When The Beatles come to Rock Band it may not be as different an experience as many had hoped, but what it lacks in new ways to play it will make up for in nuance.
When MTV Games, Harmonix and Apple Corps announced an exclusive partnership in October to create a new video game featuring the music of The Beatles, they stressed that it wouldn't be a Rock Band title. They added that visual exploration of The Beatles would be a big part of the game.
Many took that to mean that this new title would be a reinvention of the music game genre, or at least a fanciful flight through a Beatles world more like Yellow Submarine than documentaries The Beatles at Shea Stadium or All Together Now.
But when the three companies rolled out the official price, date and name of their new music game, that idea seemed to go out the window. The Beatles: Rock Band hits in September for $250 with instruments.
Despite the name Rock Band attached to the upcoming game, an MTV Games spokesperson told me that the game would still be a "custom standalone dedicated game experience and completely brand new production that will be an unprecedented, experiential progression through and celebration of the music and artistry of The Beatles."
Instead of tinkering with the game mechanics that have proven so successful in Rock Band and Rock Band 2, The Beatles: Rock Band will instead focus on putting players in the shoes of the Fab Four, according to our sources.
We hear that the game play itself and the interface in The Beatles will be relatively unchanged from Rock Band, but that there will be more to the game than just playing Beatles songs. Players will progress through settings made famous by the group, like Shea Stadium, the Cavern Club and 1969's rooftop concert. And those settings will be much more interactive than what gamers currently find in Rock Band.
The game will rely on realistic graphics to capture the mood and feel of the group, allowing players to see them mature both musically and physically as the game progresses.
The deal inked by MTV Games gives Harmonix access to more than 300 Beatles songs. We've heard that the selection on the disc will be quite varied , including folksy Here Comes the Sun, classic rocker I Feel Fine, proto-metal Helter Skelter and even Ringo Starr‘s charming Octopus's Garden.
But it would be surprising if the disc included more than 50 or so songs when it ships. I expect that, as with Rock Band and Rock Band 2, MTV Games is willing to take a loss on the game itself with hopes of later earning it back through individual song sales.
The Beatles: Rock Band will most certainly have the ability to download new songs, as its predecessors have, but I think that Harmonix might reexamine how that's done as well. Instead of releasing individual songs purchasable online for download, I could see the developer releasing entire albums in stores. Imagine a boxed White Album for the game with the same cover art.
The Beatles: Rock Band should be both a financial and artistic success for Harmonix, opening the door to gaming for a much broader audience. Even more importantly, the success or failure of this standalone, single-band endeavor could pave the way for similar efforts.
If The Beatles: Rock Band sells, why wouldn't Elvis: Rock Band?
Well Played is a weekly opinion column about the big news of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.