Our gaming critic has the exclusive first look at the new Beatles-themed edition of the popular Rock Band series from Harmonix.
Hey everyone – Kevin Field here, The Simon’s source for all things related to video gaming: news, reviews, cheats and more news. I’ve got an AWESOME surprise for you today – I scored an advance copy of Beatles: Rock Band, the new music game from the guys at Harmonix that covers the history of the “Fab Four.” This is one of the most widely-anticipated games in the history of console gaming, because Baby Boomers will drop money on anything that has the Beatles’ name on it. Even video games, which they probably don’t even play because they’re too old. It’s the first version of Rock Band to be centered solely on one band or artist, probably because half of the Beatles are dead now so it must have been easier to get the rights or something.
Now, I’m not all that familiar with the Beatles – they’re more my parents’ kind of thing. I grew up in the age of Jay Z. and R. Kelly (who I STILL love all these years later). That actually makes me the perfect guy to review this game. I’m not a fanboy who’s just going to tell you the game kicks ass because I’m into that old music.
Beatles: Rock Band is pretty straightforward. It follows the career of the band through “Story Mode,” moving chronologically through their history and catalogue. (You can also select individual songs through “Quick Play.”) All the Beatles from over the years are featured: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Pete Best, Stu Sutcliffe, George Martin, Eric Clapton and Billy Preston. If all goes well and you win the game, the Beatles suffer a bitter and acrimonious breakup, and you’ll have to endure hours of legal wrangling that plays over the game’s credits as the band’s assets are dissolved.
The first question: is this a game for kids, or are there advanced difficulty levels to make this a challenge for the most seasoned game pro? I’d say more the latter than the former. While Rock Band’s traditional Easy-Medium-Hard-Expert levels are intact, Beatles: Rock Band adds some wrinkles that make it harder to play than most music games.
For example, when you select any of Lennon’s parts from the early album tracks, you’ll periodically need to fight off the advances of manager Brian Epstein, who was rumored to have a crush on him – I guess he was gay? Later in the game, from the White Album era to the end, Harmonix has added a “Yoko” difficulty level (also called "O-no!”). No matter how well you perform, Yoko Ono gets in the way and tells you you’re doing it all wrong. Being able to tune her out and focus on your playing makes for an added challenge. Finally, there’s “Phil Spector” difficulty. You’ll be playing like you want to, only Spector is there to overproduce your sounds into a compromised, lesser imitation. You’ll have to play extra well, because after Spector’s watered down the music with his cheesy brass and choral background parts, you’re guaranteed to lose points.
Next up: how are the songs themselves?
I picked a sample of the more hardcore tracks from the game. One of them, “Wild Honey Pie,” has you sing just like the Beatles did, all screechy and stuff. If you don’t screech in exactly the way Lennon did, you don’t get any points. But since you don’t need to worry about playing any of the instruments, this one’s pretty easy. It’s all about challenging your vocal cords, and I totally did.
Another song that rocks your cords is “Good Night.” Unlike on “Wild Honey Pie,” there are no instruments to play on this song. You just need to sing like Ringo. Only Ringo. And that’s not easy, because he wasn’t really about hitting the correct notes. So you have to match him somehow. Now, this track wasn’t as exciting to me. When I think of the Beatles, I think of rock music – sure, it’s rock music that my parents would be into, like Journey or Van Halen or whatever – but this music is just slow. I don’t know why they think this song will appeal to the young people who are going to be buying this game. Maybe it’s something for moms and dads to be able to do. (I will say that the end, where you have to whisper “Good night, everybody… everybody, everywhere,” is hard to get exactly right. It took me four tries before I nailed it and could advance to the next song.)
Another one of the harder songs is “Revolution 9.” It’s an overlong, really messed-up experimental track where you have to hit the buttons and make certain sound samples play at the right time. If you don’t recreate the so-called “song” in exactly the way the Beatles put it together, you’ll have to start over from the beginning. This isn’t as easy as it sounds!
There are a total of 45 songs in the game, and it’s not just obscure songs – there are also more popular Beatles hits like “The Inner Light,” “Flying,” “Act Naturally,” “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” and “Sie Leib Dich,” better known as the German “She Loves You.” (Yes, you have to sing it in German – no one said this game was easy! Unless you’re German.) I will say that getting down on these songs really does make you feel like you’re in the band.
The game also comes with additional peripherals sold separately. For example, there’s the electronic anvil that retails for $29.99. It only works on one song, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”… but without that anvil, you’ll never be able to beat the song on Expert mode. So in addition to all the guitars, bass, drums and microphones, be prepared to shell out some extra cash to be able to finish the game. (They don’t say anything about that in the marketing materials, which is kind of a scam...) You can also plan on buying the “optional” sitar, Moog synthesizer and the electronic replica piccolo trumpet, so you can accurately play the solo on “Penny Lane.” Only they aren’t really “optional” – if you want to beat the game, you need to have all of them. Which kind of sucks – how many other games can you play on your console that need a piccolo trumpet?
Next, the graphics. How do they compare to other versions of Rock Band and Guitar Hero?
The same. Just with the Beatles.
How about bonus levels?
You actually get a non-musical “bonus” level right out of the gate before you can even play a song. You’re presented with different things you can say – four per screen – but only one exact combination of the dialogue you choose will let you fire original drummer Pete Best… and without firing Best, you can’t even start the game. This is a more open-ended experience where if you don’t say the right thing, Best won’t get the message and leave the band… which means no Beatles, and your game ends. It’s kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but lamer.
Around the midpoint of the game, there’s a more action-oriented bonus level that none of the other Rock Band games have attempted: you select a Beatle, and it’s up to you to keep as many of the band’s albums from being thrown into a bonfire by enraged Southern churchgoers, angered by John’s comments that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus.” If you’re able to catch 60 percent or more of the albums before they hit the bonfire, you get major points. And each member has their own special ability to help you: Paul has his boyish good looks, George has quick speed, and John has an acerbic wit. (Ringo, of course, has no special ability.)
Later, throughout the second half of the game (from 1965 on), every now and then you’ll need to finish a level “under the influence.” Notes will sound out of tune, there will be a slight delay of the controls, and the picture on screen will blur a bit. If you can respond correctly, you’ll be able to advance.
So all in all, how does Beatles: Rock Band rate?
Overall I give it a rating of Cool! – it should be fun for most gamers across all ages. It’s not quite as good as Batman: Arkham Asylum, which I rated Awesome! and have been playing incessantly since it came out, but it’s better than Wolfenstein which is Pretty Good! and G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra – The Game, which I rated Okay! in last month’s issue.
(Check back soon – I’ll be posting screengrabs later today!)