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Published Sep. 10, 2009

Here's the classic good news/bad news problem for me, a musician with 30 years' experience, firing up the coolest video game ever, The Beatles: Rock Band.

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.

The game, which hit stores Wednesday, is a lavish, lovingly produced tribute sure to revitalize interest in the band among a generation that has never known a pop music world without the hits and influence of the Beatles.

But for an experienced musician, there may be a no-more-humiliating experience than playing a tune on Rock Band with your teenage children. Because, despite decades in the game, nothing quite compares with trying to keep up with kids whose reflexes have been honed by years of Super Mario and Wii Fit games.

Here are the highlights of my tryout:

GOT TO GET THIS INTO YOUR LIFE: For those who haven't had the pleasure, Rock Band is a video game system that allows even the most fumble-fingered 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 drum kit for those with real coordination. To play the game, you strike buttons on the body of the guitar and its fret board (or the drum kit's pads) at the right times, indicated by an electronic display that mimics notes on the fret board of a guitar.

A DAYTRIPPING VERSION: The Beatles: Rock Band may be the most sumptuous version yet of the popular game system. 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 in during its Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road efforts - complete with never-before-released studio chatter and the chance to tackle the group's signature three-part harmonies.

DID I PASS THE AUDITION? I spent a blissful Labor Day weekend noodling with a review copy of this amazing game on a Wii system, and I only had one problem: Playing the game isn't exactly like playing an instrument.

Basically, the game decides which notes you must play to re-create 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.

TWIST AND SHOUT WITH THE FAMILY: If you want controllers that 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 with Paul's bass licks on Come Together while my kids join in, soaking up the songs that 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 ...