canuckeh's The Beatles: Rock Band (Limited Edition Premium Bundle) (Xbox 360) review

The Beatles: World at War

 

The Beatles: Rock Band is a mighty collaboration between numerous video game and music companies of which I cannot possibly be made to list. If anything, I can imagine a behind-the-scenes war between Apple Corps and Harmonix over the order of titling with one side refusing the title of “Rock Band: The Beatles” or “Rock Band Beatles Track Pack.” But in any event, money will be paid, royalties will be traded left and right, and a portion of the proceeds will go to the estate of Michael Jackson.

…Michael Jackson?

I only know that little factoid about the late King of Pop claiming royalty rights to the Beatles library from a VH1 special. Which brings me to my biggest issue with the Beatles game in that it’s less a historical document than a fluff piece. A sugar-encrusted fluff piece. The career mode consists of players playing songs from famous venues, all intertwined by flashy musical cutscene flourishes that combine old photos with flashing effects. While fitting to the band’s style, they don’t give any information of value. It’s similar to Call of Duty: World of War’s glamorizing of the horrific events of WW2 through MTV-esque flashes of pictures and big words like “People dying!” and “Flame thrower!” This won’t bother people in the know, but I consider myself only partially in the know and can imagine many new music fans fitting in that same category. After a successful performance, the game gave me an Achievement called “The Final Tour” and I was baffled. “Why did they stop touring?” I wondered. I understand not wanting to focus on the band’s darker days, but the game left me with the following impression on the life story of the Beatles:

First they played at a small club in . Then played a bigger club called “The Ed Sullivan Show”. Then they played at Shea Stadium. Then they played Budokan Hall. Then they became hermits and holed themselves in a studio at for a few years where they only recorded music and hopped shrooms. Finally, they wanted to greet the outside world by going on the rooftop of their house to…play a show on a rooftop and annoy the neighbours whom have no idea whom these “Beatles” are. Finally, a giant walking walrus strolls across the city, flooding the streets with flowers fitting of a Poison Ivy scheme.

The game features 45 songs. Many favorites are here, some…aren’t. I feel a bit unsatisfied when someone tells me that the downloadable content will rectify that issue; you know, having to PAY more money for content that should’ve been there in the first place. None of the downloadable content, let alone the songs on the disc, are compatible with other Rock Band games.

But my dry retort to my own complaint is that each song features its own custom-made performance video. Instead of a canned band (made with canned bandmate parts) doing canned animations on a canned stage with canned filters, you get the Beatles being the Beatles at Beatles venues with conservative Beatles groupies screaming at them. Then for the songs, the Beatles enter some kind of “dreamscape” with assorted trippy visualizations of the song lyrics. (aka they’re on drugs! They’re indeed with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.) Even though players may be too busy focusing on, you know, playing the notes to their song, it at least gives spectators a pleasant view of the action, and something else to stare at besides you making an ass of yourself singing.

Speaking of, to get the most of your Beatles experience, you’re going to have to develop some intestinal fortitude and step to the microphone. Guitar, bass, drums, they’re all present, but a few exceptions notwithstanding, most Beatles songs on the game have simple chords and beats. No, you’re going to have to sing the ever sing-a-long-friendly Beatles songs. But your friends can harmoniously join in too! Now you can plug in (or, you know, buy) additional microphones and have your friends sing the back-up vocals. Or you can really impress/embarrass friends by using a mic stand to sing and play an instrument at the same time. Practice enough and soon you’ll be able to perform other tasks, like multiple simultaneous homework assignments or wipe counters while sweeping or figure out The World Ends With You.

There are other nice bonuses too, like challenge modes that try, but can only try so hard to alter the gameplay mechanic of “press this coloured button when we tell you to.” You can unlock photos with factoids and bonus videos, which at the least contribute to the feeling that a lot of care, attention and royalties went into this game project. I didn’t even notice, but it’s Ringo and his soothingly British voice guiding you through the tutorial.

…and, and, and….oh it’s no longer “Star Power” or “Overdrive”, it’s “Beatlemania!” Makes me wonder what term will be used in the Van Halen game.

I feel like much can’t be written about a music game in 2009. You play some instruments, they make noise. It’s ultimately up to the player to decide if 45 songs is worth $60. I equate The Beatles: Rock Band to another heartfelt favorite game in The House of the Dead: Overkill. It’s short, a bit easy, but the experience will rest fondly in your heart for a good while. It’s the Beatles for Christ’s sake, it’s hard to not want to sing along.

4 stars

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