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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CG Game Reviews: Beatles Rock Band

The Beatles: Rock Band

A game released in 2009 in conjuncture with the re-issue of all the Beatles albums. It was developed by Harmonix and published by MTV Games. It was developed with the blessings and input from the remaining Beatles, Paul McCartney and Richard Starkey (Ringo), and George Harrison's son, Dhani Harrison. It was Dhani who bridged discussion between Apple Corps, The Beatles holding company, and Harmonix. George Martin's son, Giles, e produced the music of the game. (Note: George Martin produced all of The Beatles albums except one, if you didn't know)

Rock Band
If you don't know what Rock Band itself is, let me explain it briefly. It allows up to four players to simulate the performance of popular rock music songs by playing with controllers modeled after musical instruments. Players can play the lead guitar, bass guitar, and drums parts to songs, as well as sing into a USB microphone. Players are scored on their ability to match scrolling musical notes while playing instruments, and by their ability to match the singer's pitch on vocals. There is also the ability to download extra songs via downloadable content (DLC). Soon to be introduced into the series is the ability to play a specially designed keyboard, thus adding more possibilities. There is also a new type of controller, a guitar controller with actual strings. This is to aid people to learn how to actually play a real guitar.

In 2009 there was a (sadly) brief resurgance of Beatlemania. The albums were being reissued, and although they had been released on CD in the late 80's, this was met with great praise from fans and critics alike (The quality from the 80's releases up till then were of poor sound quality in contrast to the originals). Fans went rabid for this new digital, high quality release, as The Beatles are one of the only major bands not to be available whatsoever through (legal) digital distribution, such as iTunes (although no definate reason, the most credible, it seems, is over the name "Apple"). It started with, as all great things nowadays, with a chance encounter in a lift. Dhani Harrison randomly bumped into MTV president Van Toffler. Dhani, who was already familiar with the Guitar Hero franchise, and who knew of MTV's plans for Rock Band, suggested a Beatles-based game. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now let's get down to the actual review.

It features a set-list of 45 on disk songs ranging from their days in the Cavern Club in Liverpool, to Shea Stadium and to the roof of Apple Corps. A complete set-list can be viewed here. It includes nearly everything. It does feature a song from every album, the more popular singles and a mash-up from the 2005 Love album (Note: Love was an album made for the Cirque du Soleil show based on the works of the Beatles) . The one glaring ommission I can see from the first second is that there are very few songs from the Help! album. Infact, there's only one-Ticket to Ride. Aswell, there is too much Ringo songs. Nothing against him, infact I love his voice, but some of the songs he sang... dear god. The examples being Boys, from their debut album Please Please me, and I Wanna Be Your Man, from With The Beatles. These songs are horrible, with even Lennon saying the latter was a "throwaway". His other songs, like Octopuses Garden, arent great either, but it's fun and a huge fan favourite. I mean, people remember Octopuses riding in Yellow Submarines with help from their mates, but not about them talking about boys or wanting to be their man.
There were other ommissions that have since been corrected with DLC: A Day in the Life, In My Life, Norweigan Wood, the rest of Rubber Soul, and All You Need Is Love, which was released exclusively on XboxLive where $1.40 of the $2 cost went to Doctors Without Borders. It generated nearly $200,000 for the charity, and was the fastest selling Rock Band DLC ever.
Score: 8.2/10
Reason: Song selection. No Help!, songs ommitted that are DLC that should be on disk to begin with.

This will be relatively shorter than the previous section. The visuals are beautiful. Infact, beautiful isn't a good enough term, so I'll have to make one up myself... eh... splupidy sploosh? Nah.... let's just go with beautiful. They recreate the locations perfectly. The Cavern looks as it used to before they knocked it down, and you can even recognise some faces in the crowds from footage of the concert. In the later songs (67' on, from Sgt.Pepper's) they start out in Studio 2 in Abbey Road, but as soon as the music hits they are whirled off to some dream world where the images represent the music of the songs, be it the psychadelic floral flashes for Within You Without You or the black and white, dirty feel to Helter Skelter. The cartoon-y look to The Beatles themselves fits the game perfectly.
Score: 9.8/10
Reason: The only reason I docked marks is because you cannot choose where you play songs. Don't know about you, but I'd like to play Helter Skelter in the Cavern.


Standard Rock Band gameplay, except, of course, for the introduction of vocal harmonies. The Beatles were famous for their great ability to harmonise like ebony and ivory, and of course they were great innovators, which is why they had to introduce this new system. Now I don't use this much myself, it seems to work perfectly. So much so that it's going to be introduced into every Rock Band (and very likely, Guitar Hero) game from now on.
The real downside is that you cannot change anything about the songs. In other games, if you flick the whammy bar, the sound manipulates. Nothing changes here. If you stop playing, the instrument cuts out, as it should, but if you stop singing they carry on. You get no points, but there's still noise. This is completely understandable though, as they wanted to preserve the Beatles legacy perfectly. Denies a bit of individualism and style but hey, it's a game. If you want to show your own individualism or style in a game, go design a game.
Score: 8.6/10
Reason: It didn't really change the main functions of the Rock Band series, and I don't have prior experience with the harmony system. The last point from above.


I know what you're thinking, that there's no story to this game, and it's just tacked on because they felt they had to? Well, I suppose you're kinda right. It's just straight-forward "do this song. Get good score. Play next song". The story follows the Beatles from their days in the Cavern right up to the rooftop concert. Along the way you gain facts and photos of the Beatles for performing the songs well. As time passes in the Beatles world, and they move on to a new venue, an animation plays showing their transition.
Another nice thing about the story is that it's completely fictional. Well, in parts. They created a world where there's no animosity or grief between The Beatles until they one day they suddenly decide that their job here on earth and they return to their planet to retire leaving the world without war and hate. Well, maybe not the part about space. For example, in reality, Ringo quit the band during the sessions for The Beatles (White Album) and as a result he didn't play on some songs, such as Back in the USSR (Paul did). In the game however, Ringo is there, as normal, playing away. This was a very nice touch to gloss over the bad things.
Reason: Although presented superbly, it's just a basic "do this, then that" approach. Although, when you think about it, what else could they have done?


Future for "Beatles Rock Band"?

There is of course the possiblity of further DLC to correct the lack of Help!, although it is unlikely. Unlike DLC for other Rock Band games, it is extremely expensive and takes a lot more hard work. It all depends on the sale of existing DLC, and sales arent near high enough. Also take into account that they've made and released 2 more games in the last year or so: Greenday Rock Band and Rock Band 3. With Rock Band 3 and it's new keyboard peripheral there is a higher possibility of DLC for piano based songs, such as Let it Be, Hey Jude, Lady Madonna and retro support for Hey Bulldog, Don't Let Me Down, Get Back etc.
Technically, there already was a sequel in Greenday Rock Band. If you count the "______ Rock Band" games as a separate series, there is rumours of a The Who Rock Band, and a Queen Rock Band. One small, bitter comment: What a follow-up to Beatles Rock Band! (sarcasm-gasm)
The overall sales for Beatles Rockband were less than expected, although that can be attributed to the loss of interest in this genre we experienced (and are still experiencing) and the "sudden" economic recession. Sales are unlikely to improve, as the Beatles specific peripherals have long gone out of production, and you can find the software anywhere for a cheap enough price, which is likely to be pre owned and thus no sales go towards figures.

It should also be noted that there was a lot of advertising for this game. Even at E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) 2009, the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison respectively, along with the two remaining Beatles, Paul and Ringo, appeared to promote the game. What they said, however, was fairly simple. "Go buy the game", basically. Infact, I'm pretty sure I just quoted Paul McCartney.

Well, that's it. Until next time, I'll be chilling at the toppermost of the poppermost. See ya!

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