The Lads from Liverpool are still nowhere to be found on the virtual shelves of online music stores, but they've finally taken their first step into the digital domain via MTV and Electronic Arts' latest music video game: The Beatles: Rock Band, set for release on September 9th.
It's the culmination of three years of planning and development, which included the laborious task of breaking apart songs recorded more than 40 years ago in single-track format to create discrete guitar, bass, drums, and vocal tracks, as well as multiple meetings with the band's surviving members and family to ensure an authentic look and feel.
The result is a strikingly sincere interactive recreation of the world's most recognizable pop band, from their trend-setting styles to plastic replicas of their instruments, including Paul McCartney's Höfner Violin bass and George Harrison's Gretsch Duo Jet guitar (alas, no sitar for the group's Indian-influenced pieces).
The story mode leads players through the band's career, beginning with the Mop Tops performing songs like "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Do You Want to Know a Secret" at Liverpool's legendary Cavern Club before moving on to the band's Ed Sullivan Show appearance, Shea Stadium concert, and Budokan gig.
The second half of the game features the Fab Four brandishing moustaches and more individual hairstyles as they record albums in London's Abbey Road Studios, which transforms into psychedelic dreamscapes inspired by the band's films and album art during songs such as "Yellow Submarine" and "Come Together." Think shimmering underwater landscapes and kaleidoscopic flowers.
Unlocked along the way are dozens of rare photos and recordings that provide insight into the band as it matured, including a 1963 holiday greeting recorded for the band's fan club and candid footage of them travelling by helicopter to their Shea Stadium show.
But while authentic digital depictions and band trivia is appreciated, the real reason fans young and old will soon flock to game shops in the throes of a modern form of Beatlemania will be to have a chance to play the group's timeless music.
Happily, that music sounds great (despite the digital tinkering) and is a blast to play. Plucking the opening melody of "Octopus's Garden" made me feel part of the band, and it was fun to see just how long I could keep up with John Lennon's larynx-searing vocals on "Twist and Shout" (a trivia tidbit tells us that even Lennon was only able to make it through the song once during the original recording session.)
The songs are generally easier compared to those found in previous Rock Band games, but that's likely for the best, given that players are also expected to take part in the Beatles' signature three-part harmonies. Trying to sing backup vocals, which differ in pitch and timing from the lead vocals, while simultaneously playing guitar or drums is tricky, to say the least.
The bad news? The disc contains only 45 songs - about half the number found in Rock Band 2. What's more, the story mode can be finished in a single leisurely evening. This may come as a shock to players who are still working their way through the epic career modes of other games in the franchise, which spanned more than 100 hours. Scores more Beatles tracks are slated for release through the online Rock Band store, but at the costly price of more than $2 each or about $20 an album.
Perhaps there was a good reason why the Beatles waited so long to jump on the digital bandwagon: They were simply waiting for the biggest possible payoff.