The Beatles: Rock Band Review

By Abbie Heppe - Posted Sep 07, 2009

It could be argued that The Beatles: Rock Band transcends being "just a game" and is more of an experience, but at heart, it is simply an exemplary casual game that capitalizes (possibly literally) on the love and admiration people share for the world's biggest music sensation. The Beatles iconography readily lends itself to a standalone title, and what it lacks in difficulty, it makes up for in charm and sheer authenticity.

The Pros
  • Spectacular animations and all-around experience
  • Great tracklist that captures the band's career
  • It's THE BEATLES
The Cons
  • I'd kill for a Jukebox Mode
  • The full-on experience, from Special Edition to future DLC, is expensive
  • Won't someone please fix the Overdriv- er, "Beatlemania?"

It could be argued that The Beatles: Rock Band transcends being "just a game" and is more of an experience, but at heart, it is simply an exemplary casual game that capitalizes (possibly literally) on the love and admiration people share for the world's biggest music sensation. The Beatles iconography readily lends itself to a standalone title, and what it lacks in difficulty, it makes up for in charm and sheer authenticity.

Come Together

The Beatles: Rock Band story mode spans the entire career of the band, starting from the Cavern Club and through Budokan, Abbey Road and Apple Records amongst others. Structurally, the game is brilliant. The fidelity to the Beatles transition from early shows and the clean cut boy-band image to the trippier, psychedelic later years is flawless and sublimely represented in the animation behind the note highway. It is the first time in any music game that the background frequently proves a distraction -- and not in manner that detracts from the quality of the game. As you progress into "Here Comes the Sun" or "I Am The Walrus" there becomes the urge to just watch the game rather than play. It is beautiful and heartwarming and exactly the experience that the game should be.

Within each venue's playlists are some of the best of the Beatles' catalog from "A Hard Day's Night", "Paperback Writer" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" to "Dig a Pony", "Revolution" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". As venues in the story mode are completed, challenge modes as well as photos and videos tied into the history of all the songs in the game are unlocked. In addition to story, the game has Quickplay mode and Challenge Mode. The "challenge" of Challenge Modes hasn't changed from Rock Band 2. It asks you to play through all of the songs in a venue at once, though here, a five-star performance unlocks additional photos in the game and of course, you can see how competitive your scores are online (hint: find friends that really know how to sing).

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The "Dear Prudence" of the Game

The most impressive elements of the game, outside of the music, are the cutscenes leading into each venue of story mode and the animations wedded to the individual songs. Hopefully the DLC continues to implement unique background animations, as the value it adds to the game is immense. The next best addition to the game is the new vocal harmonization system, partially because it adds challenge but primarily because it allows more people to participate in each song. Add in the familiarity that myself (and most people) have with every song in the game, and it's the first time I've ever truly embarked on a vocal career in a music game without fear that I would -- as a female especially -- encounter songs that were brutally outside my vocal range or desire to sing.

Your Mother Should Know

The true implication (and benefit) of the lack of difficulty is that you won't need to find your most amazingly skilled friends to play the game or just try to power through alone. As a game about a band, it is the one that most successfully creates the desire to play it as a band and the enjoyment is far greater with friends than playing solo.

The Beatles: Rock Band Trailer

The "Octopus' Garden" of the Game

Where The Beatles: Rock Band differs from other single-band music games may be a point of contention for fans of the game genre and not the music. It's not a difficult game. It isn't always easy, but it lacks the blistering hand-achingly hard songs that so many expert players crave. Of course, you should know better to expect that from the Beatles, and it isn't necessarily a terrible thing. Players looking for a challenge should expand their horizons into vocal harmonies and surprisingly, drumming. For those simply interested in guitar or bass, one of the simplest ways that the game caters to the hardcore fans is through achievements -- or trophies; sorry, Wii players. Most of the achievements in the game are catered to the best of players, be it guitar, bass, vocals or drums and its impressive how difficult some of them are to earn. Beatles also integrates tracking achievement/trophy progress into the game's menus, something all games should be doing, but very few actually implement.

It's fair criticism that the game only has 45 tracks, but it was only four years ago that we fell in love with Guitar Hero -- in case you forgot, a game that had 30 tracks by popular artists (17 by indie bands) that were mainly covers -- and it's mostly through the entitlement granted by the expanded popularity of the franchise (thus allowing greater access to music libraries) that gamers expect more and more. That said, Beatles songs are not particularly epic and the game can be beaten in about two and a half hours; the trade-off is that the songs are come from one of the most popular bands in music history, so you have to decide where your priorities lie. Do I think Harmonix wanted more songs in the game? Of course. Do I blame Apple Corps for the amount of songs and expensive DLC? Yes. It becomes painfully clear in the credits, which are longer than most I've ever seen in a game, just what a licensing and content nightmare it must have been to create the game. However, the DLC promises "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band," "Abbey Road," and a personal favorite, "Rubber Soul," by year's end. That said, I would consider buying The Beatles: Rock Band rather than the remastered albums purely for the incredible job on the animations unique to each song. Who would have thought the video game aspect could be so uniquely viable?

In the avenues of nit-picking, the paisley themed "Beatlemania" aka Overdrive (aka Star Power, really) manages to overpower the notes, making it difficult to pick them out and practically obscuring the yellow button. The color saturation in the background animations can sometimes be problematic in a similar manner as the colors in the game progress beyond the muted tones we expect from Rock Band, but that's not something every player will notice. For the dedicated gamer you should also note that the game saves achievement progress for all profiles but only career progress to the band leader, frustrating for any additional profiles logged in.

No Bass for You, Mr. T-Rex (dinosaurs, not the band)

For the full Beatles experience, the game ships as a premium bundle with bass, microphone, mic stand and drum kit, plus there are two guitars, the Rickenbacker 325 and Gretsch Duo Jet -- modeled after the instruments of John Lennon and George Harrison, respectively -- that can be bought seperately. The instruments are beautiful but expensive, and the game is compatible with both Rock Band and Guitar Hero instruments. The question is: how much you want to be the uber Beatles fan and are you willing to fork out for that? The most striking thing about the new instruments is Sir Paul McCartney's Hofner Violin Bass. The bass has a neck that dwarfs that of your average RB or GH instrument. Happily, I know some very tall people with very long arms who are extremely grateful for this new peripheral. Myself? Even if it's feasible, I feel like a T. Rex with stubby arms attempting to play.

And in The End...

Truly, The Beatles: Rock Band represents the perfect culmination of the casual game, music game, stand-alone artist and artistic representation in the genre. Sadly, it also symbolizes the monetary and licensing issues that originally plagued the franchise. So much of that can be casually dismissed with the phrase "but...it's the Beatles," and crossover fans will undoubtedly be swept away by the joy, fun and emotion that the game evoke in its players. There's no need for spoilers here, but the final cutscene of the game is gorgeous and frankly, tear-inducing. How rare is it that a game manages to evoke such an emotional response from the player? The Beatles: Rock Band does it throughout. Had there not been so much care, detail and love put into the game, it would have felt like a cynical cash-in. Thankfully, it doesn't, and for those who remember listening to Beatles records with their families, before Walkmans, and Discmans and iPods individualized our listening experiences, The Beatles: Rock Band offers the potential to enjoy the music (albeit in a wholly different manner) as it was meant to be enjoyed, all together now.