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Beatlemania lives on...
on September 21, 2009
Video games, like any other industry out there, is about the money. There's no two ways about it. I say that before anything else because despite that, there are rare moments when the desire for profit crosses paths with the oportunity for a true labor of love. The Beatles: Rock Band is one of those moments and I want to make that clear before I shower the game with praise so no one misunderstands this review as naive because, this game is truly, a touching homage to what has been called the world's greatest band.
Just when game rival Guitar Hero seemed to be pulling away in the race by featuring games with some of the world's most famous bands (Van Halen, Aerosmith, Metallica etc...), developer Harmonix drops the rock equivalent of an atomic bomb by making a game of what is arguably the most famous band of all. The fact that the game has been released at all is a miracle in and onto itself given the people involved, but the fact that such a beautiful game has come out of it is really remarkable. The Beatles: Rock Band features the same basic gameplay of the Rock Band franchise but with some adjustments to ensure a fluid gaming experience.
The object of this game is to follow the band's legendary career from its humble, catchy-pop-rock begginings in Liverpool to their innovative and creative peak of their final years. You play as The Beatles - no character creation here- and begin playing in The Cavern, the little dingy club where they began playing. From there you play the Ed Sullivan Show, followed by their historic concert in Shea Stadium. From there its on to Japan for their controversial performance in Budokan. All these venues are meticously recreated. The Ed Sullivan show set is particularlly impressive. For those of us who have watched this moment in history through the grainy black and white recording that now stands the test of time, it is quite a revelation to see this in full color, even if it is a virtual recreation. After Budokan, the game takes quite a turn. Because the band stopped playing live (and therefore it would not be accurate to show them in a live arena on the game), the game then starts showing the band recording in the studio. (namely, Abbey Road)Every song begins with them playing in the main room then, like in some 60's acid trip, the scene turns into a dreamscape representation of whatever song you are playing. Sgt. Peppers and Iam the Walruss really pop out in my mind while I recall the game for this review. These dreamscapes are not only a homage to the band but to the era they helped define. Quite beautiful. The games final chapter is the band playing on the roof of Apple Records. Throughout the game, the band members are represented according to the particular point in time. From their clean cut, thin tie-wearing days in the early 60's to the colorful Sgt. Pepper's faux-military garb to their long hair and beard period. Each band memeber is represented beautifuly.
Playing the game unlocks rare recordings, pictures and other nuggets of Beatle history. This is awsome in itself for anyone who would like to dive deeper into Beatles lore. But the one feature that sets this game apart from Rock Band is the harmonies. Up to six people can now play the game: Three playing instruments and three singing the harmonies which are an integral part of the band's music. The best way to describe the harmonies feature is: fun. Trying to nail the vocal parts is fun and depending on how well you sing, very funny. I find it extremely fitting that this feature is being released on a Beatles game.
If anything, the game is too short. Compared to Rock Band and RB 2, the number of songs is certainly lacking but that is par for the course on games that feature only one artist. Also, those already used to the sadistic difficulty of the harder songs in Rock Band games, will find this game quite easy. The Beatles music is deceptively simple, especially the earlier cuts, so the translation to the RB format is simple as well. Those looking for a challenge have two options: Trying to nail the harmony parts to perfection (not as easy as it sounds) or in true Beatles fashion, taking the challenge of playing an instrument and singing a vocal part simultaniously. I should also add, that more often than not, the bass parts are more difficult than the guitar ones (go Paul go!) There are some classic songs missing as well, which will be released online later. Hey Jude and Yesterday probably have the biggest following of those not included but I remind you guys,that those are piano pieces for the most part. Rather than making a weird attempt at translating the piano parts into guitar I'd much rather not see them in the game. Fancy me a purist.
All in all, this game is clearly a labor of love. The Harmonix staff(most of them, like me, frustrated musicians and band members themselves) have created a loving virtual image of this band. Yes, this game is part of a larger effort (that includes the re-release of all their albums)to put the band in the spotlight yet again, but this game could have easily fallen into the trappings that this type of release entails. Instead, this game honors tha bands legacy and history without resorting to cheap tricks or anything else that might tarnish the Beatles name. It would be easy for me to say that is for fans only but I would be lying. There is something here for everyone because The Beatle's music is that good. The hard core fan will enjoy the game no doubt but its the people not familiar with the band's music who have much to gain from this title. Just like RB and RB 2 have turned people to music and bands they would not have heard otherwise, The Beatles: Rock Band will give this generation a true glimpse of why The Beatles are called the greatest band ever. For all those reasons, I play this game and smile. Highly recommended.