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The Beatles: Rock Band Review Print E-mail
Monday, 28 September 2009

Could you imagine a world without The Beatles? Life would be drastically different if it weren't for the enduring music of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. The Fab Four changed the face of popular music as we know it, and the effects can still be felt today. However, despite their ubiquitous popularity, access to their music has been strangely guarded. Up until recently (September 9th, 2009, to be exact), the only way to get their albums on CD was to buy old copies from 1987, devoid of fine sonic detail, and many mixed in stereo when The Beatles intended them to be mono. Their songs still cannot be found on any MP3 download service, and, by extension, the group was MIA from any rhythm game, such as Rock Band or Guitar Hero.

But that all changed when Harmonix announced what is surely the greatest coup in rhythm music game history. To coincide with the band's remastered catalogue, the company released Beatles: Rock Band on September 9th. The purpose was to take the entire Beatles experience and transplant it into a game, making it more than just your basic Rock Band title.

The Beatles Rock Band

I am very happy to report that Harmonix has knocked the ball out of the park with this one. Beatles: Rock Band is easily the most beautiful and immersive rhythm game to date. The title takes you all the way through The Beatles' short but prolific career, starting at Liverpool's Cavern Club (ignoring the German clubs where the band honed their chops), hopping the Atlantic to hit the Ed Sullivan show and Shea Stadium, and then settling comfortably into the Abbey Road studios until finally concluding on the rooftop of the Apple Corps building. The sights and sounds of these various locations are recreated, with audio snippets from real performance (such as Ed Sullivan's introductions when The Beatles played his show). From the look of the band to the mix of the music, this looks, sounds, and feels like The Beatles.

Aside from the story mode, there's also quickplay (every song but one is available to play right from the get go), and several cooperative and versus multiplayer modes. The online multiplayer is smooth and polished, although you still can't hear the vocalist on other consoles (all you hear is the original recorded vocals). The charts tend to be a little easy on any mode other than expert, and the jump in difficulty between hard and expert is a bit abrupt, but other than that, it's an absolute blast to play. If you can wrangle up some friends to join you (in person, preferably), the experience gets even better, as you can watch the people around you rediscover the music of The Beatles in a new and interactive way.

The Beatles Guitar comparisons

The game comes in two flavors: Game only and as a bundle. The bundle includes the game, a wired microphone and stand, Beatles branded drums and a replica Hofner bass. The microphone is the same as previous Rock Band microphones, so no changes there. The microphone stand is solid. The drums, with white instead of black pads, pearl finish, and a Beatles bass drum face and kick pedal, is certainly striking, although functionally the same as the existing Rock Band 2 drums. The only drawback is the bass drum face, which is a thin, flimsy cloth material that sits unevenly on the front of the set. Harmonix really should have invested in something more substantial. This is, after all, The Beatles we're talking about, and the price tag of the bundle is rather hefty ($249.99 MSRP). The Hofner bass is the real big draw. Easily the most beautifully detailed plastic instrument I have ever seen. If there wasn't a strum bar on the face of it, you could almost fool someone into thinking that it's a real musical instrument. From the faux-pearl pick guard to the extra length, the Hofner is one impressive video game accessory.
Unfortunately, it doesn't play as well as it looks. That's not to say it's bad, as it picks up the vast majority of notes and strums correctly. But every so often it'll drop a note, and when you're trying to gold star songs, dropping notes isn't an option. Also, due to its construction, the frets are closer together, forcing you to bunch up your hand, which can lead to cramps more quickly than on the regular Rock Band or Guitar Hero controllers. Harmonix has also released replica Gretsch and Rickenbacker guitars that might offer wider fret button placement.
Getting The Beatles: Rock Band is a no-brainer. The game is giddy, infectious fun that you will play again and again. Even for those who don't know much about The Beatles, it's a great way to get into them. The question is, is it worth it to buy the bundle? If you don't already own any Rock Band or Guitar Hero instruments, the bundle isn't a bad deal, provided you can get it for less than the exorbitant $250 asking price. If you already own some plastic instruments, the bundle doesn't provide enough of an upgrade to justify the price. Still, due to the strength of the game and the beauty of the Hofner, the bundle is still recommended.

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