Rock star: Music video games let you sing and play like a pro
Lessons? We don't need no stinking lessons. With today's music video games, you don't need to know a single chord to express your musical ideas. You can create music from scratch, call it your own and post your performances to MySpace or YouTube without ever cracking a musical instruction book.
It started with "Guitar Hero," the third iteration of which was recently released. Guitar Hero's single guitar lets you jam until your fingers fall off. The next big thing, due soon, is "Rock Band," a game that adds a microphone, drum set and, if you want, an extra guitar to the mix.
It's gotten to the point where you could form an entire band that plays only video game "instruments." (And if you use our idea we want royalties, by the way.) And here's a breakdown of the gear that's available.
"GUITAR HERO III"
Developer: Red Octane.
Systems: PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360.
Description: Obviously, anything with a "III" in its name isn't exactly new. The "Guitar Hero" series was immediately popular in its first iteration, but it has grown beyond gamedom. In one recent "Guitar Hero" contest, competitors played the game for a Seattle bar contest while backed by a live band.
"Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" was released in late October. The bundle comes with a plastic guitar controller that plugs into your home video game console. Five colored buttons on the neck correspond to colored icons that flow toward you on your TV screen. Hit the buttons in time with your chosen cover song in order to make music. If you're timing is off, the music is lousy. High skill-level settings throw more colored icons at you.
In "GHIII," you can compete in a virtual guitar battle against the legendary Slash. Or you can take your game online and compete against other players.
Publisher: Electronic Arts.
Systems: PS2, PS3, Xbox 360.
Price: $159.95-$169.95 (plus $79.95 for a second guitar).
Description: This baby, which lets you and three friends create a living-room rock band, is getting most of the virtual band hype this year. The "game" is the new kid on the block, and it is poised to knock the "Guitar Hero" series off its pedestal.
"Rock Band" comes with the game disk, one guitar, a set of drums and a microphone. If you want to add a bass guitar to the ensemble (and why wouldn't you?), it'll cost you an extra 80 bucks. Like "GHIII," "Rock Band" will allow for downloadable content so you can keep expanding your song library.
Developer: Definitive Studios.
Publisher: Eidos Interactive.
System: PlayStation Portable.
Description: This tool gives hip-hop heads an astonishing amount of bang for their buck, turning their PSP into a handheld sequencer, sampler and drum machine that allows them to lay down funky beats on the bus ride home. Hundreds of stock percussion and synth sounds are stored in several banks, or sample and edit your own on the fly using the PSP mike. The user-friendly interface allows rhythmically challenged button mashers to edit their tracks until they're just right. You'll be a Timbaland in training in no time.
System: Nintendo Dual Screen.
Description: It's amazing how much fun you can have with one string, especially when it's the virtual guitar string that shows up on the touch-sensitive DS screen when you plug in "Jam Sessions."
Hold down the buttons or the DS control pad to indicate the chord you want to play and then "strum" the screen with a stylus. You'll need some practice to play lead guitar, but rhythm guitar is easy. Plug your DS into an amplifier and you won't be able to tell the difference between Jam Sessions and a real guitar.
Developer: Electronic Arts.
Publisher: Electronic Arts.
Price: $59.95 (with microphone).
Description: It's a karaoke game that also encourages you to get your groove on. Sing into the mike and wiggle the Wii Remote to make your character pull off impressive dance moves. Sing in perfect time to boogie-licious songs from the past to score big points. "Do re mi, A, B, C, 1, 2, 3 ..." If that doesn't get you going, nothing will.
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment.
Price: $49.95 (with two microphones).
Description: This game will help you nail your vocals by working on your pitch and timing. Popular songs in a variety of genres will test your skills. Best of all, the game features several add-on packs so you can keep building your musical library.
"I CAN PLAY: GUITAR"
Developer: Mattel/Fisher Price.
Publisher: Mattel/Fisher Price.
Description: What was that nonsense about not needing lessons? That was just silly. The "I Can Play: Guitar" is a great learning tool for kids. With buttons for every string position in the top five frets and actual nylon strings on the body, tiny hands can start learning chords and strumming techniques. Plug a tutorial cartridge into the body of the guitar and connect the guitar to a TV to get cartoon lessons.