In recent weeks, the national print and electronic media were filled with articles about two major Beatles-related events: the release of the remastered CD sets of the entire Beatles catalogue in both mono and stereo formats, and the brand-new "Beatles Rock Band" video game.
My wife and children immediately ordered the game and the Wii platform on which to play it.
On my birthday ("when I'm 64" ... plus one), the UPS man delivered a very large carton; my oldest son and I assembled all the components, installed the Wii, put together the guitar and drum set controllers, and inserted the DVD into the Wii console.
The setup and installation were not simple. The microphone, guitar and drum set controllers required exact calibration to our particular home-theater equipment. The DVD contains a routine for this process, and we were soon able to determine the exact amount of audio and visual delay that our LCD television and associated electronics required so that audio, video, and controller signals were all operating completely in sync with each other and with the game.
Finally, we were ready to begin.
The opening video and audio montage is truly overwhelming! The 45 Beatles songs included in the game are divided into several categories according to the venues in which the Beatles sang them: The Cavern Club in Liverpool; "The Ed Sullivan Show"; Shea Stadium; Apple Studios; "Yellow Submarine"; and the rooftop of Apple Studios.
All of these sights are previewed along with associated musical samples. At last, the opening screen of the game appears, with the player having to make several choices: which controller to select, which mike, guitar and drums; the player level, from easy to expert; audio levels for the voices, instruments and crowd noise; and how many people will be participating.
The game allows up to six players at any one time: lead singer, two singers on different harmony lines, lead guitar, bass guitar and drum set. Or one person can choose any controller and play the game alone, singing or playing with the boys.
On the television screen, the player watches cartoon images of John, Paul, George and Ringo singing and playing the selected song, all of them attired in period clothing for each venue.
Fab Four in the Living Room
Their musical gestures are meticulously linked to the recorded sounds; the guitar strums and drum strokes exactly match the music.The audio is tremendous. The better the playback equipment, the better the voices and instruments sound. A good sub-woofer brings out Paul's bass lines in a manner not heard on the original LP recordings 40 years ago.
Not only did the Beatles write immortal songs, they also performed them in an iconic and spectacular manner.
A singing game-player matches his voice to the words as they scroll across the screen. The vocals are indicated by a wavy horizontal line adjacent to the words. The guitar and drum parts are really more about hand-eye coordination than about real music-making.
One has to hit one of five drum pads, or hit the guitar-strum bar while pressing one of five colored buttons, exactly when the matching colored rectangle appears on the screen.
At the end of the song, the game rates the success of the player's efforts. After selecting the easy level, I was able to score in the upper 80s and low 90s on the vocal parts of "Yellow Submarine" and "Do You Want to Know a Secret."
Only once did I try the expert level because the song stopped after about 24 measures, with a screen memo telling me that I'd failed. The guitar and drum parts are more difficult, but with practice I was able to improve my instrumental scores.
Two serious points: We live in a time when we want to be involved in the active process of making music. In synagogue, in the concert hall, in the movies -- look at the "Sound of Music" sing-a-longs -- audiences want to actively sing and dance. The "Beatles Rock Band" addresses this need by creating the illusion of participating in music-making with possibly the best band of all time.
Finally, this game is truly multigenerational. I have played it with my son and daughter, with my wife, and with friends. This is a joyous participatory family video experience -- there are no car chases, exploding rockets or mangled bodies.
All you need is love!