The Beatles Rock Band: Beyond Fab

This past week I got to test out an advance copy of The Beatles Rock Band, Xbox version, which hits stores Wednesday (“09-09-09”). The test took place at the home of the Toronto Star’s expert game guy, Marc Saltzman. Our reviews ran in the Saturday Star; you can read them here.
Saturday Star entertainment editor Adam Bisby thought of me when he was looking for a lifelong Beatles fan to play along with the gamer expert. Talk about a ticket to ride.
That’s how I wound up at Saltzman’s house last week, jamming with him on I Am The Walrus. I’m singing into a toy mike, held up by a toy mike stand. (It’s so strange to be in the home of someone you’ve just met, singing “Coo-coo-coo-choo” out loud. The Beatles can make you do bizarre things.)
So Saltzman is on toy guitar (a ¾ replica of McCartney’s famed Hofner violin bass). Between us is a toy drum kit. We’re facing his giant Plasma screen, and colourful, animated, psychedelic images of John Lennon are flashing across the screen.
Basically two grown men playing with toys in front of a cartoon show on TV. In walks Saltzman’s three adorable, curly-haired tykes. “Daddy, can we play?”
“No not now, son, Daddy’s WORKING!”
You should have seen their tiny faces. Confused? Heartbreaking.
Anyway, I’m sure they’ll get their turn. The game is gear, fab, and it’s not just for geezer boomer dads. My teenage son Daniel and his pals Eric and Nolan zipped through the 45 songs on the game this weekend at the cottage, most of it at the “expert” level. (There are four levels, from “Eay” to Expert.”) These kids blew through everything from And Your Bird Can Sing to The End.
The bonus is you get to listen to cool music while your kids play in the other room. Much better than the rat-tat-tat-thud sounds from Call of Duty 5.
But what are you doing in the other room? The Beatles Rock Band game graphics are pretty darn groovy, man. It is cool to see which Beatle is playing which of the guitar parts in The End (I’d guessed at that one for years). The graphics are so good they can easily distract you from following the notes on screen.
Some Beatles fans will nitpick, natch. The game is divided into chapters, with graphics ranging from their early Cavern Club days through The Ed Sullivan Show, Shea Stadium, through St. Pepper and all the way to the roof of Abbey Road for that last concert.
One section has them playing in front of adoring fans in Japan at the Budokan. That was in 1966, toward the end of their touring days, and the Fabs were already so done with touring. The screams generally drowned out their playing. The harmonies on their live rendition of Paperback Writer were way off pitch that day—although there’s no evidence of that on this game.
Still, Beatles Rock Band gets so many other details exactly right. The clothes, the solos, the music.
The better you play, on guitar, drums and vocals (including harmonies), the more Beatles goodies you unlock. Collecting several rare photos can lead to rare videos. I never knew footage of the Beatles rehearsing for the Sullivan show existed, for example, until Dan and his pals unlocked it playing Rock Band over the weekend. I had heard the jokey fan club Christmas messages over the years, but never seen the discs themselves or the fan club newsletters that came with them.
So there’s plenty to do even if you aren’t a gamer. You can enjoy it as a movie, the animation is that good. Check out the opening segment, done in an anime style:

The game comes in Xbox, Playstation and Nintendo formats. You can get just the game disc itself for about $60 if you already have Rock Band peripherals (Guitar Hero guitars will also work) and don’t care if your toy guitar is not a replica of Harrison’s Gretsch Duo Jet, Lennon’s Rickenbaker 325 or McCartney’s Hofner bass. The entire big box of Beatles Rock Band goodies retails for around $250, not cheap but, hey, Christmas is coming.
So go out and buy it. You’ll get blisters on your fingers.

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