Games for Lunch: The Beatles: Rock Band
Developer: Harmonix Music Systems
Publisher: MTV Games
Release Date: Sept. 9, 2009
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site
0:00 I've played this quite a bit already, with a bunch of random strangers at E3. Shockingly, I found that a game that combined two of my favorite things -- Rock Band and the Beatles -- was lots of fun! Will it be as fun to play alone in my living room for an hour? We'll see.
0:01 As I open the disc case, three pieces of paper fall out: an ad for the digitally remastered Beatles catalog on CD; a note about how to connect the Xbox to the Internet (to buy more songs); and a code for a FREE BEATLES: ROCK BAND AVATAR SHIRT! HELL YES!
0:02 The game disc itself just repeats the cover image of the black-and-white Beatles running away from fans. I'm disappointed at the lack of a large green apple image.
0:03 This minute spent getting my Rock Band instruments out of storage. I wasn't sent a set of the new, Beatles-inspired instruments that come with the Limited Edition, but in my E3 playing they seemed remarkably similar to the regular Rock Band 2 instruments, so I don't feel too bad.
0:07 The past four minutes were spent transfixed watching the excellent animated intro for the game. I've seen it before, but this time it's in wonderfully smooth, big-screen HD rather than jerky, small Internet video on my computer monitor. A much better experience...
0:08 The game "recommends" that I create a song cache, a settings file and save data, in full-screen messages with large letters. Relatively painless...
0:13 OK, I just wasted five minutes trying to get the game to auto-calibrate with my fancy auto-calibrating guitar controller. The audio portion works fine, but the video calibration doesn't seem to want to work. Enough of this ... there are Beatles songs to be played! Story Mode ... Local Play ... I log in a drum set and we're on our way.
0:15 Liverpool, 1963. The lightly animated black-and-white collage scene tilts and whirls to the tune of "I Saw Her Standing There," eventually centering on the Cavern Club, where a brown-suited man waits outside the door. The menu tells me I have 0/4 songs completed and 0/9 photos unlocked.
0:19 Just finished playing "I Saw Her Standing There" on Expert drums. It's remarkably easy ... 95-percent of the song is just repeating the same simple, on-beat pattern of four notes over and over. The hardest part is trying to avoid the hand cramps that come from hitting the yellow drum EVERY SINGLE BEAT. None of this is enough to overcome the sheer awesomeness of the song, or of playing along with it, though. A great introduction to the game. My five-star performance (99-percent of notes hit! 428-note streak!) unlocks two photos of Paul: in the studio and ... combing his hair. Yay?
0:20 Oh, before I move on, I like the way the interface has been tweaked slightly from Rock Band 2. The colors are brighter and easier to make out. The target area for the notes is slightly larger. The multipliers and score numbers are bigger and easier to read. In general, things feel less cluttered and easier to read at a glance.
0:24 Another Expert drum performance on "Twist and Shout." I mess up a bit on sections with extremely quick snare-drum rolls or lots of quick, double bass-drum hits. I'll get better with practice, but it doesn't really matter right now. Hitting those last few massive drum notes and hearing the audience cheer in appreciation ... it's pure magic.
0:28 "Boys" is one of my least favorite Beatles songs, but it's got a decent enough drum part, I realize. A lot of tough sections that require quick bass-drum doubles and transitioning from two drum strikes to one (and back). All this and Ringo sang as he played (according to the background video)! I have quite a bit more respect for him now.
0:32 "Do You Want to Know a Secret" is another incredibly easy song to get five stars on, even on Expert difficulty. I'm guessing Ringo was extremely bored when playing this one. I'm told I've unlocked a Challenge, before being thrown into another animated photo montage set to "I Want to Hold Your Hand." These videos remind me a bit of Monty Python, or maybe the "Yellow Submarine" movie. "Look out for the campy drawing of Queen Victoria!"
0:34 I've unlocked a "Challenge," which is really just the four songs I just played together in a nonstop sequence. Instead of playing that, I switch over to guitar and to Quickplay mode, so I can get to the band's later, better songs.
0:38 After scanning the list for a while, I finally decide on "Back in the U.S.S.R.," and try it out on Expert, even though the game warns me it's one of the hardest games on the disc for the guitar. Apparently it is ... with a lot of sections of quick notes that come by faster than I can move the strummer. I fail about 34-percent through the song, causing John to exclaim "You made a mistake!" "Where?" Paul asks. "I know you did!" John responds. Um, that wasn't what was asked, John!
0:42 Made it through this time, though it was still sloppy. After a lot of drum practice, I find my virtual guitar skills are a bit rusty, especially when the game requires me to hit three frets at once. I did enjoy the "Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out" section, with its nonstop procession of quick orange notes. ROCK!
0:48 What's "Back in the U.S.S.R." without "Dear Prudence" to follow it up? It's a great song, but I'm not feeling this guitar part ... I'm playing a lot of notes that I simply don't hear in the music. It's like the note track has no relation to the actual song ... very odd for a Rock Band game. Maybe I'm just not listening correctly? Frustrating!
0:54 I try the dual-song "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help From My Friends" next, still on Expert. I feel good when I nail the tough intro, but awful when I butcher the guitar solo. Things get a lot easier when the music transitions to "With a Little Help..." -- allowing me to focus on the fantastical Dreamscape in the background. I love the way select lyrics float on a blue sky in gothic script as Ringo sings. It makes me want to sing ... and that's just what I'm gonna do!
0:59 The final song(s) of the hour: the Indian-music -inspired "Tomorrow Never Knows/With You, Without You." Only they're mixed together in a way that seems to dilute the best parts of each song, with one section of one song abruptly transitioning into another section of the other, and back again. It seems almost sacrilegious, messing with the originals. What is this, DJ Hero? Anyway, the vocal grading seems harder than in other Rock Band games, to me. It looks and sounds like I'm hitting the notes perfectly, but that scoring bubble fails to fill up to "Great" more often than not. Maybe I'm just not as good a singer as I thought. Nah ... that can't be it.
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Even if I weren't a huge Beatles and rhythm-game fan, both my mom and my mother-in-law have requested that I show them this game, so further play seems inevitable.
Read Harold Goldberg's review of The Beatles: Rock Band.
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