— When it comes to the holidays, music-themed video games are absolutely perfect for two things:
1) As a gift for the music fan in your life.
2) As entertainment for the family and friends you'll be spending inordinate amounts of time with in the coming months.
What follows is a look at some of the music-themed video games that not only make great presents and but can make all those holiday parties far more merry. Just add egg nog.
"Rock Band 3"
Console: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii
Price: $60 (game only) $130 (bundled with keyboard)
"Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" games may be growing a little long in the tooth, but "Rock Band 3" keeps things admirably fresh by adding keyboard parts into the mix, as well as the Pro Mustang Guitar (which has more than 100 buttons) and three additional cymbals for your drum set. Meanwhile, though much of the core gameplay remains the same, "Rock Band 3" features a revamped Career Mode and an enormous set list with 83 new songs form artists like The Flaming Lips and Elton John. An excellent portable version of the game is also available for the Nintendo DS. (Check out Todd Kenreck's full review here.)
"DJ Hero 2"
Console: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii
Price: $60 (game only), $100 (with turntable) $150 (bundled with two turntables and a microphone)
Here's a game for the aspiring mix master in your life. Like the groundbreaking first "DJ Hero," this sequel is played with a turntable peripheral that lets you mix and scratch along to songs, and score points as you go a la "Guitar Hero." But the game has been nicely improved in this second installment. With new multiplayer modes, you can pit your turntable skills against another with dueling turntables. Meanwhile, those who prefer to sing along rather than spin along can now do so using a mic. Tracks from the likes of Deadmau5, Chemical Brothers and Lady Gaga seal the deal. (Check out Todd Kenreck's full review here.)
Console: Xbox 360 (Kinect required)
While gamers may be growing a touch weary of the band-simulation games like "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero," when it comes to the music and rhythm genre, dance games are boomin'. Motion controls from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have made these games more popular, more interactive and more fun than ever. Among the many you'll find, "Dance Central" is hands-down my favorite. The game uses Microsoft's new Kinect sensor for the Xbox. Kinect tracks your body movements as you dance along with some great songs (from Basement Jaxx, Benny Benassi, The Commodores and others) letting you know whether you're awesome or awful. But even if you are awful, "Dance Central" offers lessons to help get you in the groove. Though you may look more than a little silly playing this game, you really will learn moves you can use on a real dance floor. And this is the perfect game to bust out at a party.
"Dance Dance Revolution"
Console: PlayStation 3, Wii
Price: $70 (bundled with floor mat)
Lets give props where props are due. "Dance Dance Revolution" — or "DDR" to those in the know — has been a pioneer in the dancing game genre. "DDR" was first introduced waaaay back in the good old days known as the 1990s. Back then, groups of kids would crowd around the "DDR" machines in the arcades to watch players compete their way through songs, stomping their feet to match arrows on the screen. The game moved from the arcade to home consoles eons back, but has been revamped this holiday to incorporate the new motion controls for the PS3 for the first time and to make more robust use of the Wii's motion controls. "DDR" comes packaged with a pressure-sensitive floor mat for traditional foot-stomping play but brings gamers' arms into the mix by offering modes that have players swing, sway and shake Sony's Move controller and the Wii's Remote and Nunchuk controllers. The Wii Balance Board also can be added into the mix. That's right, this new "DDR" manages to go old-school and new-school at the same time.
Console: Xbox 360 (Kinect required)
You can't get the newest "Dance Dance Revolution" for the Xbox 360, but you can get "Dance Masters." Both games are produced by Konami and so perhaps it's no wonder that "Dance Masters" feels like a sibling to the new "DDR." Here you select a song and then mimic the actions of the on-screen dancers. Kinect tracks your moves and, at the end, you're given a letter grade based on your performance. Unlike "Dance Central," "DanceMasters seems less focused on having you perform a dance completely all the way through and more focused on getting you to hit certain poses throughout each song. Personally, I prefer the "Dance Central" gameplay (and it's song selection), but "DanceMasters" is plenty of fun too.
"SingStar + Dance"
Price: $40 (bundled with two microphones)
Sony's popular "SingStar" line of karaoke-style singing games just got a dose of rump shaking dance moves. Yes, belting it out along to your favorite pop hits remains the central point of this game. But with dance games being all the rage right now, Sony clearly thought it might be wise to add some boogie to the beat. Using Sony's Move motion controls, backup dancers can imitate the moves they see performed on screen. While the dancing is somewhat refreshing, it does feel a little tacked on. But with up to four players able to sing and dance together, this remains a great game to bust out during a holiday party ... especially if you drink enough spiked nog.
"Michael Jackson: The Experience"
Console: Wii (coming Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2011)
This isn't my favorite of the dance games out there. For starters, seeing the deceased star hoof about on screen is a little creepy. Also, the way the game animates Michael Jackson and his backup dancers — with these strangely blurred faces — simply adds to the oddness of it all. Meanwhile, there is no floor mat or camera to track your dance moves. Instead, you'll simply gesture with the Wii Remote as you try to follow the on-screen dancers. That said, the game is solid enough for people who want to bust signature Jackson moves to songs like "Thriller," "Billie Jean" and "The Girl is Mine." The forthcoming Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game (which will use Kinect and Move) may very well blow this one away. But in the meantime, "Michael Jackson: The Experience" is sure to thrill the Gloved One's fans (especially since the Wii version comes packed with a bejeweled glove ... really).
Disney Sing It: Family Hits
Console: Wii, PS3
Price: $50 (bundled with microphone) $40 (game only)
Here's a game that's perfect for the youngest players in the household (or, really, Disney fans of any age). "Disney Sing It" asks players to sing along karaoke-style to tunes from Disney films old and new: "Cinderella," "Jungle Book," "Mary Poppins," "Toy Story" and "Cars" are all represented, among others. The game also provides vocal tips from Anika Noni Rose, the voice actress who starred in the "The Princess and the Frog."