This is not your grandfather’s Rock Band.
Or, maybe that’s exactly what it is.
What I’m trying to say is this: The Beatles: Rock Band is a game that raises the bar for your average Guitar Hero/Rock Band title much like The Beatles themselves elevated art within rock ’n’ roll. So while The Beatles are your gramp’s kind of rock band, he wouldn’t even recognize this game. It really is that much better than previous Rock Band titles.
A Day in the Life
Opening animation playfully takes you on a tour of the Fab Four’s relatively short but hit-filled seven-year recording history. The bouncy clip foreshadows the path you’ll tread as you proceed to push colored buttons, thump colored drum pads and wail out your best falsetto “oooooh.”
Each of the game’s Story chapters takes you through about a year in the group’s life, starting at Liverpool’s Cavern Club in 1963, then moving on to Ed Sullivan’s “really big shoe” in ’64 and so on. You play along and watch as the band morphs from head-shaking mop-tops to hirsute artistic icons strumming away on the Apple Corps rooftops.
It’s quite an entertaining journey. And the game slots in a good-sized handful of memorable songs from each year. For instance, the Cavern Club segment features early numbers “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Twist and Shout.” Shea Stadium showcases “I’m Looking Through You” and “Eight Days a Week.” And once the boys get off the road, grow lots of facial hair and become a studio band, the Abbey Road sections crank out megahits such as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something.”
There are 45 tunes altogether, and the majority will be easily recognizable to anyone who’s turned on the radio anytime in the last four decades. The newly remastered music is lush and full. And this upgraded version of Rock Band lets you harmonize to your faves with up to three vocal parts. Technically, that means—when adding drums, lead guitar and bass—six family members or friends can end up becoming the digital quartet. (Of course, if you’re really into authenticity and have extra cash burning a hole in your pocket, you’ll stick with four players and go buy the instrument peripherals that look just like the band’s original drums and guitars.)
Another fun part of play involves whimsical cutscenes and unique performance scenes. And I’m not talking about shots of stock avatars that slightly resemble the lads from Liverpool, either. The animators worked very closely with Apple Corps bigwigs—including bandmates Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr—who spot-checked the work and offered access to archival films in an attempt to make everything look … fab. They even went so far as to secure wood samples from guitar maker Höfner in order to replicate the grain on Paul’s violin bass.
The resulting scenes are soundly delightful and include Paul plucking his left-handed bass and belting out “Ticket to Ride” in front of thousands of screaming, hyperventilating fans at Shea Stadium. Taking things beyond realism—as The Beatles did so often so long ago—the more intimate Abbey Road studio performances dive into a psychedelic dreamscape, with Ringo and crew performing “Octopus’s Garden,” for instance, on an underwater reef. For the record, it’s an intertwining of music and animation that’s unmatched in the music/rhythm genre.
Don’t Let Me Down
“What we wanted to do was steep the player in the experience of The Beatles’ music and their imagery as they were evolving over a seven- to eight-year period,” said Alex Rigopulous, CEO of game designer Harmonix.
Cool, right? But as I picked up the game for the first time, I couldn’t help but wonder when or if the other Beatle boot was going to drop. After all, it wasn’t always a simple “I wanna hold your hand” for this group. What about the evolving personal lives of the band? The drugs? The Eastern mysticism? For that matter, what about the bare-knuckle breakup?
Well, thankfully, The Beatles: Rock Band doesn���t go there. Nobody ends up asking “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” “Helter Skelter” and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” are present, but it depends on your personal interpretation of their lyrics as to whether they advocate drug use. Of course, “Come Together” sports the line “He shoot Coca-Cola.” But it also digs around for toe jam. And that’s as down and dirty as this game gets. Even the avatars stay smiling and positive right through to their final “The love you take/Is equal to the love you make.”
“The game is great, the music’s greater and, animated, I look gorgeous!” said Ringo Starr at the video game’s debut. And for all of the former Beatle drummer’s cheeky opining, he’s pretty much spot on.
The game is great because the music is terrific. And the sparkling animated eye candy and Beatles trivia—including lots of fan-pleasing, unlockable photos, recordings and real-life film clips—makes it all the more stylishly enjoyable. So while The Beatles may or may not have been your granddad’s favorite band, their new game would make even mean Mr. Mustard want to sing “yeah, yeah, yeah.”
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.