It’s funny how we’re ten years past the whole music/rhythm genre that swept the video gaming scene so long ago; and yet it’s more popular than ever before. Marketable, maybe not so much. But take a gander at eBay sometime and get a whiff of just how much used Rock Band and Guitar Hero instruments are getting nowadays. Not to mention what Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live peripherals go for.
And that includes The Beatles: Rock Band. On September 9, 2009, this game swept the world, under the development guise of Harmonix and the marketing power of MTV Games and Electronic Arts. Its innovations would speak volumes for years, even if its popularity did not; and it would capture the greatness of the music/rhythm genre at its height. But why didn’t it stay there? Why wasn’t it caught on by everyone? Probably because it was too innovative for its own good.
Yes, there are moments in which gaming can be too innovative. Like, an idea looking good on paper, but not necessarily appealing to those who prefer to jam out to “Through the Fire and Flames” by Dragonforce, just as proof that they can do so. The Beatles: Rock Band wasn’t necessarily built as a game with worldwide appeal. That said, those that got into it knew exactly what it had to offer. And, ten years later, it continues to be a standout title that delivers.
The Beatles: Rock Band didn’t just celebrate the music of the Beatles, but also the Beatles themselves. The game features a number of performances with the iconic band jamming together, whether they’re floating on a mystical airship to “With a Little Help from My Friends” or dominating the world stage with “Drive My Car.” It told a story with each chapter of the 45-song library that unfolded, with even more being introduced via downloadable content (separate album releases). It avoided the drama in favor of celebration, looking back at every aspect of the band’s height of success.
Not only that, but Harmonix also incorporated new elements of gameplay into its Rock Band formula, giving it a boost as the company prepared its soon-to-be-released Rock Band 3. These included harmonies, with people being able to sing with each other with microphones and instruments alike. But it also took the core gameplay to new heights, perfectly blending them with the Beatles’ historic song library.
The hype leading up to the game’s release was nothing short of legendary. Following its announcement, that year’s Xbox E3 (remember that show?) press conference had Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr taking the stage, something unheard of in the game industry. Joining them were the widows for John Lennon and George Harrison, praising the idea of such a game and giving it just the boost it needed.
Along with that, Harmonix introduced a special stage to introduce the game. It made it appear as if the Beatles’ vibe was perfectly recaptured in its E3 booth, right down to staff members pretending like they were the band themselves. (Without the mop tops and Lonely Hearts Club band suits, mind you.) The audience was then invited to check the game out for themselves, complete with special Beatles-themed Rock Band instruments, including a special white-skinned drum set.
The hype continued for months with stylish TV advertisements and other show appearances, including that year’s Penny Arcade Expo event. With each stop, the game continued to successfully build up to its release in September, where it took over the world.
And yet, EA didn’t quite see the sales it was expecting. The game only sold about half a million units during its first month of release, a somewhat smaller number compared to, say, the might of Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock from two years prior. It did eventually clear three million copies sold, but, again, not quite as much as what other Rock Band games produced.
As for the reason its popularity wasn’t quite up there like other games, it mainly had to do with the Beatles themselves. Again, while they have an incredible appeal amongst rock music lovers and genuine fans, routine players preferred more common songs and themes to enjoy. Just ask anyone that was waiting for Rock Band 3 and the inclusion of classics like “Free Bird,” with its jam session-esque finale in tow.
But that doesn’t change what Harmonix was able to do with the game. Ten years later, The Beatles: Rock Band remains an inventive, dynamic and totally involving entry in the long-running music/rhythm series. It stands out on its own terms and lovingly pays tribute to both the band and its fans, while recreating the highlights – and avoiding the lowlights – to keep things nice and upbeat. In other words, it managed to recapture the height of the Beatles, just as they achieved back in the 60’s.
Granted, it’s hard to find a copy now. GameStop doesn’t even carry it anymore since its popularity has weaned, leaving used game stores and thrift shops as the ideal place to snag a copy. However, its instrument peripherals are tough to come by, with the Ringo-inspired drum set being the highlight, going for well over $100 in mint condition. However, those that really want the Beatles experience should have no trouble picking it up. In fact, when we last checked, the servers still appear to be online for it, just in case anyone feels like a jam session. (That’s Xbox 360, mind you.)
And that led to bigger and better things for Harmonix down the road. The company has continued to innovate with releases left and right, from Rock Band 4 to its hit card game DropMix to its upcoming Fuser, which looks to be yet another game-changer in the music/rhythm genre. Still, we probably won’t get anything like The Beatles: Rock Band again, which is sure to remain a feather in their cap throughout their continuous run. Or, perhaps, an apple core, just to fit in with the mantra of the band.
So, yeah, hunt down a copy today if you can, and take a trip down Abbey Road for yourself.