Video games can be boiled down to one familiar phrase this holiday season: Give the gift of music.
Music and rhythm games -- which require users to sing or play in time to songs, following on-screen prompts -- are seemingly everywhere and for every gaming system. They also are a huge draw for parties, big or small.
The genre's reigning franchise, the guitar-driven "Guitar Hero," was upstaged last year by "Rock Band," which added bass, drums and singing to the mix. This year, not only do we have the hot "Rock Band 2," but the original champ has been revamped to include the entire band, as "Guitar Hero World Tour."
The latter has an edge because its bundled version -- guitar, drums, microphone, game -- is available now for all home consoles ($190). There are even fun portable versions -- "Guitar Hero on Tour" and "Guitar Hero on Tour Decades" -- for the Nintendo DS ($35 to $50, depending on extras).
The "Rock Band 2" bundle ($190) is available now for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PS2, but the Wii version won't be available until after Christmas (Dec. 30). The good news is that if your gift recipients already have the original "Rock Band" bundle, you can give just the game ($50-$60; PS2 and Wii versions coming Dec. 16) and they can use the old instruments to play.
Nintendo's flagship console also has a new exclusive title in the genre: "Wii Music" ($50). By manipulating the Wii's motion-activated controllers in different ways, users can "play" more than 60 musical instruments and even record and mix their results. Is it really a game? Not so much, but it can quickly enliven a roomful of spectators.
Another flagship series -- this one in the singing-only subgenre -- has returned with "Karaoke Revolution Presents American Idol Encore 2" ($50 for 360, PS3 and Wii), with many songs made popular by the hit TV show. But PlayStation owners have many more karaoke choices thanks to several new releases in Sony's engaging rival series: "SingStar, Vol. 2" ($60 for PS3), "SingStar Legends" and "SingStar Country" ($30 each for PS2) and, capitalizing on the "Mamma Mia" craze, "SingStar Abba," coming Dec. 2 ($30-$40 for PS2 and PS3).
For tweens, the most popular karaoke choice might be "Disney Sing It" ($40-$60 for all home consoles), which features songs from Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, "Camp Rock" and "High School Musical." Disney also has a casual version of the rock-band games for the Wii that uses virtual instruments, "Ultimate Band" ($50), with a companion DS version ($30) that can join in wirelessly.
Finally, dancing games -- which have players move their feet on a floor pad in time to the music -- aren't as popular as they used to be, but the top franchise has some new moves. They include "Dance Dance Revolution Universe 3" ($70 for 360, with dance mat) and "Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party 2" ($70 for Wii, with dance mat).Other gift ideas among new video games:
For mature gamers: The shooters "Gears of War 2" ($60 for 360) and "Resistance 2" ($60 for PS3) are sure to thrill, especially for their invigorating online play. But don't forget the apocalyptic epic "Fallout 3" and the space-bound horror tale "Dead Space" ($60 each for 360 and PS3).
For youngsters: "Animal Crossing: City Folk" ($50-$70 for Wii) presents a wide-open virtual world where players can explore and interact, even talking to other players using the optional Wii Speak microphone. DS fans will enjoy nurturing the animal denizens of "Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise" ($30).
For sports fans: The can't-miss pick for football is "Madden NFL 09" ($40-$60 for all systems), which is just as well since it's the only option for pro football. For pro basketball and hockey, the consensus picks are "NBA 2K9" ($30-$60 for 360, PS3 and PS2) and "NHL 09" ($30 to $60 for home consoles).
For trivia fans: "Buzz! Quiz TV" ($60, including buzzers) is a blast for up to four players on the PS3, or play online against the world. For 360 gamers, "Scene It? Box Office Smash" ($40; $60 with buzzers) is the new offering.
For adventurers: The acclaimed "Fable 2" ($60) continues the story for fans of role-playing games on the 360. For more open-ended play, the PS3 has "LittleBigPlanet" ($60), whose reputation continues to grow as gamers explore its many wonders.
Randy A. Salas 612-673-4542