There aren't many bands I would consider doing a full blown musical game around of. Of course, there aren't many bands like The Beatles. When it was first announced that there was going to be a Rock Band game based off The Beatles, I was pretty surprised. Here's one of the most legendary bands lending all their music and assets to a video game when their songs aren't even available on iTunes yet. I can't imagine the pressure that Harmonix felt in trying to create a game that would be both fun and a tribute to one of the greatest bands ever. Well, Harmonix has done a pretty good job at capturing the feel of The Beatles as well as providing a fun trip through the history of the band's many, many years.
The Beatles: Rock Band walks you through the early days of The Beatles playing in The Cavern all the way to their final days together at Abbey Road. 45 great songs are on the disc with albums and songs available on launch day as well. Now, the amount of music that's in this game is about half of what you would expect from Rock Band 2 and recent Guitar Hero releases so in that sense I do wish there were a few more songs to round out the initial set but it is on par with the amount of songs released with Rock Band 1 minus the bonus songs. The songs encompass songs recorded from 1962-1969, which is pretty much close the entire time The Beatles were together. The variety of songs on the game are great as you get the rocking tunes with hits such as A Hard Day's Night and I Want To Hold Your Hand to the soft, slow ballads such as Here Comes The Sun. All the songs are master recordings so you get the true sound from the Fab Four coming to you from your speakers. Before songs, you'll also hear some rare chatter from the band itself which is pretty cool to hear. I am glad there's a sampling from all the records The Beatles produced giving you a wide variety of songs from different time periods to play. You won't be able to import or export songs to the Rock Band games as this is The Beatles only area and the only compatible DLC will be upcoming Beatles singles and albums. A little disappointing but an understandable decision given the subject matter and what licensing deals Harmonix had to go through to secure the rights to make the game.
Gameplay, for the most part, follows the Rock Band 2 setup with a few additions and changes. The big addition is support for up to three microphones in the game. So, up to six people can play the game at once should everyone take an instrument and a separate mic. Built into the game now are harmony sections and separate lyrics for different singers. While only one person needs to fill up their meter to be successful in that singing section, two or three people doing so will earn more bonus points. The lyric track has three distinct arrows now so you know which one you are as well as three different colors to let you see easily where you should be singing. In reality any one person can take any part as the game doesn't specifically assign a mic to a color but you can choose one part to concentrate on if you wish. Trying to get Three Fab bonus with each person completing a specific portion of the harmony is pretty hard but when you do get it it's a really cool feeling. Harmonies are pretty fun and tough to accomplish and adds a nice wrinkle to the singing portion of the game.
For the drummers out there, there are no longer drum fills to activate Star Power or Beatlemania as it's called in this game. Now, there's just a single glowing green note for right handed folks or red note for left handed people that needs to be hit in order to activate Beatlemania. IF you skip the note, you won't be penalized if you have a streak going so that's good. I'm not for or against the change but I can see Harmonix removing the drum fill to be more true to the music.
All in all, the gameplay is really not much different from Rock Band 2 which is good as it works out really well and I don't see any reason to change what's not broke. For those wanting more, you'll be disappointed but really in my opinion, the gameplay is just how it should be. You don't want to throw too much of a curve when designing a game around The Beatles and to follow a formula that's been proven to work successfully to ensure that that old fans will enjoy it as well.
Turning on No Fail mode used to be a little chore but now, anyone choosing Easy will automatically turn on No Fail mode for the player. This is a great decision as this allows those that are new to the game to play the game with more seasoned players who want the challenge of keeping up with the music with the threat of failing out. If you want to turn on the feature for all the players in the band, accessing the mode is easily done in one of the menus leading up to the song now. It's a nice, quick way to ensure everyone can enjoy the game should there be inexperienced players on board. If you aren't playing with the mode and do fail out, the game just ends with the menu allowing you to try again or continue with other options. There's no booing and no animations of The Beatles showing off their frustration because, really, who would boo The Beatles off stage? You also don't hear any booing should you not do well during gameplay and the crowd's always excited. Again, this is another subtle change to keep to the true spirit of the band and something that I don't think takes away from the game at all.
Instead of a career mode, there's now a story mode which takes you through a linear progression of various key events in the band's history. Along the way you can earn prizes and pictures should you perform well. Between venues, you'll see a nice montage of pictures and images from the band set to a tune of some of the great music they performed. Yes, you do have to complete all the songs for each venue to continue but there are only 45 songs to get through so it won't take you too long to finish the story mode. You might have to go through it a few times though as some photos can only be won by getting five stars but you'll get at least one picture by the minimum three star finish. For those that don't know too much about The Beatles, it's a fun way to see what they went through and their rise through stardom.
Besides the photos, you'll be able to pick up certain prizes along the way. Prizes are unlocked when a certain number of photos have been won so getting 5 stars will unlock these prizes faster as you get an additional photo over a 3 star performance. They have some really interesting items that can be viewed when these are picked up such as the Christmas album for you to listen to. It's another area where you can learn and hear more about The Beatles and their life.Each of the key events is accompanied by playing at an important venue or Dreamscape, which are all imaginative and different. For the early years, you'll be playing in The Cavern, Ed Sullivan Show, and Shea Stadium. The crowd sizes will, of course, mimic the venue so it's fun to see the screaming teenagers at the Ed Sullivan Show with The Beatles performing and doing their signature bow at the end. I did find it a little funny that the crowd when The Beatles play in Japan is all Americans though. It was a small distraction at first but it's something you can get over pretty quickly. As you move into the era of Abbey Road Studios, you'll see the Fab Four in the studio performing the song and then morph to a Dreamscape venue that fits the song's style. For example, when playing Octopus’s Garden, you'll see the four members of the band underwater playing in a sea themed venue complete with refractions generated by being underwater. If you want something really trippy, just check out the one for I Am the Walrus. You do get to play with The Beatles in their famous roof top concert at the Apple building on 3 Savile Row in London on the final set. The replication of the various famous venues are really fun to watch as you get a small feeling of what it's like to have been them in that arena. The Dreamscapes are a nice little representation of the band and their music during the Abbey Road days giving you some great visuals to watch when you aren't the one playing the game.
The look of The Beatles also changes as you go through the story mode. You'll start out with the Fab Four in the black suits and bowl style haircuts. As they get older you see their individual styles change from the haircut to growing of facial hair and clothing style. The instruments being played by the band also change as well as you progress through the different eras. Finally, you get the famous look of what they ended up with as the band plays their last live set together on top of the Apple building. It's pretty cool to see how The Beatles change as they grew throughout the years they were together.
As you finish each chapter, a challenge for that chapter is unlocked allowing you to play through all the songs on the set in trying to earn the most points as possible. You don't have to play each song on the same difficulty level though so that's nice but you do have to play through them all to record a score. You can then compare how you did against your friends online. It's one of the items that offer some replay value and competitiveness to the game.
The game's not trying to be like the past musical games where you start out easy and work your way up to the hard songs. The songs aren't overly complicated but there are some areas for each instrument that can get a little hairy even for those that play a lot. In the end, it's more about experiencing The Beatles, their life, and their music. This is a game for the fans of the band and for those that want to know more about one of the greatest bands in the history of music. There's no create a character nor interactive career mode; you just go through the life and times of the Fab Four.
While we didn't get the instruments to review, you'll be able to pick up many great replicas of the band's instruments for the game. Paul McCartney's Hofner Violin Bass, John Lennon's Rickenbacker 325 Guitar, George Harrison's Gretsch Duo Jet Guitar, and a Ringo Star inspired Ludwig Pearl Finish drum set will be available so you can not only play and sing like The Beatles but look like them too with replicas of their famous instruments. The special edition will have the Bass and drum set while the Rickenbacker and Gretsch will be separate purchases. You can only use two guitars though unlike Guitar Hero 5 so you can't truly mimic the band's setup but you can get close. You can use instruments from past Rock Band games and most Guitar Hero games to play though so you don't have to spend a lot of money if you already have instruments at home. I played through the guitar sequence with the Guitar Hero World Tour guitar and used the drums from Rock Band 2 in my review of the game without any problems.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get into any online mode before the release date as it might have crashed Harmonix's servers. So this review will be sans online play but if it's anything like Rock Band 2, then all should be good. I'd love to see how it works with a full six person set playing online but I will save that for a future news item as a follow up to this review.
In the end, The Beatles: Rock Band is Rock Band 2 with The Beatles branding and some changes to fit the spirit of the game. It's good to know that the game went in production with the blessing and some feedback from the surviving band members and their relatives as you get a lot of cool little nuggets as you play that I don't know if they could have gotten without their help. For Beatles fans, it's a great visual and audio trip down memory lane. As with any band-specific or genre-specific musical game, non-fans will want to skip out on the purchase but that's to be expected. Like food or types of movies, not everyone's going to be a fan and those that don't buy the game won't miss out on anything. For those that are fans or even enjoy the Fab Four's music, The Beatles: Rock Band is a great pickup and a fun way to experience their music in a different light.