I played Rock Band for the first time in July. Before that, the idea of singing, drumming or even strumming (despite a few brief forays into group Guitar Hero) made me queasy. But I met a non-judgmental group of kids who welcomed me into their fold and handed me a mic.
Since then, I’ve sung “My Own Worst Enemy” on Expert (laugh if you must) and many other songs on Hard. I’ve learned to use the bass pedal at the same time I’m hitting another drum. I’ve bobbed my head over many a plastic guitar. I’ve come to love Rock Band.
Last night, my crack team of fellow RB players acquired a rented copy of The Beatles Rock Band (BRB), and I raced to their house after work to get my first eyeful of George, Paul, John and Ringo in all their Harmonix / MTV / EA glory. The New York Times preview, catchy commercials and well-played 9/9/09 launch had me so pumped, I couldn’t wait a minute longer.
Now, I’ve never played Aerosmith Guitar Hero, so BRB may not be original to this extent, but having recognizable faces, scenery and voices made this a more well-rounded musical gaming experience. And the background really stole the show on a number of levels. The graphics were superbly constructed; the background info on songs and albums kept things interesting; and the scene-setting elements (snippets of voices and studio noise, time-and-place indicators) transported me from a messy living room in 2009 to a 1960s “Ed Sullivan Show” set, a sold-out Shea Stadium and a London rooftop.
Rocking out generally keeps one from being able to focus on the background for long, so I was pleased to see that some of the improvements in this version of RB extended into setup and gameplay. Multiple singers can harmonize on several songs and see individual rankings after performing. Scrolling through menus is accompanied by the appropriate instrument’s sound effects (cymbal, et al.). Instrumental difficulty ratings remain on the screen after a song’s been selected, offering further review opportunities before choosing a level. All small things, but important and helpful nonetheless.
Oh, and I got a healthy ego boost every time the game called my voice FAB!
Now, this is not to say BRB is without its shortcomings. Far from it, in fact. With all the pre-release hype and the help of surviving Beatles McCartney and Starr, one may be expecting miracles from this game. But Apple surely maintained a heavy hand. And reproductions can go only so far. The result is something of a letdown.
Purported to contain 45 tracks, and coming straight from the case with 43, there is little room for unlocking new songs. It’s unclear, but it appears the unlocking goes hand in hand with the new Achievements feature, which challenges players to a variety of feats: maintain “Beatlemania” (star power) for a full minute, score 1,000,000 points in a single song, etc. The vivid colors fall short when it comes to Beatlemania and grooves, making the moving notes difficult to see.
And, of course, there will be some degree of greed associated with a highly acclaimed band such as the Beatles. This comes across as key songs that are missing from the song list, likely to appear as purchasable extras in the coming months. While it’s nice that the game offers nuggets of audio and visual history, I want to see songs unlocked, not photos. (An entry in Yahoo!’s Pepsi Music Blog explains the thinking behind this change in unlockable content.) Without this progression, the game experience feels stationary and stale.
Overall, I loved seeing the all-out craziness of the lyrics to “I Am the Walrus”flow across the screen and belt out a solid “GOO GOO G’JOOB!” my heart sank a little when I didn’t fall in love with The Beatles: Rock Band. I wanted to. I really did. And, as my fellow gaming musician pointed out, “I’d pay 40 bucks for it.” But you should want to pay the full $60 for the Beatles. You should be willing to dole out $100, even. I suppose it was impossible for a video game (even one with as many layers as Rock Band) to really do the Fab Four justice. But I am glad they’ve regained the spotlight for a little while and their songs will touch another generation of technology-centric youth.
And you really should check out the BRB Web site – it’s so beautifully done, I almost prefer it to the game.
-Photo via thebeatlesrockband.com