The Beatles. The name is instantly recognizable to almost everyone. Over a ten year span from 1960 to 1970, the group from Liverpool recorded some of the most influential and revolutionary albums, enjoyed enormous success, and served as manifestation of the cultural revolution of the times.
There are a lot of music games out for virtually every platform, yet none of them have ever included this legendary band’s music. The Beatles are notoriously protective over their likeness and intellectual properties, something that has aggravated fans for years. Luckily (through what was undoubtedly an expensive purchase), EA, MTV Games, and Harmonix were able to sign a revolutionary licensing agreement which allows the use of the Holy Grail of music libraries. For the first time you are able to experience life as John, Paul, George and Ringo.
At the MTV Games booth at E3, I had the opportunity to check out the game. As expected, Harmonix kept the basic setup of the successful Rock Band games. The prospect of playing new songs made the appointment highly anticipated. The first song we played was I Wanna Hold Your Hand, a song written early in the Beatles’ odyssey.
A Harmonix representative explained the basics of the game and also informed us that the game supported backup singers, a key component of the Beatles’ sound. I sang lead. I noticed there were two other icons on the karaoke section of the screen. These icons allow the guitarist and bassist to sing along in harmony. When playing I Feel Fine I came to the realization that singing and playing guitar simultaneously was a difficult task. Luckily, when playing an instrument, singing can do nothing but help the player. In other words, you won’t fail the song if you are incapable of handling two things at once.
The next song we played, I Am the Walrus, was important to the demo as it showed diversity unseen in the previous Rock Band games. As aforementioned (and something everyone should know), the Beatles dramatically changed both physically and musically during the 1960s. They morphed from a pop group with mop-top haircuts to psychedelic visionaries with extravagant wardrobes and facial hair. I Am the Walrus is a key song to play in order to understand why the game generates excitement.
After playing music from early in the Beatles’ career, this song made it seem like a completely different game. Of course, the musical style is vastly different, but it is the visual style that changes and creates an entirely new ambiance. You are no longer playing to the screams of teenage girls. Instead the dazzling colors representative of the psychedelic drug experience are constantly swinging in patterns across the background. The group members also reflect the changes as they don extravagant costumes and sport unruly hair and mustaches.
In past Rock Band games, the user-created band would play all the big cities in a variety of developer created venues. However, in the Beatles Rock Band, you will not only experience the Beatles’ career by playing as the members of the band, but also by playing their most important locales. The early songs are played in places such as the set of the Ed Sullivan Show and Shea Stadium, while the later songs could be performed on the rooftop where the Beatles played some of their last songs. These settings add an extra sense of immersion, something that was missing from other band specific music games.
The experience of playing as the Beatles is complimented further by the addition of replicas of the Beatles’ instruments in the special edition version of the game. Besides looking similar, the instruments feel much sturdier than those bundled with previous versions. The drums in particular are a large improvement over those packaged with Rock Band 2. Eventually cymbal attachments were released for the Rock Band drum set, but in Beatles Rock Band, the Ludwig drums include the cymbals which greatly enhance the experience.
After playing a few more songs, it became clear that Beatles Rock Band was one of the most impressive games at the show. Allowing players to be members of one of the greatest bands of all-time is an experience that developers of music games have attempted to create for years. The small taste of what should be a robust final product made it clear that the Beatles Rock Band is shaping up to be a must-have game when it is released on September 9.