Replaying Beatlemania

The release of the Beatles: Rock Band video game sends reviewers fawning, then philosophizing

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The press takes nearly every occasion it can to swoon over the Beatles, so it's hardly surprising that the Wednesday release of a much-anticipated a video game called The Beatles: Rock Band featuring the Fab Four has gotten an ecstatic reception. Reviews have featured that blend of wonder, bemusement and delight that the Beatles periodically excite, and which is being brought out by the near-simultaneous release of a 14-disc remastered set of the band's oeuvre. But is the game any good?
  • Strawberry Fields Forever  According to Tim Heffernan of Esquire, the release of the game proves that new iterations of the Fab Four will continue ad-infintum, "Only the form will change." In-so writing, he sums up what many reviewers are less artfully implying. He also offers a tantalizing vision of what the next Beatles game might look like: "In a decade or so we'll probably be donning virtual-reality goggles and staring out through Ringo's eyes at the insanity of that first Ed Sullivan show."
  • Carry That Weight  Various writers at Time, The Big Money, and Silicon Alley Insider insist that the success of MTV's video game subsidiary Harmonix is depending on the Beatles game. Amid broad industry woes, the "music video-game" sub-genre is desperate for a boost, as sales are down to the tune of 46% due to the recession and market saturation (see Guitar Hero 5). Again, however, most expect the Beatles to cut through the noise and deliver.
  • Taxman  Also concerned with the economics of the band, Jon Stossel uses the occasion to illustrate the enduring accuracy and appeal of the Beatles' song, "Taxman." Around the time the Beatles sang about them, "British taxes got so bad that wealthy elites, including the Rolling Stones, fled the country to avoid having their fortunes taxed away.  Eventually the British “super-tax” was ended, and today the top British income tax rate is 40%, going up to 50% next year. It’s not 97.5%, but the effects will be similar – some high earners are expected to flee en masse."
  • Tell Me Why  Ben Kuchera of Ars Technica backs down from his lyrically-inspired title "You want a revolution?" to concede that the game only really appeals to those who are already interested in the band. "This game is a love letter to the legend and music of the Beatles, and if that isn't attractive to you, then the game won't be able to convince you that it's worth your time" Debating if it lives up to the massive hype-machine, Switched's Evan Shamoon apologetically admits that the game "doesn't exactly go to great lengths in testing your mettle as a gamer." 
  • Can't Buy Me Love  Only die-hard fans will find fault with the game, argues Salon's Alex Koppleman, directly contradicting Kuchera's review. He does give it credit for being the first and only video-game "history lesson of its kind," but also concludes with the warning: "True Beatles devotees will of course find reasons for disappointment -- there's the absence of keyboardist Billy Preston, for one thing, never mind Ringo predecessor Pete Best. And despite all its attempts at authenticity, the game leaves out the more complicated aspects of the band's time together, contributing to the ever-growing mythology surrounding the Beatles."
  • Any Time At All  Some reviewers say everyone, fan or not, will love the game: "Never before has a video game had such intergenerational cultural resonance ... The music and lyrics of the Beatles are no less relevant today than they were all those decades ago, and by reimagining the Beatles’ message in the unabashedly modern, interactive, digital form of now, the new game ties together almost 50 years of modern entertainment," gushes Seth Schiesel in his review of the game for the New York Times. In the Telegraph, Tom Hoggins appears to concur.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.