Playing The Beatles Rock Band may be most challenging for those who already play music
On the plus side, five minutes of clicking away on your plastic guitar controller and you're part of the world's greatest rock band, jamming along to 45 different Fab Four tunes, from the R&B covers they played in The Cavern Club -- Twist and Shout was a favorite in our household -- to the band's last rooftop concert from the Let It Be sessions.
The game, which drops in stores tomorrow, is a lavish, lovingly produced tribute sure to revitalize interest in the band among a generation which has never known a pop music world without the hits and influence of The Beatles.
But for an experienced musician, there may be no more humiliating experience than playing a tune on Rock Band with your teenage children. Because, despite decades in the game and wide range of playing experiences, nothing quite compares with trying to keep up with kids whose reflexes have been honed by years of Super Mario and Wii Fit games.
For those who haven't had the pleasure, Rock Band is a video game system which allows even the most fumblefingered player to strap on a plastic controller shaped like a Stratocaster guitar and wail like Hendrix or Clapton. There's also a microphone to sing along and a drumkit for those with real coordination.
And The Beatles: Rock Band may be the most sumptuous version of the popular game system yet. Developed as a musical feast, the whole proceeding is set to some of the most mind-bending visuals you can imagine, with trippy dreamscapes evoking the mind-bending sonic experiments the band indulged during its Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road efforts -- complete with never before release studio chatter and the chance to tackle the group's signature three-part harmonies.
To play the game, you strike buttons on the body of the guitar and its fretboard at the right times, indicated by a electronic display which mimics the fretboard of a guitar. But striking those notes at the right time can be bigger challenge than you'd expect, especially if you're used to controlling the sound of the instrument yourself.
Basically, the game decides which notes you must play to recreate classic phrases -- my fingers were tingling after tackling the lead guitar part in Taxman -- and decades playing bass guitar and drums barely prepared me for the challenge of keeping up with Rock Band's exacting standards. One good thing about The Beatles' version of Rock Band -- when you do poorly, the crowd doesn't turn on you, as in the standard version.
Players can tackle each tune individually, or work their way through a chronology of the band's career, including rare photos, downloadable songs, a tutorial allowing you to learn drumbeats played by Ringo (he's better than you think!) and online play allowing you to team up with five other friends anywhere they can scrounge Internet access.
If you want controllers which mimic the band's classic look, you'll pay a bit more; the software is listed at $59.99, but a package including the custom plastic guitar and drum set controllers jumps to $249.99.
Best of all, it's an amazing way to spend an evening; copping Paul's bass licks on Come Together while my kids join in, soaking up the songs which inspired me to pick up my instruments in the first place.
Now if only I can beat my 14-year-old's high score on guitar...