Page last updated at 08:50 GMT, Friday, 4 September 2009 09:50 UK

Rocking with The Beatles

Paul and George
The game allows players to try The Beatles' three-part harmonies

By Tim Masters
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News

Beatlemania is set to return - in digital form at least - when The Beatles: Rock Band game is released next week.

The format may not be unique, but the content is. It will be the first time that music by the Fab Four has appeared in a video game.

And as a newcomer to music gaming, it was astonishing how quick and easy it was to step from the 21st Century into the Swinging Sixties.

Paul McCartney avatar
The game places the band in both real and fantasy environments

Within a minute of a walking into the Rock Band preview room, I had a plastic guitar around my neck and was in the shoes of a Paul McCartney avatar on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.

Luckily, you don't have to play left-handed.

Keeping time

For the uninitiated, Rock Band is a karaoke-style game that uses adapted game controllers - lead guitar, bass guitar and drums - to play along to various songs.

For someone whose first tune on the guitar was Paperback Writer, aged 11, it quickly became clear that my decades of chord practice were no advantage.

The game is all about keeping in time with colour-coded blobs that scroll along the on-screen fretboard. It works in a similar way if you are Ringo on the drum pads.

And it's curiously addictive.

Novices try out the game
The not-so-Fab Four: getting better all the time

Having formed a not-so-Fab Four with three others, we concentrated furiously as we tried to improve our musicianship score during several stabs at I Want To Hold Your Hand.

If one of the band is not up to scratch, you'll get kicked off stage - though there's a family-friendly override setting.

Beatles brand

The Beatles: Rock Band game is part of a wider marketing campaign that also sees the release of newly-remastered versions of the band's back catalogue on CD.

When you bring The Beatles into the mix you're opening up the opportunity to a big cross-section of the consumer population
Piers Harding-Rolls, games analyst

It comes at a time when the music industry is looking for new ways to recover some of its dwindling revenue as CD sales decline.

Of course, music video games are nothing new - Guitar Hero 5 was released this week in the US featuring tracks by Nirvana, Muse and Iron Maiden.

But getting a brand like The Beatles is a significant step in an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to Piers Harding-Rolls, senior games analyst at Screen Digest, the Beatles catalogue is a powerful licence to have in gaming.

Lucy in the Sky
The graphics can get quite psychedelic

"It's an iconic collection of songs for the first time in the music game genre," he says. "When you bring The Beatles into the mix you're opening up the opportunity to a big cross-section of the consumer population."

He added that the peripheral kit involved in music games add a significant amount of revenue on top of software sales.

"Music games have really helped to grow the size of the market - and you're playing it with other users which helps expand this opportunity."

He says The Beatles game also targets a different audience to more rock-focused music games - like Guitar Hero.

"We're now seeing some experimenting from Activision with DJ Hero - an extension of the same kind of genre.

"With The Beatles you're introducing older players into the space - people who don't consider themselves 'rock'. A huge cross-section listen to the songs and they know the songs.

"The Beatles game does go beyond anything that has gone before."

All you need is cash

Still from Rock Band ad
The TV ad explores the Abbey Road album cover from a new perspective

The game, which goes on sale on 9 September, will feature 45 songs, along with a bonus track - All You Need is Love - which can be bought online.

The albums Abbey Road, Sgt Pepper and Rubber Soul will be released for download later in the year.

The game allows players to follow The Beatles through their career in environments such as The Cavern Club and the Shea Stadium. It also features "imaginative environments" known as Dreamscapes.

Screaming teens

One irony of the game is that with so much effort poured into the visuals by developers Harmonix - the attention to detail is stunning - they are largely lost on the players as they stay focused on their instruments.

Another challenge will be whether this game will reach out to those screaming teens from the Beatles era, who will now be in their 50s and 60s.

And will they want to play it eight days a week?

The TV advert - which cleverly re-imagines the events on the Abbey Road album cover - clearly aims for cross-generational appeal.

As for my own efforts with George Harrison's replica Gretsch Duo Jet, (available for an extra £89.99), it was more a case of the audience - and not my guitar - that was gently weeping.

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