Gut Reactions: The Beatles Game

The GameSpot staff reacts to the news that Harmonix is working on a fully licensed rhythm game featuring the Beatles.

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Rock music is big business in the video game industry these days. Game companies are now doing battle for sonic supremacy with legions of licensed artists. But one group has been conspicuously absent from the festivities: the Beatles. As one of the biggest and best acts in modern history, they seem like an obvious choice for any game dedicated to rock and roll. There's just one problem: Acquiring a license to reproduce the Beatles' legendary hits has been impossible, at least until now. But Harmonix and MTV have done it. In a licensing coup, they have come to an agreement with Apple Corp. Ltd. to include a selection of 45 Beatles songs in their as-yet-untitled Beatles game, which is scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of 2009. GameSpot editors react to this incredible news!

Andrew Park | Managing Editor

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Behold the keytar in all its glory.
Behold the keytar in all its glory.

There are plenty of directions that this new Beatles game can go in, and with any luck, it'll result in at least one keytar peripheral making its way to the market. That's really my main hope, and if you take only one thing away from everything I've ever written, let it be that keytar video game peripherals need to become a reality. But I have to admit, I'm even more intrigued by the fact that the new game will be the first official debut of the Beatles' extensive library in official, digitally distributed form. Not on iTunes or on Amazon Music. In a video game.

If you keep up with the digital music scene, you'll know that digital distribution rights to the Beatles' library were a plum that was battled over for some years. So to some Beatles fans, having the music of this iconic rock group finally get out there in completely legal, official, digital form is a pretty huge deal, a cultural development among modern audiophiles for whom music means playlists, earbuds, and flipping through songs with their thumb on some kind of sleek handheld media player.

This is a positive development, right? Does this mean that a wall has been broken down and a new way has been paved for freedom in the battle between digital rights management and dastardly pirates who would rather download music for free than pay for it? I think it's too early to tell, and as the editors in a recent edition of The Hotspot speculated, you can't help but wonder whether the custom-tracks features of music games already on the market will draw the wrath of various music companies once industrious end users start uploading their own versions of copyrighted music. I'm hoping it doesn't, but industrious users make it hard to police infringements once you open up the floodgates to let users contribute their own content, even if that content should happen to be, oh, I don't know, let's say, a Beatles song. Most people considered last year's lawsuit between media giant Viacom and YouTube owner Google to be posturing by Viacom, rather than a serious threat to the search-engine giant, and it more or less resulted in YouTube launching an antipiracy alert on its site to let concerned users report offending content...if they feel like it. At least in the new MTV/Harmonix game, it'll be harder to pirate and distribute.

In conclusion, I think what I'm really trying to say here is that I need a keytar game peripheral. I've got a pastel-colored sportcoat with extra-thick shoulder pads, a pair of Bugle Boy cargo pants, and a piano key necktie all hanging in my closet, and I just need one more piece of the puzzle to make my ensemble complete.

Brendan Sinclair | News Editor

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Cool retro hairdos probably not included.
Cool retro hairdos probably not included.

When I heard about the Beatles game, I was initially a little put off that it wasn't going to be a dedicated Rock Band game. However, I'm interested to see if Harmonix can take the same style of Rock Band gameplay and put a more appealing Beatles-themed veneer over it. Whatever it does, the song selection is going to be the most important part of the game. With only 45 songs included, a lot of great Beatles tunes will be left out.

If I had my druthers, the game would have a progressive focus on the later Beatles stuff. "Norwegian Wood" and "All My Life" from Rubber Soul would mark the earliest tracks in the game, and successive albums would be more robustly represented, with the exception of Yellow Submarine--that record would give up its songs so that The White Album could be better covered. Finally, the setlist has to be capped by the band's magnum opus, Abbey Road, in its entirety.

That would not only encapsulate the group's most enduring and relevant body of music, but would also leave more than enough material out there to produce another game. A full half of the group's number-one hits fall outside the time period I'm talking about here. So just as the group has two greatest-hits double-disc sets (the blue one covering its later catalog and the red set chronicling the earlier years), it would also have two comparably distinct games.

Jonathan Miller | Associate Editor

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The Beatles all had singing parts, but will these be in the game?
The Beatles all had singing parts, but will these be in the game?

First, let's talk instruments. EA has already announced that the Beatles game will not be a Rock Band game. So if it's not a Rock Band game, you have to assume you don't need Rock Band instruments to play it (though they will be compatible, thankfully.) So, that means the Beatles game will most likely come in two versions: one with a single disc for Rock Band owners, and another with a new set of instruments. But what would those be? Of course you need to have stylized drums, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, and bass. What would set a Beatles game apart, however, would be multiple microphones. The Fab Four were defined by harmony, and everyone played a part, even Ringo. Look back at a Beatles classic like "Twist and Shout." You have John on lead vocals, Paul and George on backup, and even Ringo chipping in. Four microphones, three mic stands. One stand and mic for lead vocals and rhythm guitar, one stand and mic to be shared by lead guitar and bass, and one stand for the drummer. In a Beatles game, everyone sings along.

Second, let's talk game design. Harmonix has some tough decisions ahead if it wants to keep Beatlemaniacs happy. Would the game detail the chronology of the band? Would it focus on the studio albums in order? Would it focus on individual members and their own contributions to the song library? Personally, I'd like to see the game kick off from the band's humble beginnings in Liverpool. Your first task would be to master the songs from the early days to unlock Beatlemania, then you'd move on to the British Invasion, then to the movie era, then to the psychedelic era, and then finish it off with a "Let it Be" setlist and a "Hey Jude" encore. Include famous venues such as the Cavern Club in Liverpool, the Indra Club in Hamburg, and the set of The Ed Sullivan Show (in black and white, of course). In the later years, you could do an animated Yellow Submarine backdrop and even a kaleidoscope Strawberry Fields. Finally, include unlockable classic outfits and accessories to customize the Fab Four how you see fit and include Beatles interviews and live performances. Harmonix may run into some tricky inconsistencies with former drummer Pete Best and producer George Martin often chipping in at the studio, but a game like this should satisfy even the mildest of Beatles fans.

Finally, let's talk track list. There have been reports that the Beatles game will be limited to 45 songs. Keeping everyone happy is an impossible task. I compiled a list of must-have songs and couldn't get it below 60. There can be only two explanations for the limitation: The rights to the songs cost significantly more than the songs in Rock Band, or EA is planning to offer several downloadable music packs. I suspect both are true. That said, here are the songs I believe you should have in a Beatles game:

Please Please Me / I Saw Her Standing There / Twist and Shout / Love Me Do / She Loves You / I Want to Hold Your Hand (with unlockable German version!) / Please Mr. Postman / Roll Over Beethoven / All My Loving / A Hard Day's Night / I Should Have Known Better / Can't Buy Me Love / And I Love Her / No Reply / I'm a Loser / Eight Days a Week / I'll Follow the Sun / Help / Ticket to Ride / You've Got to Hide Your Love Away / You're Going to Lose That Girl / Yesterday / Norwegian Wood / Drive My Car / I'm Looking Through You / Girl / Nowhere Man / In My life / Eleanor Rigby / Tomorrow Never Knows / I'm Only Sleeping / Yellow Submarine / Got to Get You Into My Life / Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band / With a Little Help From My Friends / We Can Work It Out / Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds / Strawberry Fields Forever / Getting Better / A day in the Life / Magical Mystery Tour / I Am the Walrus / All You Need Is Love / Back in the USSR / While My Guitar Gently Weeps / Blackbird / Happiness Is a Warm Gun / Revolution 1 / Come Together / Something / Oh Darling / Here Comes the Sun / Octopus's Garden / Lady Madonna / Hey Jude / Get Back / Let It Be / The Long and Winding Road

Joe Dodson | Associate Editor

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Can a Led Zeppelin game be far behind?
Can a Led Zeppelin game be far behind?

I wonder what Activision and Neversoft are thinking, now that Harmonix has secured one of the most important licenses in rock history? They probably feel a lot like 2K Sports did when EA scored the exclusive NFL license, though their outlook isn't nearly as grim. After all, there are lots of other great bands, even if there's only one Beatles.

Maybe they'll acquire an exclusive license of their own, like Led Zeppelin, and build a whole "new" game around that. Or maybe they'll grab whatever Beatles songs Harmonix doesn't license and rush a Beatles game of their own to market ("God Harmonix, why are you copying us?"). I kid, but my gut tells me that Activision probably isn't taking this well, and probably won't respond well, either.

I suspect both they and Neversoft are wondering "What are we going to do? How can we make people stop talking about Harmonix?" And I suspect the same logic that made them mimic Rock Band with Guitar Hero World Tour will lead them to some equally unimaginative conclusion. I hope my gut is wrong and that they'll strike forth in a bold new endeavor--a playable This Is Spinal Tap would be awesome. But when my gut calls me a fool and insists that "Re-Act-ivision" (my gut is so mean!) will go on playing the Monkees to Harmonix's Beatles, how can I argue? I'm a believer.

Aaron Thomas | Associate Editor

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We can't wait to live on a Yellow Submarine.
We can't wait to live on a Yellow Submarine.

Narrowing down the Beatles' greatest hits to less than 50 songs isn't easy, but I've gone ahead and done the dirty work for Harmonix. Good thing I'm here to help out! A few of these are lesser-known tunes, but all of the songs would be fun to play, which is all that matters. How confident am I that this will be the setlist? I guarantee 90 percent accuracy or your money back.

One After 909 / I Saw Her Standing There / Love Me Do / How Do You Do It / Please Please Me / From Me to You / She Loves You (live version from The Ed Sullivan Show) / All My Loving (live version from The Ed Sullivan Show) / Twist And Shout / I Want to Hold Your Hand / Can't Buy Me Love / A Hard Day's Night / I Feel Fine / Eight Days a Week / Ticket to Ride / Help! / Drive My Car / Norwegian Wood / Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da / Yesterday / Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band / While My Guitar Gently Weeps / Back in the USSR / I Am the Walrus / Revolution / Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out / Paperback Writer / Yellow Submarine / Octopus's Garden / Here Comes the Sun / Penny Lane / All You Need Is Love / Hello Goodbye / Lady Madonna (if there is some sort of keyboard peripheral) / Hey Jude (if there is some sort of keyboard peripheral) / Get Back / The Ballad of John & Yoko / Something / Come Together / Let It Be (if there is some sort of keyboard peripheral) / Mean Mr. Mustard / Polythene Pam / She Came in Through the Bathroom Window / The End / Her Majesty / Free As A Bird

Laura Parker | Staff Writer, GameSpot AU

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On second thought, maybe he does need the money.
On second thought, maybe he does need the money.

I love the Beatles. But the big question for me when reading this news was "Why?" It seems that the Beatles have been fighting to keep their music as guarded as possible for a very long time. Their refusal to offer their music for sale digitally via any venue is well publicized. Their sudden embrace of all things modern is startling, and it makes one wonder: Do the Beatles need rhythm games or do rhythm games need the Beatles?

It's true that rhythm games make billions of dollars, have massive worldwide appeal, and help artists sell records. But why would the Beatles care about any of that? Paul McCartney has been steadily, and successfully, working on his own music for a long time, so it's not like he needs the fame or the money. Ringo Starr has begged, time and time again, to be left out of the public spotlight. It makes little sense to imagine them both in a room together saying, "Hey, dude, we need to find a way to reinvent the Beatles." Perhaps they did it because they want to reach a whole new generation of listeners. Perhaps they think today's music is all tripe, and they wanted to inject some good old-fashioned rock and roll back into contemporary listening. Whatever the cause, it's clear that the Beatles don't need rhythm games.

So that leaves rhythm games needing the Beatles. A Beatles rhythm game is more than good news for fans of the band and game alike--it's good news for publishers, developers, record companies, and artists. If the Beatles are jumping on the rhythm-game bandwagon, then the games must be doing something right. I think we'll start to see more and more artists license their songs to rhythm games from now on, and perhaps a little more recognition of rhythm games as a serious platform where artists can successfully promote themselves.



Can't wait to regale friends with your "Mean Mr. Mustard"? Think you know what the next big licensed band will be? Or are you just excited about keytars? Come together right now and let us know!

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