(Insert obligatory Beatles reference here!)
Seeing as we’re in a new year and possibly a new gaming generation, I figured now is a good time to look back on what games from the last few years really defied my expectations. Either because they went above and beyond what I was expecting of them or because they were horrible letdowns that made me feel stupid for buying them. My final surprise for this series is The Beatles: Rock Band, the rock band game born out of a cooperative effort between Harmonix and the Beatles’ music studio, Apple Corps.
So I talked about the The Beatles: Rock Band in a previous post and how it helped me to discover music. It really was a big step up from Rock Band 2 and a pretty big shift in tone as well. Considering how Rock Band 3 came out, I’m thinking that was probably more thanks to the Beatles and their family members than Harmonix. But that partnership made for a really unique experience that I was not expecting.
I think one of the things that made The Beatles: Rock Band more memorable was the shift in mechanics that allowed for a more passive experience. No Fail mode was changed from a cheat code to a regular option, the miss sounds when you play the wrong notes were made much quieter, crowds booing you when you suck was cut and instead of customizable characters you watched the Beatles themselves playing their own music to psychedelic backdrops.
I’ve seen a lot of gamers resent things like that. Claiming it’s “dumbing down” games and making them too easy, but I don’t feel that way. There’s all kinds of experiences you can create with interactive controls and they need not all be difficult or challenging, just so long as it’s enjoyable or memorable it’s likely a worthwhile experience. Games after all are usually about playing pretend. Even in an incredibly difficult game like Monster Hunter, you’re still pretending that hitting a few buttons at the right time is you making daring attacks with a giant sword.
Hit X and the exact right time to smash a dragon’s head open like a boss!
How difficult a game should be is really just a question of approach. Ask yourself, what are you trying to accomplish with your game? Something like Monster Hunter really wants you to feel like you’re struggling when you fight two ton beasts, so in most cases it’s very difficult. In something like The Walking Dead the goal is to tell a story, so most of the game is pretty passive, usually only giving you control when it heightens the impact of the story in some way.
With The Beatles: Rock Band I’m guessing the people with Apple Corps wanted a greater emphasis on the musical experience and less emphasis on your score or how well you’re playing, and I think that was a good decision. It allowed people to just sit back and choose how much of themselves they want to put into a really memorable experience. After playing two other Rock Band games, The Beatles: Rock Band was the first title where I finally enjoyed playing the drums, all because I wasn given enough leniency to learn them at my own pace. My mother even said The Beatles: Rock Band helped her appreciate just how talented George Harrison really was.
When Harmonix did Rock Band 3 they went the other way and came up with a Pro-Mode and picked a lot of songs based on how difficult they were (i.e. Llama, Roundabout), but it was still an arcade score attack game so you had to contend with things like overdrive and combos. So the big feature is you now need a level of musical talent and skill to play actual songs while using energy and overdrive to rack up high scores.
I guess there’s a market for that but it must have been a pretty slim one seeing as how poorly Rock Band 3 sold. It didn’t even out sell Dance Central, Harmonix’s new series that came out the same year for only the 360’s Kinetic system. And Dance Central was clearly inspired by Just Dance’s success, a game critics trashed for being way too easy, but went on to sell a shit load and become a big success, probably because there was a lot of people who just wanted some music videos and a little guidance to dance to.
Sometimes people want a challenge, other times just something to play along with.
Like I said, it’s all a matter of approach and knowing what you want to accomplish. Ubisoft, the same people who made Just Dance, also made a game called Rocksmith the year after Rock Band 3, advertising it more as educational software for people who wanted to learn guitar. It too seemed to do pretty well. With The Beatles: Rock Band I’m pretty sure the intention was to really immerse you in the music itself above all else, an approach I wish Harmonix had taken with future titles.
But like a lot of great games I got this generation, I’m just grateful this was made at all and I got to try it. So in that sense I’ve got no complaints… Well I’ve got complaints but I’ll save them for another time. Right now I’m just happy to reminisce about the good times.