Kris Abel’s Tech Life | Kris Abel’s Guide To Party-Style Video Games For Families

Kris Abel’s Tech Life | Kris Abel’s Guide To Party-Style Video Games For FamiliesForget the fondue set, put away the vacation slideshow, and tell Uncle Frank to save his jokes for another time. Today is the age of interactive parties where you can push back the couch and transform your living room floor into a stage for rock concerts, quiz shows, dance challenges, and wacky team competitions. Ever your humble servant I’ve sacrificed my dignity over and over to try out all of the latest party video games, exposing national television audiences to my dancing, singing, drumming, and guitar playing abilities, including my new-found skills at playing games with my butt (thank-you CFTO News). To make sure your family get-togethers are more fun than futile, here’s my recommendations: Click here for my companion guide to games for kidsMusical InstrumentsAs plastic and toy-like as the musical instruments packaged with these games are, they’re convincing enough to give you the feeling of the real thing, both in the act of playing a musical instrument and in performing as a rockstar. The group harmony and feeling of celebration that can come over you and your friends as you form a band and go on a virtual tour is enough to warrant dressing up in your favorite rock shirt and shades. Wigs, top hats, scarves, and studded jackets are all welcome. (tip: real world accessories such as guitar straps, drum stools, and microphone stands all work with video game instruments, so feel free to visit your local music store for extras)The Rock Band SeriesRock Band 2Xbox 360, PS3, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2As with the first Rock Band, four players can join together to play Guitar, Bass, Vocals, and Drums, to form a band with custom on-screen characters and tour virtual clubs at city locations around the world. You can buy the game both packaged with and without the necessary instruments and can choose to either use the new instruments which include wireless drums and guitars that auto-calibrate themselves to sync with your television or the original instruments from the first games. The game includes several improvements including the ability for your band to play online tours and challenges and gives players the freedom to switch instruments with their characters as they wish. In addition to the 84 new songs, there is a very healthy supply of extra tracks available for download on a regular basis. (Rated “T”)(Tip: Little Kids looking to play Rock Band can use the “No Fail” option to press the buttons randomly without impacting the game or ending the song)Rock Band Track Packs Volume 1 & 2Xbox 360, PS3, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2Including the basic Rock Band game on the disc, these stand-alone volumes allow you to create characters and form a band for a small tour of just twenty songs. You don’t need a copy of either Rock Band to play, but you do need the instruments. (Rated “T”)(Tip: The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions include codes to let you download copies of the included songs to your hard drive for use in the regular Rock Band games)The Guitar Hero SeriesGuitar Hero III: The Legends of RockXbox 360, PS3, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2, PC, Mac Featuring original song recordings instead of the cover tunes of the previous Guitar Hero games, Legends of Rock allows two players to play both together as rhythm and bass or against each other is special duels where you can glitches to the other’s guitar. It includes 73 songs and for consoles with internet access the ability to play online. The game is available both without and with a guitar with a selection of available configurations including a wired or wireless guitar and one with two guitars. The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions also include the option to purchase and download additional songs. (Rated “T”)Guitar Hero AerosmithXbox 360, PS3, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2, PC, Mac More than just a compilation of the band’s hits, this standalone game allows you to follow the career path of Aerosmith, playing first at the High School that got them their start and then at the subsequent clubs and venues that helped them land their first contracts, hits, and rock star status. Before each gig there’s a video interview with the band themselves explaining the significance of that point in their lives and in addition to playing the songs they played at those gigs, you’ll also play tracks from bands that joined them on tour. It’s a novel take on the Guitar Hero experience, but confusing for its lack of popular Aerosmith hits “Janie’s Got A Gun” , “Crazy”, and “Amazing” amongst others. (Rated “T”)Guitar Hero World TourXbox 360, PS3, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2World Tour expands the Guitar Hero franchise to include all the instruments of the band including rythm and bass guitars, vocals, and drums. Available both packaged with and without instruments, World Tour will work with guitars from the previous Guitar Hero games. Although it offers a very similar band experience to Rock Band in its character customization, virtual world tour, and online band battles, the game offers some fresh tweaks including touch pads on the guitar necks for slider notes, drums that include a high hat and cymbal, and a music creation studio where you can record your own playable tracks and upload them online for others to access and play. There are 86 songs to play plus a continuous supply of additional songs for purchase and download online.Ultimate BandNintendo WiiNo plastic instruments, no complicated gameplay, instead Disney’s kid-friendly take on Rock Band has players using the Wii controllers to simply act out the associated movements of each position in the band. They are asked to pose like singers, to flail like drummers, and strum or take on the stance of a rhythm or bass guitarist, all to the rhythm of 30 songs from The Jonas Brothers, Hanna Montana, The White Stripes, and Weezer. Forming a band is only half the fun, as up to four players can create their own characters, shop for clothes, instruments, and accessories, and follow a career path that includes making the cover of big magazines as much as it is playing the top concert halls. The kids I’ve talked to who have played Ultimate Band admit they miss the plastic instruments, but like the song selection and younger characters and accessories. (Rated “E”)Wii MusicNintendo WiiUsing the Wii controllers, you can act out over 60 different instruments spanning wind, string, strumming, and percussion-style controls all with a freestyle form of gameplay where you simply have to follow the rhythm and not the notes. Although it lacks the cool factor of its competitors and suffers from a strange presentation, the ability to record every part of a song along with the range of music styles it offers makes this a rewarding experience to invest in. I’m particularly fond of the bonus symphony conductor simulator. (Rated “E”)Click here for my review of Wii MusicDancingDancing games have been around now for almost ten years and thanks to the popularity of Guitar Hero and the Nintendo Wii, is enjoying a revival as new audiences discover the heightened joy of moving your feet swiftly across a grid of icons, all to the rhythm of on-screen symbols falling to the beat of techno dance tunes. As an aerobic workout, it’s cooler than step class any day.The Dance Dance Revolution SeriesThe one that started the whole craze, there are more versions of Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) available across every popular video game system than there are covers of Beatles tunes. I’ve long lost track, but they all focus on the same basic gameplay of moving your feet across a plastic floor mat to activate a grid of squares to match the symbols falling on-screen to the beat of the game. Each version of the game comes with its own collection of techno dance tunes and bonus game modes. The games often come packaged both with a dance mat or without and if your willing to purchase an extra dance pad, two players can play against each other at the same time. The most recent versions include Dance Dance Revolution: Hottest Party for the Wii and Dance Dance Revolution Universe 3 for the Xbox 360, but look through the used game bins and you’ll find editions for PS2, the original Xbox, even the home PC. All of the DDR games will deliver a fun taste of the phenomenon. (Rated “E”)High School Musical 3 Senior Year Dance!Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, Nintendo WiiThe Xbox 360 and PS2 versions are the only ones to get a DDR-styled dance pad where Wii players strike poses with their controllers. Players have to activate the squares beneath their feet or place their hands in the right spots in the air to match the movement of floating balls on-screen in order to recreate the dance sequences from the HSM 3 movie. You choose which members of the cast act out each scene and as you perform well in the challenges, can even customize your own Wildcat with different clothes and accessories. The presentation is fantastic, with smooth dancing animations and big choreographed numbers that help you feel as if you’re dancing with the characters and acting out the move’s top sequences. It includes songs from all three of the HSM movies. (Rated “E”)SingingPlaying a singing game is more like singing along with the car radio than it is Karaoke. There’s always a loud backing track supporting you which makes it bearable for your friends to listen to and helps create the proper party atmosphere. Each game measures the pitch of your voice and shows you a visual cue to help you understand where you’re off and give you a score to measure against. No matter how bad you think you are, practice and watch the pitch indicator and you’ll improve.The Singstar SeriesPlayStation 2, PS3Sony’s Singstar series marries popular Karaoke songs, both modern and classic, with their music videos for a slick presentation where floating bubbles indicate both the pitch and length of each note or word. All versions of the game support two microphones, both for duets as well as singing battles and different levels of difficulty making it ideal for those with some singing chops looking for a challenge. As song selection can make or break the game depending on your tastes, there are specific editions of the game devoted to genres including Pop, Rock, Country, and 80’s tunes. On the PlayStation 3, the game is enhanced with the ability to record your own audio performances for playback as well as the option to connect online to purchase and download additional tracks. The SingStar online experience includes a community where you can create your own profiles to share your scores, your audio recordings, and for those with an EyeToy webcam, videos of you in action. Watching the clips uploaded by others in a wild experience on its own. The latest version of Singstar is Volume 2 for the PlayStation 3 which features 30 songs and videos in High Definition along with the option for eight players to play in a pass-the-mic mode. (Rated “T”)The first version of the game to be devoted to a single band will be released this coming week with SingStar ABBA, sure to be a popular hit. LipsXbox 360While Lips offers a similar singing experience to other music games in the way it challenges you to match the pitch of its selection of hit songs and music videos, it distinguishes itself by including a pair of wireless microphones that light up and can be used with motion controls to use the mics as tambourines and cowbells as well as to perform poses and gestures to unlock bonuses similar to the “Star Power” of the guitar hero series. It measures your performance not just through pitch and rhythm, but also technique through vibrato. With two microphones you can hold duets as well as challenges or cooperative experiences using interactive videos. Using the basic controllers, additional friends can join in to add party maker sounds to the mix. Although you can purchase and download additional tracks online, the game also offers the option to import MP3 songs from a CD, MP3 player connected via USB, or even a home computer on your home network. The downside is that songs added in this way are not active as true game songs and are displayed without lyrics (although you can opt to let Microsoft keep track of your imported songs so they know which titles are wanted for new releases to their online store).Lips isn’t a revolution, but it is fun enough for a party, especially with the dramatic and tense way it tallies up your points at the end of each song. (Rated “T”)Disney Sing ItNintendo Wii, PlayStation 2, PS3, Xbox 360Complete with vocal lessons for aspiring young singers, Disney’s take on a singing game for kids includes 35 songs from Hanna Montana, the High School Musical movies, Camp Rock, the Cheetah Girls, and more. Each song appears with its music video and kids use an included microphone to sing along, trying to match their pitch to the floating bubble notes as they appear on-screen. Each song is divided into different parts so that with two USB microphones connected, two players can sing together as a duet or compete against each other. Eight players can form into teams of two for a tournament of duets. Players can also make their own playlist of songs to perform as a virtual concert and Xbox 360 and PS3 owners can add a Live Vision or Eye Toy camera to display themselves on the television in place of the music videos. Very polished and well executed. (Rated “E”)Trivia QuizzesThere’s nothing like a good trivia game to give use to the vast ocean of general knowledge we all carry around with us inside our brains. The best moments are when you find yourself pulling some obscure fact out of thin air, and when one of your friends does the same you can’t help but look at them differently. How well do you know your friends? Here are the trivia games to help you discover just that. Scene It ? Box Office SmashXbox 360Packaged with a set of four game show-styled buzzers, Scene It? challenges players to watch movie clips and creative visual clues and then race to buzz in and deliver the answer to a series of questions about the chosen movie. Box Office Smash is the third in the Scene It? video game series and offers greatly improved graphics and animations, a wider variety of puzzle types including ones built around pixel animations, sketches, sound clips, and distorted images. For those wanting more feedback on their trivia skills the game includes detailed player statistics and you can challenges players online over Xbox Live. You can also play using your own custom Avatar from the New Xbox Experience. Although the smarmy humour can be grating, the strength of the game is its wide reference of movie titles spanning both art and trash, creating a level playing field between hard core movie buffs and casual popcorn fans. (Rated “T”)Buzz Quiz TVThe Buzz series simulates a gameshow format complete with tuxedo’d host and wacky characters inspired by popular movie and television roles. The fast-paced trivia games feature thousands of questions and over the years has included many versions dedicated to different categories, including a junior edition for kids on the PlayStation 2.The latest version, Quiz TV for the PlayStation 3 breaks new ground with the addition of downloadable packs that offer new sets of questions and themes, online gameplay for “couch-to-couch” competitions, and a new community feature where players can write and submit their own trivia questions for consideration towards being added to the game, so that it never becomes predictable and helps keep the game fair between hard core and casual players. (Rated “T”)Disney Think FastNintendo Wii, PlayStation 2Hosted by the Genie from Aladdin, this trivia game for kids uses the Wii remotes as buzzers to answer from a collection of 5,000 questions on both general knowledge categories and, of course, Disney films. Up to four players can sign in and choose their favorite Disney character to represent them both in quiz rounds and mini-games that take place in locations from popular Disney films. The multiple choice format of the questions along with the theme-park feel of the quiz show itself makes this an ideal choice for young players 7 and up. The PlayStation 2 version is also available with four buzzer controllers.(Rated “E”)Party GamesUp until this point in this guide I’ve discussed games that have required some kind of recognized talent or skill. Not so with general party games where you will be asked to perform silly activities that are sure to be a first in your lifetime. From tossing plungers to flinging virtual mud, all you need to bring is yourself and a willingness to laugh. Rayman Ravving Rabbids TV PartyNintendo WiiDelivering an infectious level of insanity, Ravving Rabbids is a party game for up to eight players and offers such bizarre challenges as piloting a flying lawnmower or flipping burgers for a large walrus wearing bunny ears, each one is a bizarre send off of TV show formats, including exercise, food, fashion, and racing shows. Different from the original Ravving Rabbids is the inclusion of multiplayer games where all four players compete against each other in races and motion challenges. You dress up your own rabid character, submit your top scores online, and even use the Balance Board from Wii Fit to play races with your butt. (Rated “E”)You’re In The MoviesXbox 360Packaged with a Live Vision camera for you to place atop of your television set, You’re In The Movies aims to transform your living room into a movie set. The camera can both track your movements and cut you out of your living room and place you into a video game world where you will be challenged to run from tornados and raging bulls, break blocks of stone, and makes monkeys dance with bongos amongst other silly challenges, some which pit two players against each other. The silly games are just a trick to get you to act out needed moves as your recorded performances are later inserted into a short 1950’s-styled B-movie starring you and you’re friends. (Rated “E”)Click here for my review of You’re In The MoviesMario Party 8Nintendo WiiUp to four players can join in this virtual board game where they must roll the dice and move their pieces in search for special stars. With each square of the board that they land on, players will be challenged to a mini-game designed to make use of the Wii’s unique motion controls. You might be asked to row a virtual boat, drive a moped in a race, punch out a statue to pieces, or walk a tightrope amongst others. Each player chooses their favorite Nintendo character to represent themselves and as they travel across the game board will find special power-ups that will let them deliver pit falls to the other pieces on the board. From lassoing barrels to waterskiing, Mario Party 8 delivers a competitive, yet very social collection of mini-games.Click here for my companion guide to games for kids