In addition to hawking The Beatles: Rock Band on QVC in the recent past, Harmonix also rolled through town with its latest rhythm title not long ago and gave me a close-up look at some of the more in-depth aspects of the Fab Four's first-ever video game. On the surface, this certainly looks something like a "Rock Band with Beatles songs" sort of package, but there's a healthy list of subtle touches to this game that look like they'll really elevate the quality of the experience, at least for serious Beatles fans. (If you're not a fan at all, being perfectly honest, there's probably not that much here for you.)
Anyway, let's break it right on down by category, shall we?
Rock Band 2's drum training mode with the snazzy name--the drum trainer--is reborn, or at least slightly modified, in the Beatles game as Beatle Beats. Fundamentally, it does the same, letting you practice the drum parts from all of the game's songs at vastly slower tempos than they normally follow. But Beatle Beats also attempts to introduces you to Ringo's general playing style technique, and goes as far as giving you the technical names for many of the parts he plays. As before, the drums are the closest you're going to get to learning a real musical instrument in Rock Band, and the Beatle Beats program seems geared toward that potential.
The game's career mode is structured about like you'd expect. Each leg of your journey consists of four or five songs and takes you to an iconic venue from those songs' collective era. For the first set, you play the band's 1963 show at The Cavern. Next up, of course, is the legendary appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, and on and on right up to The Beatles' farewell rooftop concert in London.
Of course, the band gave up touring for a number of years while it, uh, experimented with various styles (and substances). So what venues do you have to draw from during the period where The Beatles played no venues? That's where the dreamscapes come in, which all start out with the band playing in their studio and then get progressively weirder and weirder. Grass starts growing out of the floor, then they're wearing the Sgt. Pepper's uniforms, then they're underwater and a yellow submarine is floating by. It's pretty weird, and fun to watch it all unfold.
Goodies 'n Extras 'n Stuff
At best, I'd describe myself as a fairweather Beatles fan--I can name and tap my feet to the big hits, but that's about all. Even I got pretty excited, though, at the unlockable obscurities and minutiae Harmonix is cramming into this game, so I can't imagine the excitement diehard fans are going to feel when they see some of the things that made it into the package.
What the game has is a rather sizable set of rewards for each of the venues in career mode. As in any other Rock Band, you earn stars for doing well in each song, and a certain number of stars per venue will get you all sorts of interesting prizes. There's a set of behind-the-scenes photos of the Beatles, many of which Harmonix says were mined from Apple Corps' archive and have never been released before in any format.
Better still, there's a meaty piece of trivia attached to each image. For example, did you know just about all of Please Please Me was recorded in a marathon ten-hour recording session? The album's producer insisted the band wait to record "Twist and Shout" until the end, because he knew John Lennon would pretty much blow out his vocals on that song. Sure enough, by the second take Lennon's voice was pretty well wrecked, so the released version of the song is the first take the band laid down. Trivia!
The photos are just the start of the bonuses in the game. There's a set of more in-depth prizes you can earn by unlocking set amounts of photos, though Harmonix was only ready to show the first prize when I saw the game. But it's a pretty excellent one: the band's entire first Christmas record, sent out only to members of the Beatles fan club in 1963, has been preserved in the game. You can listen to the whole thing start to finish as high-res images of the album cover and all the liner notes (including a lengthy message from the band) scroll across the screen. If all the included prizes go to this level of detail, then The Beatles: Rock Band will serve as a nice little record of history in addition to simply letting you play along with a bunch of Beatles songs.
So there you go. Again, this is such a Beatles-centric game, with so much peripheral material crammed in, that if you just can't stand the band for some reason, you're probably good to skip it. But conversely, if you have any affection for the Beatles whatsoever, it'd probably be pretty dumb to pass this game up when it hits stores on that utterly appropriate date of 9/9/09.