During the quiet period of January you have a chance to catch up on the releases of the past year that you may have missed. This period of down time in the releases schedule lets you go back and reconsider the games that were too expensive to justify a full price purchase or were overshadowed by bigger releases and so fell off your radar.
This January has seen me go back and revisit many of these titles, but of all of these the most leftfield choice also turned out to be one of the nicest gaming surprises I’ve had in recent years. I borrowed a copy of Beatles Rockband recently, and I loved it.
Now Beatles Rockband wasn’t even a 2010 release. It came out in 2009, performed poorly sales wise, was received lukewarmly by critics and has since been labelled as one of the serious missteps that led to the collapse of Harmonix and the rhythm action genre as a whole. On top of all that, I’m not even a big Beatles fan and many of my favourite songs aren’t on the track list. How was it then that Beatles Rockband was such a great afternoon’s entertainment?
Well the first reason would be that it was just that, a single afternoon. I played through the game in one sitting. I’m no great guitar hero and yet I played the whole thing on expert without ever failing a song. As a result there were absolutely no speedbumps in my way. Each song completed was another step along the path to final success and even the songs I disliked were over in four minutes and would never have to be played again. In Rockband 1 or 2 a bad song is seriously off-putting as you know that the way the campaign is structured will have you play that song over and over to progress. In Beatles Rockband you knock the song out first time and as you’re on expert you know you won’t even need to practice to beat it on a higher difficulty.
As a game that you play in one sitting it’s a very coherent experience. You start at the top of a big list of songs and go through to the bottom. The simplicity of this approach coupled with the fact that the songs are unlocked in batches means that you’re constantly incentivised to complete two or three more songs to see the next set list. The challenge level is varied too as the songs are unlocked in the order that they were written by the Beatles, not in ascending difficulty. If the game was harder this could result in punishing difficulty spikes but as it never really gets tough it instead keeps you on your toes.
The fact that the game takes you through the Beatles catalogue in chronological order makes for a rewarding and informative experience. For casual music fans there’s probably some songs they won’t know and some hidden delights to discover, while hardened Beatles maniacs will enjoy rediscovering some of their favourites and will be delighted by some of the little incidental details like the studio chat before a song begins.
The whole thing is packaged up beautifully with gorgeous art direction. The menus and interface are pitch perfect while the game venues range from the iconic (Ed Sullivan show, on top of Apple records) to the eerily mystical (studio sessions with full on acid-trip hallucinations). The latter venues are particularly stunning as the studio sessions melt away into the surreal imagery of the Beatles and some of the more psychedelic moments need to be seen to be believed.
When the game was over I was left in a daze. I loved the structure, many of the songs were amongst the best Harmonix has ever offered us and the note tracks were perfect. The campaign had been gorgeous and compulsive and I had a new found appreciation for the work of the Fab Four.
I was also relieved. I was relieved I hadn’t paid full price for a game that I was done within four hours. I was also relieved I hadn’t paid for a Beatles game with no Hey Jude, Let it Be, All you Need is Love and A Day in the Life. I was relieved I hadn’t paid for a game that sold me on being the definitive Beatles experience then tried to sell me more Beatles songs as DLC. Finally, I was relieved that I hadn’t paid for a game that delivered so much more than I expected, but so much less than it could have.
As a full price release with additional costs for DLC, I could not recommend it. As a dusty case at the bottom of the bargain bin, as a trip through the music and the minds of the greatest band of all time and as a joyous, lazy afternoon in January, I can’t recommend it highly enough.