Pros: Great songs, great gameplay, loving attention to detail, best band game ever made.
Cons: Your friends won’t ever leave.
I invited a few friends over today to help me test out The Beatles: Rock Band. Now they’re refusing to leave. My throat is raspy, my thumb is sore, and after two and a half hours I just need to take a break, but my friends Francis and Lorinne refuse to leave until they have played every single song in the game.
The Basics: Baby You're a Beatle
Lorinne is planted on my couch in a Beatles t-shirt; the same t-shirt she was wearing when I met her at a Halloween party where she came as her teenage self.
The Beatles: Rock Band is a game for all the world’s Beatles fans, allowing players to play along with John, Paul, George and Ringo. Like previous Rock Band games, you use a drum peripheral, two guitar peripherals (the bundled version only has one guitar – in the “limited edition” version it’s a facsimile of Paul’s bass - but I own a spare) and a microphone to play patterned rhythms based on a series of songs, in this case including “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Taxman” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.”
The basics of the game are simple, and most people know them by now. Onscreen color-coordinated markers indicate where and when to play the equivalent colored segments of your controller peripheral. So with a guitar you will hold down the green button and push the strum bar as the green marker crosses a timing indicator, while the drummer would hit the green drum. Singing follows standard karaoke-style gameplay in which you are given the words and must use your voice to match a pitch indicator. Fail to match too many notes and you lose the game, although Beatles audiences don’t boo and jeer the way they do in other Rock Band games.
Presentation: You'll Love It, Yeah Yeah Yeah
Francis and Lorrine are up to “Helter Skelter” now. How many songs are in this game, anyway?
My friend Yi, who has by now gone home like a good guest, arrived around 3 o’clock and practiced her drumming on a few random Beatles songs. While other games in the Rock Band series, as well as the competitor series Guitar Hero, make you play through a career mode to unlock songs, this Rock Band lets you play any song you want from the beginning, excepting a single unlockable, “The End,” that you can only access if you play through the game’s entire career mode. That was the mode we started when Lorinne and Francis arrived.
While most games in the Rock Band and Guitar Hero series follow a generic band through a series of increasingly opulent venues, the Beatles version takes players through a Beatles history that starts in the small English club The Cavern and proceeds through the touring and the studio years. Each time period is represented by a handful of Beatles songs, and whenever you enter a new section of Beatles history you are greeted with a clever photo montage that gives a sketch of what was going on in their career.
Behind the various pitch/rhythm indicators you see video animations of the Beatles performing. Care is put into these animations. Each has a separate setting (“Here Comes the Sun” takes place on a sunny hilltop), and clothes and hairstyles also match whatever was current when the song was recorded. Unlike the random camera shots and mismatched movements that distinguish other band-style games, The Beatles: Rock Band syncs the voices and playing as accurately as possible. I even saw the animation for “Revolution” played as a video on MTV.
Gameplay: Getting Better All the Time
Do you think they’d go away if I let them come back and finish another day?
If you’re a Beatles fan, which I am, this is all pretty awesome. Even if you’re not a Beatles fan (how inexplicable), you still have to admire the care and attention to detail exhibited in every aspect of the game.
The gameplay itself shows similar care, although this is common of all the Rock Band games. There is a real feeling that you are playing these instruments, especially on the higher difficulty settings. At one point when Francis was on drums (we switched around a lot) he ended by saying, “that was a lot like actually playing drums”.
A new, very interesting feature of the game is vocal harmonies. The Beatles have a lot of harmonies in their songs, and it is possible for three players to sing three vocal parts. It’s tricky if you want to play an instrument and sing simultaneously (which the game encourages by including a mic stand), as you can’t actually look at the karaoke bar and have to really know the harmony parts, which I don’t. Francis and Lorinne seem to know them pretty well.
Hooking up three microphones, two guitars and a drum kit to my Wii was a little tricky. Unlike the Guitar Hero games, which use the Wii’s own wireless remote connection, with the Rock Band games you must daisy chain a bunch of Rock Band USB receivers to the back of the Wii. It’s considerably more of a pain than the Guitar Hero method.
The Downside: Too Much Help From My Friends
They’re playing “Revolution” now. Is it rude for me to start cooking dinner while they’re still playing?
In one of many cute touches, before a song begins players are treated to studio outtakes of the Beatles chatting and noodling before they play whatever song you’re about to play. There is also a little round sign you can attach to the drum kit that looks like the Beatles bass drum, a silly but appealing gimmick.
The Beatles: Rock Band, is, as Francis exclaimed in a moment of excitement, the “Best. Rock Band. Ever.” Still, at a certain point I began to wear out. Francis and Lorinne, however, never slowed down. “Are we planning to play this whole game?” I asked at one point, and in unison they said yes.
But I just couldn’t. Perhaps it is because I own the game and can play it whenever I like, but I felt two and a half hours was enough.
That was 45 minutes ago. Yi got a call from a friend and went off to do hang out with her (or she pretended to get a call to politely escape). I told her to refer to her friend as “Yoko” and accuse her of breaking up the band, but she probably didn’t do that.
But Francis and Lorinne won’t leave. Around “Helter Skelter,” Lorinne said she’d like to take a break, but she was afraid if they went out I wouldn’t let them back in. She was right to be afraid.