A friend of mine, while discussing “rhythm” games in general a few months ago, pointed out his loathing for the likes of Guitar Hero, Rockband, and the like, based on the fact that it isn’t playing a real instrument. I agreed in part, but had to hold the caveat that I had never actually played any of them! At no point in my (excessive) gaming history, had I felt like picking up a plastic instrument and hitting it in time to basic graphics, for the sake of scoring points, and unlocking achievements. I felt that, although I could see the element of fun inherent in such a game, it just wasn’t for me because it would frustrate me about how I am utterly incompetent on almost every instrument I have ever picked up!
This stayed with me so much, that when I was idly flicking through Amazons pages a few days later, I decided to enter my card details and have The Beatles: Rockband sent through to me post haste, replete with all the fisher-price-esque instruments I could get, just to test the theory and see what it was actually like.
Now, this particular game appealed to me firstly because, having been a fan of the Beatles for many a year, I would find their wide ranging and varied music an easy way into the game’s style. Secondly it was because I thought their songs would be relatively easy (err), but most importantly because I was intrigued as to how such a legendary band would be presented in the gaming format. The latter point was mainly due to having witnessed the mildly childish and incompetent way the early Guitar Hero games looked, naively representing heroes and icons (musical not desktop) as squat, badly animated, and uninspiring polygonal nightmares.
Upon delivery, I unpacked the collected items, a healthy dent in the oil reserves of the planet, and assembled them piece by piece, exploring their strangely coloured buttons where frets would be, feeling the excitement of having what looked like an early electric drum kit, and enjoying the unexpected weight of the cheap plastic mic. Yes, I am a child, but it was like the best Christmas ever!
Saying that, the fact that, on me, the guitar looked like a comedic miniature prop (“what is this, a guitar for ants” to paraphrase Mr D. Zoolander), and the drum pedal was half the size of my size 12 feet did make me wonder what kind of possessed fool I had been. Maybe once you are actually playing with them, it all feels ok?
Before I could find out there came that most pivotal moment when any new game is purchased, loading it up, and watching the intro. I have to say that, from the moment it started, the style, the soundtrack, and the production, was exceptional. I genuinely felt a thrill go through me as the camera panned up from the cavern club, and that thrill didn’t leave until the beautifully rendered and stylishly conceived “I am the walrus” denouement played out its sublime final chord.
Entering the maze of menus, I was up and running in no time at all (minor criticism of player to instrument selection being overly complicated aside), and straight into the first song I had ever played on a plastic guitar whilst sitting behind plastic drums. The system of how to play is simple and clear, the interface pleasingly free of lag (a little set up at the start really clears that up), and I threw myself at it with gay abandon. Of course this being my first go, I expected to do badly, but 0% correct???? Back we go to try the tutorial
Once the well put together and surprisingly endearing tutorial pointed out that I had to strum as well, I was off!
With the guitar mastered (hardly), out came the drums! Sticks in hand, I rapidly discovered I had no calling to the kit and it’s quite clearly the hardest Rockband instrument by a long way. The mic swiftly came forth instead, and I enjoyed the vocal distress of trying to keep in tune, cutting lyrics at the right point, and rediscovering the complexity of some of their songs. For someone who can’t sing, I did surprisingly well, and this buoyed me up for future persistence with the game.
With all of this considered, and the subsequent ongoing playing of the game, I realised how addictive and enjoyable it could be. A brief period playing it with my dad triggered me to realise though, that this was a game to play with others! Once I actually sat down and played with a friend for an extended (and, of course, drunken) set, I came to see the joy behind that addictiveness. The sheer hilarity and pleasure of playing with a mate is one of my highlights of the last year. It has now inspired me to buy the main Rockband title for more rounded evenings of childish glee with friends, but that is not the most surprising thing.
Most surprising of all, is the effect it’s had on my real musical instruments. My guitars haven’t been played so much in years; the enjoyable but simplistic antics on screen inspired me to persist a little more with the real thing. The feeling of being part of a performance on Rockband was so enjoyable, that playing with a real band, on a real instrument, must be so much better and even more rewarding – I couldn’t stop thinking about practicing for real.
So my friend may never change his opinion, but I am completely swayed. The Beatles : Rockband, although it’s been out a few months now, is an essential purchase for fans of the band, fans of the genre of game, or just people like me, looking for a new experience they can share with others. The presentation, interpretation, and understanding of the Beatles, are superb and the range of their music within the game is a fine cross section of their brilliant back catalogue.
I look forward to seeing you in the audience at my first Beatles covers gig (I’ll leave the plastic guitar behind for that one though)!