Beatlemania back again

What happens when you take the most popular band in the world and one of the most popular video games in the world?

You get The Beatles: Rock Band. And it doesn’t disappoint.

Back in late 2006, Dhani Harrison, son of late Beatles Guitarist George Harrison, suggested to MTV President Van Toffler a Rock Band based on The Beatles.

At the time it seemed like an unlikely possibility, but Harrison took it a step further and went to Harmonix president Alex Rigopulos with the idea. He also went to Apple Corps (Beatles Company) and its shareholders Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Yoko Ono (wife of John Lennon). They agreed as long as the game contained songs that spanned the bands whole music career.

In February 2008 Harmonix showed Apple Corps a five song demo of the game. It was approved and the creative process took off.

With Apple Corps and Harmonix now creative partners, the game was able to get authentic with songs, venues, looks, facts, and all other information present in the game. Early on in the game it was decided that although it presents a musical and visual history of the band, the game does not attempt to show any of the turmoil that went on during the band’s history.

For example, on “Back in the U.S.S.R.” Starr is shown playing drums even though he had quit the band during the White Album and was not present during the recording. Eric Clapton, a friend of Harrison, was brought in to play lead guitar on “While my Guitar Gently Weeps” to ease tension in the band. But in the videogame, Harrison is playing guitar, not Clapton. It makes the game less complex because the same four guys are playing in every song, but for die-hard fans it could affect the authenticity of the game.

Giles Martin, son of legendary producer George Martin who produced almost every Beatles track, was hired to manipulate the music so it would work in a videogame. Along with separating tracks, Martin threw in never before heard chatter between the Beatles and George Martin before and after the song. The game even counts how many times you’ve restarted the song and will throw in one of the Beatles saying “Take 2” if it’s the second time in a row you’ve tried the song.

Harmonix also tried to make the chart (the notes) as realistic as possible. This became a challenge as there are only five buttons on the guitar and there’s tons of possible notes on a real guitar. They decided to try to replicate the movement and finger positions during the song. With drums, they tried to match every single drum beat on the song at Expert difficulty. This makes some drum parts challenging as Starr had unusual drums habits like innovative fills on songs like “Hello Goodbye” and “Helter Skelter.”

The game features historic Beatles’ venues, including “The Ed Sullivan Show”, “The Cavern Club”, “Shea Stadium”, and the rooftop of the Apple Corps headquarters. The Beatles only played live until 1966 because of exhaustion and death threats to Lennon. So all songs that were recorded after 1966 (Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club-Let it Be) are represented by dreamscapes. With dreamscapes the band starts in the recording studio and then progresses into an unusual scene that represents the song in some sort of way. For example “Octopus’s Garden” takes place in an underwater reef.

The gameplay has a few major changes. The biggest change is vocal harmony. The game can have as many as three microphones hooked up at once. When more than one person sings, the other can sing vocal harmony. There are three lines on the vocal chart, one blue in the middle, one brown, and one orange. The blue is the lead and the brown and orange lines are the first and second harmony. 

Another difference is the change of the name of overdrive to Beatlemania. It does the same thing, but with a more Beatles related name. When you activate Beatlemania the chart changes to a translucent yellowish color which could make the notes difficult to see for some players although I had no issue with it. 

The game designers also dropped the freestyle fills sections for drums. Instead you play normal and then hit the green pad to activate Beatlemania when prompted. Audio feedback, like how well the band is doing, the band singing along, or booing if the band failed were dropped to preserve the Beatle’s music. 

I was really looking forward to this game. I’m a huge Beatles fan and a huge fan of Rock Band. It seemed clear to me that I was going to enjoy this game. But even for rock band fans, this game is great. If you hate the Beatles, this game isn’t going to change your mind. But if you’re unsure or kind of like them, this game is going to blow you away.

The soundtrack doesn’t contain all their hits (No “Hey Jude”, “Let it Be”, or “Across the Universe”) but it does have a majority. Players will gain a lot of respect for them as musicians. Some of the songs are challenging. Revolution for guitar, Get Back or Good Morning Good Morning on drums, I Saw Her Standing There and Helter Skelter on bass, and tons of songs on vocals. With that said, the game is easy compared to other Rock Band games. But that’s because its not over charted, its an accurate display on what the songs were like to play. 

Game designers have plans for a lot of Downloadable Content. “All you need is Love” was released as an Xbox 360 exclusive the same day the game came out. The proceeds went to the “Doctors without Borders” charity. The song is exclusive to Xbox until December and will then be released on the other two consoles. On October 20th the rest of the album “Abbey Road” is going to be released on all consoles. In November the rest of the album “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is going to be released. The final album they’ve announced they’re going to release is Rubber Soul in December.

The game overall is fantastic. I love the vocal harmony, the song selection (for the most part), the visuals, the story mode, game play. It’s almost perfect. My only issues are that it only has 45 songs, considerably shorter than most music games, and the game isn’t incredibly challenging. Another issue is that if you get the limited edition bundle, which comes with a Hofner bass controller (Paul’s bass of choice), a Beatles rock band themed drum set with an attachable Beatles kick pad, the game, a microphone, a microphone stand, and Beatles related postcards, it can be considerably expensive for the casual fan. For me it was a no brainer even if it emptied my wallet. To some people the price is not worth it and they would prefer just to buy the game and use their old rock band instruments. While that’s great it doesn’t give you the full experience of the game and the microphone stand really makes the game more fun as it gives you the opportunity to play an instrument and sing at the same time. Although they’ve only announced three albums, there are plans to release tons of songs as DLC.

All in all this game can be an incredible experience for non Beatles fan, but definitely will be a prized possession for die hard Beatles fans. And when the DLC comes out, it’s like a new game. This is the game that could change the way music rhythm games are made, and the fact that the Beatles are the ones to make this innovative of a game just makes sense. I give it 9.5/10.