Let’s face it: one’s enjoyment of a game in a popular franchise is always partly dependent on one’s familiarity with said franchise. So as much as we’d like to make a universal statement regarding the enjoyment you’ll get out of The Beatles: Rock Band, doing so does the game a disservice. Perhaps more so than in any other game, The Beatles: Rock Band is going to mean radically different things to different people. The way we see it, there are four different types of people who will play this; which are you?
The category you fall into will dictate what you love and what you hate about The Beatles: Rock Band. We’ve given each one of these types its own section, so you can pick which review is the most relevant to you. Sound good? First up is…
What you should know about The Beatles: Rock Band: We’re going to assume for the sake of this review that you don’t hate videogames – otherwise you wouldn’t be at our fine site. But we will assume you don’t know a whole lot about the Rock Band franchise, which is totally OK. The Beatles: Rock Band is about as user-friendly as one could hope for – you grab an instrument, turn the game on, choose Quickplay (the first option on the menu), and you’re ready to pick any of the game’s 45 songs to play.
If you choose to go through the story, you’ll work your way through the band’s history, starting in Liverpool and ending on the roof of the Apple studios. Beautiful, stylized videos bookmark each chapter, and there’s a huge incentive to keep pushing through, not only because the videos are so cool, but also because, let’s face it, The Beatles’ best stuff came later in their career. The animations of the Beatles playing on the Ed Sullivan show are great and all, but when you hit the studio years and the trippy dreamscapes start opening up, it’s a whole new experience. Aside from the fact that the Beatles’ music is arguably better at this point (compare “Revolution” to “Boys”), the game’s visuals become absolutely astounding as you progress. Prepare to fly on a giant balloon with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, take a trip on the Yellow Submarine or become the Walrus. Each song has its own visually distinct music video, and each one is an absolute treat.
Above: Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows is so visually arresting that you may play it over… and over…
When it comes to gameplay, the Beatlemaniac will typically gravitate towards vocals – if you choose to take up the mic, you’ll have the option to either sing the solo part or the harmonies. We recommend picking harmonies – there’s no penalty for jumping off your part to the main line, and from a strategic standpoint, you triple your chances of nailing a line if there are three harmonies to choose from. If you’re a Beatlemaniac, you’re likely not in it to win it – you just want have fun warbling about, singing everyone’s part and doing your best John Lennon impression. We know. Have a good time.
Above: How a Beatlemaniac will treat TB:RB
The unlockable photos and movies are so filled with Beatles love and obscure trivia that the desire to collect them all may become obsessive, yet the only way to unlock all these treasures is to earn five-star ratings on each song. If you’re a Beatlemaniac, you may just find yourself a Rock Band Guru as well by the time you’ve unlocked them all.
“They even got Ringo’s mole right! EEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!”
Next page: the Rock Band Guru and the Giddy Fanboy
Above: Seriously, Dean Martin, Allan Sherman and Vic Damone? SERIOUSLY?
What you should know about The Beatles: Rock Band: As a Rock Band game, TB:RB is unfortunately a bit of a step back from Rock Band 2. Why? What the Rock Band series has always set out to do (and arguably does better than Guitar Hero) is make you feel like part of a rockin’ band – that sense of immersion has always been key. You should know off the bat that there are no customizable avatars, no clothes to buy, no fans to acquire and no cash to spend in The Beatles: Rock Band – you’re unlikely to feel like a rock god at any point in your journey through the (completely linear) story mode. TB:RB holds you at arm’s length; rarely do you feel like a member of the Fab Four.
Part of this is due to the fact that your playing doesn’t have the same effect on the music as it has in previous titles. Apple Corps - the Beatles’ record label - is extremely protective of the group’s intellectual property, and refuses to let you bend notes with the whammy bar or add additional filter effects like you could in previous Rock Band games. If you miss a note, the track for your instrument will cut out, but that’s pretty much the entirety of the control you have over the music. There are no drum fills, either – we’ll admit crazy fills would feel pretty out of place in, say, “Here Comes The Sun,” but the lack of interactivity hurts the overall sense of immersion.
Above: Pound that whammy all you want, son – you’re not messin’ with Sir Paul’s licks
That said, the production values in TB:RB are way above anything you’ve seen in even Rock Band 2, and despite the lack of personalized avatars, you’ll feel more immersed in the universe of The Beatles than you might expect. This is thanks in large part to the strong visuals, which put both Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and Guitar Hero: Metallica to shame. Some Rock Band Gurus have complained that the songs in TB:RB are too easy, and there’s some truth to that. We rarely failed songs, even on the hardest settings. But if you’re itching for a challenge, know what you can do? Double up – see if you can play guitar or drums while singing at the same time. We guarantee you’ll have new ways to show off to your friends.
Above: Sing and play an instrument? You mean, like an actual musician?
“Meh. Call me when they add ‘Run To The Hills.’”
Who you are: This reviewer, for one. For you, the melodies and lyrics of every Beatles song are fully lodged in your subconscious from years of casual listening, though you wouldn’t necessarily call yourself a die-hard fan. Likewise, you’ve played and maybe even bought a Guitar Hero or Rock Band game and liked it a lot, especially before the series got so hardcore that every song looked like someone pouring a bag of Skittles onto a yardstick.
So… you like Rock Band, you like the Beatles, and you like the idea of the two of them together. Congrats! You’re the target demographic for The Beatles: Rock Band.
What you should know about The Beatles: Rock Band: There are going to be songs that you wanted to play that won’t be there. The full set list for TB:RB is readily available should you not know it already, but we’ll guarantee there’s some song you’ve been itching to play (Help? Hey Jude?) that didn’t make it into the retail release.
Now, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself whether you’re a “glass half full” or a “glass half empty” sort of person. When you created your imaginary setlist of Beatles tunes you wanted to play in TB:RB – don’t lie, you know you did – did you think a little too broadly? The Beatles’ catalogue of brilliant music is more enormous than you might think, and perhaps some of your favorite songs aren’t really Rock Band material, especially if they don’t heavily feature guitar, bass, drums and vocals.
Still, there are plenty of downloadable tracks on their way to fill your metaphorical glass all the way to full, so long as you don’t mind paying extra for them. Developer Harmonix is hoping you’ll spend a lot of money on TB:RB, either through buying songs, getting fancy new plastic instruments, or both.
Speaking of which, the instruments that come with the full band bundle of TB:RB are worth mentioning for two reasons: One, they look so good and work so well that you might actually care about them getting mangled by your ham-handed friends. Two, in both the guitar and drum set that came with our review copy, the start button was extremely squishy and often didn’t register our attempts to press it at all. Word of warning – until we figured out what was going on, we thought the game itself was broken.
Despite that, you should still find a lot to love about The Beatles: Rock Band. There are those who say that music games are killing real music, but you’ll know better after playing TB:RB. Even if you’ve listened to The Beatles’ music all your life, you still may find yourself catching little nuances in the note arrangements that you’d never noticed before. That alone is worth a high recommendation in our book.
“I can’t play through Revolution 9 on vocals? Damn it! I’ll have to write an angry letter once I come down off the joygasm that has enraptured my being since the opening title sequence.”
Next up: the Cave-Dweller, and we wrap this all up
Who you are: We’re not really sure. Maybe you’re, like, a bar owner or something and you’re looking for some game to bring people in on a Saturday night. Or maybe you’re thinking of giving the game as a gift to someone. Or maybe you’re reading this review because you saw the big box at Wal-Mart and thought it was some sort of add-on for Wii Fit. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us.
Above: “I don’t see how this is going to help me lose weight”
What you should know about The Beatles: Rock Band: No, the bundle does not contain the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or Wii needed to play the game. And no, the bundle does not include a bass and guitar - only one guitar, a microphone and a drum set, which you’ll have to assemble yourself. And no, the bundle does not contain the actual members of The Beatles. We’re being sarcastic, of course, but trust us: some Cave-Dweller somewhere is going to try and start a lawsuit over this crap, and we want to be the first to say we called it.
What we’re getting at, though, is that TB:RB is expensive, and we’re not sure we’d trust our grandparents or bar patrons with it. The $250 price tag for the limited-edition bundle is more than a new Xbox 360 Arcade, and it’s a major investment any way you look at it. You’ll definitely enjoy the game if you can get everything needed to set it up, but it’s a lot of money to pretend to play “I Me Mine” on a plastic toy guitar.
That said, many Cave-Dwellers who tested this game were pleasantly surprised – a common comment we got was, “I had no idea The Beatles wrote this song!” and “Wow, I didn’t realize how interesting their later stuff is!” The Cave-Dweller may actually be the most likely to enjoy TB:RB, if only because he/she is most likely to go in with zero expectations.
“Wait… This WiiStation 360 needs electricity, too?”
We can’t recommend The Beatles: Rock Band to everyone. If you’re indifferent towards The Beatles, you might become a fan once you’re thrust into their beautiful little universe, but if you hate mop-tops with a fiery passion, all the peace and love in the world isn’t going to change your mind. Likewise, the game is not going to appeal to those expecting Metallica-esque difficulty or the good ol’ sex, drugs, and rock and roll approach of the earlier Guitar Hero/Rock Band games.
We’re not giving the game a perfect score, because we can understand why some people might hate it, or feel like it’s a step back from earlier Rock Band games. But if you asked us what we would’ve wanted to change about the experience, we’d be hard-pressed to come up with any significant edits. The joy you can get from playing The Beatles: Rock Band is simply immeasurable… provided, of course, that you’re coming to the game with the right expectations.
Guitar Hero: Aerosmith? Dear God yes. Even though GH: Aerosmith had some neat tunes by artists that inspired the band, the Beatles are, well… The Beatles. And even if they weren’t, the care that’s been put into the presentation and extras in TB:RB obliterates GH: Aerosmith and its eerie ragdoll-Steven Tyler.
Rock Band 2? Maaaaaybe. You don’t feel like you are the Beatles, but you do feel connected to them, regardless. Rock Band 2’s campaign is much better, though.
Guitar Hero: Metallica? It’s a subjective call, obviously, but we’ve never met someone with equal affinity for both The Beatles and Metallica. Most people have a preference, and at least TB:RB doesn’t give you as many hand cramps.
Not everyone will love The Beatles: Rock Band, but everyone should love it, because it’s amazing. It’s everything a Beatles fan could want, and even if you’re not a fan, you may find yourself converted after a few songs.
Sep 8, 2009