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Blinded by The Beatles
Editorial by 
February 03, 2011, 00:11:24
This was originally written in early 2010 as a parody of Daemon Hatfield's editorial on New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

Blinded by The Beatles

By now 2009 has been put on the shelf and attentions have turned to 2010. But there is a lingering injustice I am having trouble letting go of. When it comes to the question of what was last year's best music game, gamers seem to have settled on The Beatles: Rock Band, a title I find to be derivative and dull. It's the perfect example of how lazy Harmonix has become: just take some forty-year old songs and create note charts, add the multiplayer technology of 2003, and call it a day. Despite the lack of effort on Harmonix's part, the game received great reviews, sold millions of copies, and won several Music Game of the Year awards.

While the music genre isn't gaming's feature presentation as it was back in 2008, there were still a number of quality music games released this year to contend with The Beatles: Rock Band. BIT.TRIP BEAT, BIT.TRIP CORE AND BIT.TRIP VOID were all a good time. But I submit that the best music game of 2009 was one that received less attention than all of these titles (except maybe BIT.TRIP CORE): Invisible Handlebar’s Audio Surf. While The Beatles: Rock Band brought relatively nothing new to the table, Audio Surf was brilliant and original.

Audio Surf blows The Beatles: Rock Band away.

In a side-by-side comparison, I don't see how the two even compare. Audio Surf is more imaginative, technically more impressive, and a much better value than Harmonix's tired game. Consider the evidence:

Exhibit A: Audio Surf is more original
Invisible Handlebar delivered a hilarious new videogame hero brimming with fumes. The Beatles: Rock Band offers a couple original features like three-part harmony or the songs that turn into other songs, but with the exception of being able to play as a furry, there are really no major new features. It should have been called “Listen to old men sing about walruses while pretending to play guitar.” Audio Surf also has a much more interesting premise: a rocket is traveling down a path paved with notes, rendering you unable to stop the madness of hitting these rectangles- rectangles that add up and form three in a row-patterns, might I add. The premise of The Beatles: Rock Band? Playing in a band again.

Exhibit B: Audio Surf does Rockets
The Beatles: Rock Band's one selling point? Four-player co-op -- only the company couldn't be bothered to get better character models. Watching The Beatles be goofy? Big deal, the television could do that with the VCR peripheral released in 1990. Harmonix is a colossal, international corporation with thousands of employees, decades of experience making games, and, most importantly, the money to do whatever the hell it wants. So how is it that Harmonix can't figure out rockets but a small indie developer – with fewer people, less experience, and much less money -- can?

Exhibit C: Audio Surf offers more content for a fraction of the price
The Beatles: Rock Band includes 45 songs. Audio Surf has over 100,000. So even though the downloadable title offers more gaming and more features, at $10 it only costs one sixth as much as the $60 NEXT GEN game. Audio Surf is easily the better value. And since it doesn't tap into even the NEXT GEN CONSOLE’S AMAZING capabilities in terms of graphics or technical ability, The Beatles: Rock Band is way overpriced.

So how did the lesser game win? Well, for starters it has the word "Beatles" in the title. The Beatles are the ultimate band, right? In a year when a Beatles game is in the running, how could any other title conceivably win? People don't even try to conceal this bias. On sites like IGN you'll find readers leaving comments such as "Its ringo starr!? Ringo starr should win anything hes in." I didn't make that quote up, that's a real reader comment.

I know a lot of gamers played Audio Surf and loved it, but it doesn't offer the brand recognition or conjure the years of great gaming memories that the word "Beatles" does. The Beatles: Rock Band makes a lot of gamers feel nostalgic as they remember all the good times they've spent listening to the music. But it's stuck in the past while we're supposed to be moving forward. Harmonix's mascots are so beloved, so entrenched in our hippie minds that even though they and their company are pale shadows of their former selves they still hog the spotlight – to the detriment of more innovative, more impressive, and more deserving games.

This is an XBLA game, right? Wait, you're telling me this is a $60 retail game? Huh?!

And there's also the fact that instead of putting money towards developing exciting new games, Harmonix spends that cash marketing the holy hell out of its good-but-not-great lineup. Last fall you couldn't turn on the TV, go to the mall, or fire up the internet without seeing ads for The Beatles: Rock Band. That's the kind of reach a tiny developer like Invisible Handlebar can only dream of. I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of consumers who have made The Beatles: Rock Band such a success have never even heard of Audio Surf.

Of course, I'm not saying The Beatles: Rock Band is a terrible game. Far from it. Its mediocrity doesn't keep it from being fun. But every game is supposed to be fun, so you don't earn extra credit for that. You need to do something special to achieve greatness; go beyond the call of duty. The Beatles: Rock Band plays it very safe.

I have already written about how lazy Harmonix has become, which is a fairly recent development. The reason a lackluster game like The Beatles: Rock Band still gets a pass from gamers is because for many, many years, The Beatles made the absolute best music around. There were Beatles songs and then there was everything else. The arrival of a new album was a monumental occasion that often revolutionized the entire industry. Compare that to the Beatles of today, two guys that have been phoning it in ever since they realized they don’t have to make the best music – they only have to make the cheapest, simplest music. The "expanded audience" that has made the Beatles so successful doesn't care about what made The White Album, Abbey Road, and more recently, Let It Be…Naked incredible. They're perfectly content just singing about clubs, so why should The Beatles provide anything more? I'd like to think The Beatles selling people short. My five-year old nephew has a record player now and I know he'd be psyched if we could play Abbey Road together even though he lives in Kansas and I'm in San Francisco.

So if you haven't figured it out by now, I think The Beatles: Rock Band is a half-assed effort from a company that previously set a standard of excellence. Guitar Hero 2 was pretty amazing, right? That's the level of quality we should be demanding from Harmonix. The Beatles: Rock Band is a harmless little game that reminds people of simpler times and is definitely fun, but it is not the best music game of the year. That honor belongs to Audio Surf. The lumbering colossus is letting sharper, scrappier little studios make the great games – The Beatles are just coasting on fumes.

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Posted: 02/03/11, 00:11:24  - Edited by 
 on: 03/22/11, 03:25:41    
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You and I...

We have similarities.

Posted by 
 on: 02/03/11, 04:17:07
lol, great stuff. I chuckled out loud quite a few times. Not sure I would have gotten the joke without the italicized text, but reading your blog post with that perspective in mind, it was pretty hilarious even if at times the substitution is janky and forced.

Posted by 
 on: 02/03/11, 06:57:24
Has anyone really spent that much time defending the Rock Band franchise against claims of 'milking'?

Posted by 
 on: 02/03/11, 16:53:13

And they usually trash Guitar Hero's milking in the same breath.

Although after Lego Rock Band I think they started shutting up a bit.

Posted by 
 on: 02/03/11, 16:59:21
Yeah, I seem to remember some of that. It was always a pretty weak argument, though.

Posted by 
 on: 02/03/11, 17:19:25
Nice parody article.

Bit.Trip > Rock Band

Posted by 
 on: 02/03/11, 18:41:02
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