If video killed the radio star, many of todays video games seem determined to bring him or her back. Since several musically inclined game titles may be on your loved ones lists this Christmas, I enlisted my kids to help tackle a couple, pre-Yule.
First up? Rock Band 3, the latest in MTV Games venerable franchise (Nintendo Wii, $49.99; Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, $59.99), and good news: You need not have played Rock Band 2 to grasp all the subtleties of this follow-up! You do, however, have to purchase a wireless keyboard ($79.99) to get that new instrument into the games mix. But Im cheap, so I passed.
After spending a day scouring under shelves and dark recesses of closets to locate the original-recipe Rock Band accessories (drums, guitar, microphone), my three kids had Rock Band 3 road-tested before I had a chance to see it.
How was it? I asked. The songs suck, said my 13year-old son, condescendingly.
Theyre all old.
Well, by old, I think he meant awesome. Take a look: The Cures Just Like Heaven, INXS Need You Tonight, Huey Lewis and the News The Power of Love. The 83-track lineup spans from the 1970s to the 2000s, from At the Drive-In to Warren Zevon. Even The Flaming Lips turn up with a cut off Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
Drumming doesnt come easy for me, no matter how color-coded.
My 10-year-old daughter and I took turns on the microphone and drums. I told her I was in only long enough to choose one song apiece and mine was totally going to be Big Countrys In a Big Country but two hours later, I was still screaming out songs of my youth, admirably acquitting myself on Tears for Fears Everybody Wants to Rule the World, but blowing out the ol vocal cords in the middle of The Beach Boys live version of Good Vibrations.
Although she only knew the lyrics of Amy Winehouses Rehab, my daughter nailed vocal parts of nearly every song, sometimes achieving 100 percent. As for the drums, lets just say Neil Peart need not prep his résumé, but I had a blast with the sticks on Ramones I Wanna Be Sedated and Chicagos 25 or 6 to 4. Drumming certainly doesnt come easy for me, no matter how stripped-down and color-coded MTV Games makes the act. Its like trying to do algebra while ice skating: not impossible, but conditions are ripe for embarrassment.
Then we moved on to 505 Games Grease (Nintendo Wii and DS, $39.99), based on the 70s hit movie that just wont die. This is an odd duck, but a rather spirited one. It contains much singing and dancing, but not always participatory.
The menu gives way to an intimidating selection of mini-games, all featuring crude representations of John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and others (yes, even you, Kenickie).
Racing the Greased Lightning down a drainage ditch was tough, starting with the fact I couldnt tell which car was mine (systematic and hydromatic dont equate visually). Matching Dance Dance Revolution-style movements on We Go Together was easier, but my daughter showed me up every time. And shes never seen the movie, nor heard the songs.
In total, 16 tunes make the jump from cinema to console. Amusingly, they do so in censored versions. For example, on Look at Me, Im Sandra Dee, the words drop out on virginity and cigarette, but not, oddly enough, on pelvis.
Some games require you to do little more than shake the Wiimote or lean on the Balance Board. Boys will gravitate toward the carnival and sports mini-games before boredom sets in; girls, the singing and dancing. Parents may want to stick to the soundtrack (or long for a sequel, just to see what theyd do with Reproduction).
Its not likely that kids will be hopelessly devoted to this one, but as Rizzo once sang, there are worse things you could do.