to mess up. Of course, MTV Games and Harmonix doesn’t do anything of the sort.
[image1]It’s clear from the very first retro-collage introductory video, produced by the same artists who made and styled the slick, silhouetted opening to the James Bond film Quantum of Solace, that months of a hard day’s night, and eight days a week, went into making The Beatles: Rock Band a fitting tribute to "The Lads from Liverpool". More than just a makeover and some palette swapping, the menu screens have gone down the fantastical reverie of Abbey Road, the concert stages have turned into the set of the Ed Sullivan Show, Budokan, and Shea Stadium, and moving from song to song in the selection screen has switched from that low, lumpy sound effect to the light tapping of a cymbal (played by Ringo Starr… in my imagination).
Apart from the obvious overhaul of the tracklist into a Beatles anthology, packed with 45 songs without any "inspired by" bullcrap (25 songs have been announced by name thus far, though any Beatles fan can imagine what might fill out the roster), a host of exclusive, never-before-seen Beatles memorabilia are ready to be unlocked throughout story mode. Not much can be said yet on the kind of content that is unlocked and how it is unlocked, let alone how story mode even works, but let’s just say that the special rewards will be worthy to anyone remotely interested in The Beatles. Just the second half of the story mode, which takes place in the fictional psychedelic Dreamscapes of The Beatles in Studio Two at Abbey Road Studios, is enough of a mind trip to convince anyone to play it (…maybe that’s why it got the absurd ‘T’ rating).
Given the handful of other musical tribute games, these few adjustments would usually satisfy the standards for the green light, but The Beatles: Rock Band takes it one step further. While the drums, guitar, and bass sections generally remain the same (more on that later), the vocals recognize George Harrison’s compositional skills with three-part vocal harmonies. What normally would be a single melodic line in the vocals has been separated into, for the most part, up to three lines (the number of parts is indicated for every song). That requires up to three microphones and likely the same number of mic stands, but that also means up to six people can be accomodated – can anyone say par-tay?
[image2]Only one line needs to be sung during the multiplier for vocals to continue, but if more than one line is filled at the end of a measure (either a "Double Fab!" or "Triple Fab!", exclamations included), more points will be awarded. Not only does this provide an additional challenge for perfectionists, but it enriches and fleshes out an instrumental part that felt incomplete and tangential, a side diversion not even worthy of being included in the unison bonus. Here at least, the tambourine sections have been removed, and an added vocal training mode allows the player the practice each part. The vocals have an overall stronger, more important presence.
Otherwise, everything else is more or less the same Rock Band with a few exceptions. The online mode will work generally like it did in Rock Band 2. Similarly, a music store will allow you to download additional tracks in the future, notably and hopefully full Beatles albums at a reasonable price. You can even expect the game to come in various SKUs, with the main bundle costing $250, so that you only get the hardware that you absolutely need.
However, the difficulty won’t get progressively higher as the story mode moves forward, since it follows the The Beatles biography chronologically. That means that you’ll encounter isolated pockets of difficulty throughout instead of a steady rise from easier songs to harder ones, but that’s not a problem, only a point of difference.
[image3]Additionally, several welcome adjustments have been made. In keeping the integrity of Ringo Starr’s drumlines, there is no interruptive fill section in order to activate star power. A lefty flip option is now available on the instrument selection screen without having to go into the menu while the song is playing, a nod, perhaps, to Paul’s famous left-handed bass. The "no fail" option has been added to the selection screen as well during freeplay. More than that, whenever "easy" is selected as a difficulty, the no fail option is turned on automatically, just as a safety measure. It might feel like you’re being forced to ride with training wheels, but it’s better than falling off and having the other players turn their heads slowly at your facepalm of utter failure.
The only snag that might bring it down is that, from the information we have received so far, none of the Beatles songs can be ported to the hard drive, and none of the Rock Band DLC is compatible with The Beatles: Rock Band either. It is a standalone game, through and through. Though it might be possible to reduce the three-part harmonies to the original single-part melodic line for the sake of portability, this is understandable given the unique architecture of the game.
The Beatles: Rock Band could have been a lame excuse for a vapid cash-in – you could see it from a mile away with a blindfold on – but it surprisingly isn’t. It is, without question, a fitting homage to an incredible band, in the package of an incredible franchise. Look for The Beatles: Rock Band to hit the road on September 9, 2009.