18
Sep 09

The Most Important Game Ever Made #3: What’s Eating Ringobot

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And so the game proper starts, with one of the Beatles’ most iconic hits:

WAIT WHAT

Oops! Turns out that was the original version of the song as performed by the Top Notes. This astonishing tune was originally written by Phil Medley and Bert Russel and not by a maddened horse with half a kilo of speed rammed up its bottom as you may have thought. The Isley Brothers did their best to cool down this blazing hot number, but frankly it was still a bit wild and in deep need of being tamed and broken in by a quartet of cuddly Liverpudlians to become the version we know today.

Actually, the game doesn’t start right away with this song – first there’s a quick Top-100-TV-List-Shows style montage of dancing collages, all in black and white because everything was black and white back then, that tells us it’s Liverpool 1963 and the Cavern Club and not Hamburg 1960 as you might have hoped.

Obviously, I want the moon on a stick here – there’s absolutely no way you’re getting a little michinimabot version of Stuart Sutcliffe or Pete Best, because you’d need to jump through about two hundred more hoops and probably open up whole crates of worms vis-a-vis people who would suddenly be officially recognised as part of The Story – The Real Story, as told by The Real People – with all that that implies. Easier to just have them playing Hamburg-esque songs in a non-Hamburg time period and sweep the whole mess under the carpet that way – great from the Beatles Brand standpoint, where the band always were and always shall be, untouchable and inviolate, but bad from the standpoint of someone who wants to dive into the messy details and get some sense of the history.

But this game isn’t about messy details or history – it’s about clean surfaces and fable. As we’ve already established. Let’s just dive in and ROCK OUT with the new bad boys of the guitar combo scene:

Okay, immediate point – those aren’t the Beatles. Ceci n’est pas une pipe and all that. So for purposes of critiquing the performances in the game, I’m going to be strictly referring to the Fabricated Four as Johnbot, Paulbot, Georgebot and Ringobot, to avoid possible slander against any living or dead Beatle when I say that Ringobot looks like a fucking retard person with mental difficulties.

1:49. Tell me I’m wrong. He’s practically drooling on the high-hat.

Also notable – the McCartney head-wobble, produced 100% faithfully by computer technology. My hairdresser told me yesterday (while I was getting a Beatle cut, natch!) that the wobbling head of McCartney was the exact moment that he began to hate the Beatles, Wings and everything else Sir Macca had ever touched, and watching Paulbot vibrate mechanically on the screen it’s hard to say he’s wrong. The faintly plasticised nature of Paulbot makes it look like a bobblehead doll with lazy, self-satisfied eyes – a weird imitation of onstage energy. We’re taking our first step into the uncanny valley with Paulbot and I fear it won’t be the last.

What was it like to play? Distinctly spooky at first – this is the first time you realise your whammy bar, wah-wah, etc, does abslutely nothing, and also that there are three guitars up there and you could be any of them, which gives you a serious disconnect from the game just as you start to play. (This effect is obviosuly mitigated if you’re on drums, but then you have to be the drooling idiot-child Ringobot, which is a fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone.) Plus, the Beatlebots are very restrained compared to the wild rockers of Rock Band, so the whole experience feels like playing a version of the game wrapped in cotton wool in case the rough habits of the player should break it.

As for what the song itself means to me:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNPp6x7j9I8

Not that I’d claim anyone of my generation would hold Ferris Bueller in higher regard than the Beatles (yes I would) but I’d assume that’s what a lot of people immediately think of when they hear it. Maybe that’s why it comes on first – everything in this level has the distinction of being on Please Please Me and being a bit pre-Beatles flavoured, if that makes sense, but the Ferris connection makes this one feel slightly more timeless as far as I’m concerned. Actually, if I’m honest, I didn’t even know that version was the Beatles version until recently, and it still feels like it’s not – if I close my eyes, somebody else is singing it. Probably Matthew Broderick.

A way in from the outside, then – a door into the pre-packaged, expertly airbrushed mythos, courtesy of John Hughes and the ultimate musical wish-fulfillment fantasy – grab a whole city, get them all dancing to your beat and then leave like you were never there. Who wants to be in a band when they could be in the middle of that? And who’d want to be in the Beatles? You might as well be in school.

NEXT: Ringobot sings. The effect is surreal.

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