When The Beatles: Rock Band really clicks — when you’re pounding out “Helter Skelter” hard enough to get blisters on your fingers; when you’re loping through the bass line of “Dear Prudence”; when it starts feeling like you are, in fact, the Walrus — the experience is almost eerie. It begins to seem like the Beatles didn’t write and record these songs so much as construct them — so sturdily that they translate with absurd ease to an interactive format that was four decades away. The Beatles’ musical development lends itself oddly well to a game — the songs become both more difficult to play and more rewarding as the band’s story moves along: It’s a lot more fun to play “And Your Bird Can Sing” than, say, “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
That said, unlike the Beatles’ music — and the original Guitar Hero and Rock Band games — there’s nothing particularly revolutionary here. Aside from the ability to sing in three-part harmony (a frippery that few users are likely to exploit), the gameplay is familiar: You hit the correct color at the proper time and score points. But thanks to richly detailed and artful graphics — highlighted by the psychedelic images that pop up once the Beatles quit playing concerts — it is the most refined music video game ever. From the Beatles’ facial expressions to the signs at Shea Stadium, there’s enough verisimilitude that it’s forgivable when no animated Eric Clapton turns up for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” or when cartoon Ringo is shown playing drums on “Back in the U.S.S.R.” (it was really Paul).
In any case, Starr may be the big winner here: Anyone who has questioned his chops will repent after failing for the 10th time to make it through “Birthday.”
Rating: three and a half stars