From the ecstatic pleading of their twist-and-shout early years to late-period sing-alongs like ”Hey Jude,” the Beatles always put themselves out there as participatory entertainment. The Beatles: Rock Band converts that interactivity into a sensational virtual world suffused with infectious, sentimental ardor for the band. It’s like ”Yellow Submarine”: extravagantly produced, totally unnecessary, pretty irresistible.
The game organizes the Beatles’ storied career and 45 of their best, most famous tunes into levels to be conquered, from their Cavern Club hello to their rooftop-concert goodbye. Players perform these tunes with fake plastic bass, guitar, and drums and sing with real mics (think karaoke), so a willingness to humiliate yourself is required. (Beatlemania, on the other hand, isn’t essential, but it certainly enhances the experience.) The Ed Sullivan Show level is exhilarating for its raucous set list and high-stakes drama if you understand that performance’s significance; flub ”I Want to Hold Your Hand” and you…derail rock history! Conversely, it’s weird knowing that you’re basically working toward the Beatles’ heartbreaking breakup, and that final set on the roof, skewed toward bluesy numbers like ”I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” is, well, heavy, not to mention the least fun. Nice irony, though.
Progress is rewarded with Beatles arcana — photos, rare video, a fan-club record. You don’t have to work hard for it; the ”easy” mode is ”no fail.” And unlike other iterations of Rock Band, the screaming girls don’t turn into boo birds when you mess up. This game wants you to love the Beatles, not resent them. There is one major disappointment: missing songs. ”She Loves You” and ”Help!” should be part of this pricey nostalgia package. (Several full albums will soon be available for purchase online.)
Some may dismiss The Beatles: Rock Band as self-promoting hagiography. I say let it be. I had a blast losing myself in the game’s glorious saga of sound. I screamed my voice raw on ”A Hard Day’s Night” — and when I scored a perfect 100, I dared to dream myself worthy of John’s guitar strap. Of course, when I fumbled the riff on ”Day Tripper,” I felt like a fool on the hill. But that’s okay: The girls screamed for me anyway. A