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Over the past four years, rhythm games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band have become household names. Living rooms around the world are littered with millions of plastic guitar controllers. By this summer, our family had nine console versions of the Guitar Hero franchise (Guitar Hero, Guitar Hero 2, Guitar Hero 3, Rocks the 80s, Aerosmith, World Tour, Metallica, Smash Hits, Guitar Hero 5) and two of the rival Rock Band franchise (Rock Band and Rock Band 2). Each version added new songs and a few bells and whistles, but if you had played one, you had pretty much played them all. I don’t mean that as a knock against any of the games — I love all of them — there just wasn’t a lot of big innovation between iterations.

That all changed on 09/09/09 when Electronic Arts (EA) and Harmonix released The Beatles: Rock Band.

For most game franchises, landing one of the most critically-acclaimed and best-selling artists of all time would be enough. However, EA and Harmonix really took the rhythm game genre to new heights with the overall presentation, the features, and the multimedia extras.

The good

The overall experience

The Beatles: Rock Band is a seamless experience from start to finish. From the menu design to the game levels that are organized by key events in their career (The Ed Sullivan Show, Shea Stadium, etc.) to the photos and trivia sprinkled throughout, it’s as much a rock and roll history lesson as it is a great rhythm game.

Figure A

On stage at The Ed Sullivan Show

The songs

Okay, maybe this goes without saying since we are talking about The Beatles, but this is one of the best overall collections of songs to ever appear in a rhythm game. It’s so much fun to sing and play classics like “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Come Together,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Taxman,” or “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” There are a total of 45 songs included in the game disc. EA has promised more downloadable content; the entire “Abbey Road” album will be offered as downloadable content this fall.

Multiple vocal tracks

You can’t do a game with The Beatles songs and only have one vocal track. One of the coolest new features of The Beatles: Rock Band is support for up to four vocal tracks; that means one person can sing lead vocals and up to three other players can add harmonies. To make it more fun and challenging, you can still play another instrument while playing vocals. So you can truly play the game as John, Paul, George, or Ringo.

Figure B

Multiple vocal tracks in “Octopus’ Garden”

New set of instruments

In addition to the music, The Beatles are also known by their instruments. With The Beatles: Rock Band, you can play Paul McCartney’s Höfner bass, John Lennon’s Rickenbacker 325 guitar, George Harrison’s Gretsch Duo Jet guitar, and Ringo Starr’s drums featuring “The Beatles” bass drum head.

Figure C

The new Beatles replica instruments

The bad

The bundle price

The Beatles: Rock Band is a near-perfect rhythm game; the only knock against it is the price. Sure, you can buy the game software by itself for $60. However, if you want the new instruments, you’ll have to shell out $249 for a premium bundle with one Höfner replica bass, one Beatles replica drum set, mic, and mic stand. If you want to add John Lennon’s Rickenbacker 325 or George Harrison’s Gretsch Duo Jet guitar, you can add another $99 for each of those. That’s $450 if you want the game and all of the instruments. Ouch!

I opted for the game only and used my original Rock Band drums and Guitar Hero guitars. So you can have a great time with a great game for $60.

Geek bottom line

The Beatles: Rock Band is probably the most accessible rhythm game available. These are songs that just about everybody knows. Plus, the multiplayer gameplay is a blast. If you’ve got previous versions of Guitar Hero or Rock Band, you’ll have no trouble jumping into The Beatles: Rock Band. If you’ve never tried a rhythm game, The Beatles: Rock Band is a great place to start.

Check out our The Beatles: Rock Band image gallery.

Geek gift score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: *****
  • Geek factor: ****
  • Value: ***
  • Overall: ****