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Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008 08:39 pm

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Move over, Mario. Outta the way, Donkey Kong. The newest video game star is you. It’s time to rock

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Hit the road: “Guitar Hero: On Tour” for the Nintendo DS makes it easy to jam on the go.

By Jeff Schnaufer

Whether you’re a guitar shredder, tambourine tapper or karaoke crooner, the music video game has made rock ‘n’ roll stars out of anyone intrepid enough to pick up a peripheral instrument.

And there’s no better time than this holiday season to get in the game, er, join the band.

“You can now pick up this little plastic instrument and with little practice, be able to play all these songs that would take a long time to learn with a real instrument,” says Chris Roper, editor-in-chief of the Playstation Team for IGN.com. Music-themed games like “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” are among the year’s best-sellers, says Roper, and he doesn’t see any changes heading into the holidays.

“Who doesn’t like to pretend to be a rock star or sing karaoke?” adds Phil Elliott, editor at GamesIndustry.biz. “Not only is it a kind of wish fulfillment, it’s also a lot more accessible than more traditional video games are, and so you’ve got a decent chance of getting families playing together – instead of the sort of generation and gender divide we’ve seen for the past decade and more. Nobody needs to be taught how to use a microphone, and picking up the guitar or drum peripherals is also pretty simple. But above all it gives you a great opportunity to play together, and show off.”

So what games should your family rock with this season?

“It probably depends in the first instance on what sort of gamer you are and which platforms you already own,” Elliott says. “For example, if you own a Nintendo DS and tend to play while on the move, ‘Guitar Hero: On Tour’ is probably your best bet. On the other hand, if you prefer playing on a living-room console, you can go for a ‘Guitar Hero’ on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or even the Wii.”

Here’s a look at this year’s best offerings for the holidays:

Rock Band 2

At “Rock Band” game developer Harmonix Music Systems, CEO Alex Rigopulos has a saying: First we innovate, and then we perfect.

“Rock Band 2” ($189.99, bundle; $59.99, game-only) is certainly headed in the direction of perfection. The newest version features many changes asked for by fans, says Helen McWilliams, a Harmonix producer.

“‘Rock Band 2’ now features online Band World Tour, which allows people all over the world to share in a persistent cooperative campaign,” McWilliams says. “There’s also this incredibly addictive new Battle of the Bands feature.”

The guitars in “Rock Band 2” are still Stratocaster-style, but the drums feature new pads that are velocity-sensitive, so the harder you drum, the louder the drums sound in the game. “Rock Band 2” also has a Drum Trainer mode to help take aspiring drummers from the game into real-life drumming.

As for music, “Rock Band 2” features 84 songs, all of which are master tracks, ranging from Fleetwood Mac to Interpol, and for the first time ever in a video game, Bob Dylan and AC/DC will have tracks.

Guitar Hero

Trying to keep up with all the releases in this No. 1- selling video game franchise of 2007 is like trying to catch up with Santa on Christmas Eve. And, like Santa’s bag, you can bet that this game has something for everyone.

The newest versions of Guitar Hero are arriving just in time for the holidays – “Guitar Hero World Tour” for the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and PS2 and “Guitar Hero: On Tour Decades” for the Nintendo DS.

“Guitar Hero World Tour” ($179.99, bundle; $49.99 to $59.99, game-only) expands Guitar Hero’s signature gameplay into a cooperative band experience that combines the most advanced wireless instruments with new revolutionary online and offline gameplay modes including Band Career and eight-player “Battle of the Bands,” which allows two full bands to compete head-to-head online for the first time ever. The game features a newly redesigned guitar peripheral, drum kit peripheral and a microphone, as well as an innovative Music Studio music creator that lets players compose, record, edit and share their own rock ‘n’ roll anthems. Music creators also will be able to share their recordings with their friends online. “World Tour” delivers more than 85 tracks, including memorable master recordings from Van Halen and Sublime.

For Wii users, gamers can unleash their Miis by taking them into “World Tour’s” Mii Freestyle mode. Players can even rock out just using the Wii remote and Nunchuk to “air drum.” And for the first time ever in a Wii game, the availability and access to an ongoing flow of in-game downloadable content will give Wii fans around the world the ability to regularly expand their set lists.

Nintendo broke into new ground this year with Guitar Hero: On Tour” ($49.99) for Nintendo DS. Utilizing the revolutionary Guitar Hero Guitar Grip peripheral that fits snugly into the DS and a unique pick-stylus, “On Tour” brings a new dimension to handheld gaming and gives fans the ability to shred along with their favorite tunes with complete portability. On a wireless network, friends can join together to play in co-op mode, or challenge one another in a battle. Players can even blow into the microphone to extinguish a pyrotechnics effects gone wrong or use the touch screen to autograph a fan’s shirt in the middle of their set.

This season, the follow-up, “Guitar Hero: On Tour Decades,” allows DS owners to travel back through time – complete with new characters in colorful outfits – to shred to classic songs from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and today. Featuring the biggest selection of music ever on DS, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bon Jovi. Unprecedented Song Streaming allows players of “Decades” and the original “On Tour” to share songs and rock out together in multiplayer modes.

This year also saw the release of “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith Edition” (games and bundles range $49.99 to $89.99) for Xbox 360, Playstations 2 and 3 and the Nintendo Wii, in which players can rock out to the greatest hits of Aerosmith’s Grammy-winning career.

Lips

Microsoft’s all-new music franchise for Xbox 360, “Lips” is touted by the company as the only singing game that offers two wireless motion-sensitive microphones that respond to the singer’s actions and be used as percussion accompaniments. Up to two people will able to join the fun and play along with the music on various tambourines, claps and – for those who gotta have more cowbell – a cowbell.

“‘Lips’ encourages friends and family members to get together and sing along with the music they love. It’s also the only singing game bundled with two wireless microphones, which emit colorful lights that pulsate along with the beat of the music” says Glenn Gregory, global product manager of “Lips.”

“Lips” offers a diverse selection of songs, including blasts from the past such as “Bust a Move” by Young MC, as well as new songs from breakout artists such as “Mercy” by Duffy and “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John.

“Lips” allows users to sing along with friends to the music from their personal collection of DRM-free songs on select popular media players, as well as the ability to download new tracks from Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

SingStar

Since its U.S. debut in 2006, SingStar has allowed players to sing songs backed by actual music videos from popular artists in a variety of titles, each offering a compilation of 30 chart-topping hits from artists as varied as MC Hammer to David Bowie.

Now there’s a stocking’s worth of new SingStar titles ($29.99 to $59.99) heading your way, including: “SingStar 2”; “SingStar Pop Vol. 2”; “SingStar Legends”; and “SingStar Country.”

Like earlier versions of “SingStar,” these new games allow players to steal the spotlight with a solo performance in single-player mode and share the stage with multiplayer options including cooperative Duet Mode, one-on-one Battle Mode and the team-based Pass-the-Mic. Players also can save their favorite performances onto a memory card for future playback. The games are also compatible with the EyeToy USB camera, allowing players to snap photos and watch their own performances in place of the artist’s video.

© CTW Features

Also from Jeff Fleischer

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