Three reasons why the Beatles video game could disappoint

I love the Beatles, and I love video games. So I suppose I should be overjoyed that there’s going to be a Rock Band-but-not-called-Rock Band music video game featuring the fabulous foursome.

Sure, it’ll be fun to shred to Taxman and show off my terrible John Lennon impression. But there are three issues that could keep this game from being bigger than Jesus.

First, not all of the great Beatles songs are suited to virtual rock. Just on a quick glance, the game will probably have to leave out Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, Blackbird, A Day in the Life, Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, All You Need Is Love, Hey Jude, Let It Be. Songs like Norwegian Wood and You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away would have to be separated from the full-band songs (unless you want your drummer and bassist to just sit there for three minutes).

True, there are dozens of guitar-heavy songs that will make it, but that will make for a decidedly uneven overview of the group — unlike, say, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, which can leave out Janie’s Got a Gun and Amazing and still give a pretty good idea of what the band sounds like.

Many of the earlier songs that do have guitars feature a fairly quiet, jangly acoustic guitar that would get drowned out by wannabe Ringos smacking the game’s plastic “drums”: Help (the verses), Eight Days a Week, Can’t Buy Me Love, to name a few.

That leads to the second potential problem: without a decent remastering, many of the songs could sound terrible. Take 1964 production values pumped through standard TV speakers and combine them with the clicking “strum” of fake guitars, the aforementioned loud drums, and inevitably too-loud singers, and it’ll be hard to hear the parts to many of the pre-Rubber Soul songs.

The reports on the forthcoming game are based on a vague conference call, during which the subject of remastering was rather conspicuously unaddressed. So maybe Paul, Ringo, Yoko, Gloria Harrison, and Apple Ltd. will get their collective act together before the end of 2009, and the Beatles catalog will finally be remastered and re-released first online and then via the video game. But I’m not going to get my hopes up.

The game could be fun even with a somewhat-circumscribed track list and less-than-stellar sound. But the whole effort could fizzle if it focuses on the guitars and forgets about the harmonies.

There are many reasons to love the Beatles. The complex-but-beautiful melodies. The deeper-than-they-seem lyrics (well, maybe not “love, love me do”). The innovative production. For me, the most exciting aspect of the band is their exuberance, their sheer joy of playing — something that infuses pretty much all of their recordings, no matter how much they were fighting outside (or inside) the studio. And nothing is more exuberant than their effortless, intricate harmonies: the falsetto “If there’s anything I could dooo!” in From Me to You; the call-and-response backups on Soldier of Love; the pristine overdubs on And Your Bird Can Sing.

But Rock Band doesn’t register harmony — only the melody. I haven’t played Rock Band 2 or Guitar Hero World Tour yet, but nothing I’ve read indicates that they’ve added harmonies. SingStar 2, a just-released (in the U.S.) sequel to the PlayStation karaoke series, does have a harmony mode; we’ll see if the others follow suit.

You’d think the brains behind the Beatles game would make sure to build a harmony feature into such a marquee project. But given the seat-of-the-pants announcement and the lack of innovation in the current round of full-band music games, I wouldn’t bet on it.

So, Alex Rigopoulos, if you’re reading this (and I know you’re not) — don’t let me down. Without harmonies, it’s not the Beatles. Simple as that.

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