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By Stephanie Zacharek
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By Voice Film Critics
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By Alan Scherstuhl
Those unfortunate wastrels addicted to air guitar can now be savedif they've got the most minor semblance of rhythm. That's because GUITAR HERO, the most unique music-based game of the year, comes with a mini-guitar peripheral. With four colored buttons on the neck that act as frets, you'll move through the rock 'n roll ranks from dingy clubs to giant arenas. With 30 songs from Deep Purple, The Ramones, Joan Jett and the like, you'll be asked to tap your frets as the music speeds up and becomes more complex. If you're off-rhythm and you miss the colors as they scroll by onscreen, your audience will boo louder and louder, eventually leaving the clublike I did when Eminem looked like a poor imitation of Elvis at the Garden last summer. The only downside I could find with Guitar Hero is that after an hour plus of continuous play, my button pressing hand ached like I'd been pulling a sled in the Iditarod.
Everyone knows the DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION craze began in the arcades of Japan. You'd pay your yen and watch the beats and arrows onscreen while stepping on arrows a dance pad. As the movements became more and more intricate, a brand new way of dancing was born. Today, game bundles often include a dance pad and a game, and often the ability to compete online.
DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION EXTREME 2 is chock full of techno tunes and a few originals from Sean Paul and Fat Boy Slim. Here, there are remakes of supersweet superstars from Beyonce to Britney to Christina, 70 songs and 100 minutes of pop dance music. Add the EyeToy peripheral and you can see yourself dance within the game. Too bad the graphics are about a decade old.
DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION ULTRAMIX 3 for the Xbox features more hits by the original artists than Extreme 2, and a Quest mode, missions with a story that lets you dance in clubs in various cities. In addition to the techno and Japanese pop songs, there's a fair amount of rock stuff from Good Charlotte, They Might Be Giants and The Clash. A Freestyle Mode lets your freak flag flydance any way you want: great for me since I'm a spaz on the level of Elaine in "The Little Kicks" episode from Seinfeld.
DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION MARIO MIX for the Gamecube lets you play as all the classic Nintendo characters. While there are only 25 different songs here (why not more?), the story mode feels like a mix of the better Mario games for the GameCube with the addition of dancing. There are five rich environments to dance in, and the movements are never so difficult that a child couldn't feel like a real star.
If you're gonna get wild as in the Rated X Panty Party at Scenic, there's nothing better than KARAOKE REVOLUTION PARTY for the Xbox. With 50 songs and an included microphone, you'll be crooning all night. You can add a "DDR" dance mat and bop around while you sing. Because I love an eclectic song mix, wailing the variety of "Sweet Caroline" and "Pieces of Me" really gets me enthused. Sadly, I can't sing and dance at the same time, but maybe I'm open to singing and sex simultaneously.
All of these games can give you a serious cardio workout that Dr. Phil would say is healthy for the body and the mind. For me, they get me off the couch after watching Lost. Add the laughter that ensues, and they can't be beat for what this sometimes-lackadaisical medium is all about: entertainment. Finally, if you want to step up to a real fitness regimen which purports to get you fit in 12 weeks, try EYETOY KINETIC. Inside the box are an EyeToy and 20 workouts on disk, all with a trainer to help you along. While it's not a dancing game per se, the soundtrack varies from soothing, occasionally boring mood music during yoga to pulse-pounding trance music during cardio workouts. It's the kind of game that I'll pledge to play as a New Year's resolution. But 12 weeks?
Xbox 360 Games That Are the Shit
First off, dispense with QUAKE 4; it's not that enthralling on the 360 because the whole concept is of Quake isn't that new. Forget AMPED 3 unless you're one of those addicted snowpunks who feel Adrian Benepe should make a mountain of flakes in Central Park for you to board all winter long. Amped 3 is a convoluted game whose graphics aren't all that.
If you're trying to choose between NEED FOR SPEED: MOST WANTED and PROJECT GOTHAM RACING 3, put on the old Jordans and speed to the store to get the former. PGR3 is a good game, but it feels sterile like Mr. Clean made it. Living in Manhattan as I do, I don't feel the graphics are detailed enough. Of course, I demand a lot: for every store to be labeled, and for every bit of grunge and rust to be shown. I want to smell the acrid stink of the city, and I don't with PGR3.
Need For Speed: Most Wanted, on the other hand, makes racing feel alive: you feel challenged and you yearn to win. You even get geeky about it, yearning to learn more about the mechanic that makes your car win. As you speed, you can almost feel the wind whip through your hair. You can almost smell the pine as you drive through forests.
In KAMEO: ELEMENTS OF POWER, you're a warrior who rescues something called the Elemental Ancestors and tries to destroy the Dark Troll King (no, not Tom Delay). It has such a great amount of varied characters into which you can morph, I felt like I had multiple personalities straight out of "Adult Psychopathology and Diagnosis" (in a good way). The rich graphics really show off the 360's heft, so much so that you might get a crush on the prettier characters. When I stopped fighting and looked at the environment, I felt as though I could see detail for miles and miles, like I'd had a Lasik procedure and my eyes were super-human.
GUN, a jaunty game of six guns, jealousy and retribution set in the Old West, is also available for the other boxes. But here, the graphics are full of stunning panoramas, especially in the HDTV format. You'll be riding a horse a lot as in Dark Watch, but the beauty and terror you see as you gallop make up for the slowness of riding a steed. You won't wake up miming Duvall in True Grit and say, "I call that bold talk for a one-eye fat man" to your significant other. But that's a good thing.
CONDEMNED: CRIMINAL ORIGINS, a game made exclusively for the 360, has an FBI agent tracking down lascivious serial killers. You'll feel as though you're inside Silence of the Lambs, but not Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. In other words: it's creepy, eerie, bloody fiction. Of course, having written a book on serial killers, I damn well know this isn't really the way multiple murderers act in real life. That's a strike against the game since the developers should have done serious research. But Condenmned showcases the way serial killers are portrayed in movies and on TV, as monsters borne of evil and Freddie Krueger.
As Joanna Dark, beautiful bounty hunter and star of PERFECT DARK ZERO, you'll shoot through graphically intense locales around the world. During this time, you'll wish the thin script was written by Charlie Kaufman. Hey, even Shane Black would do. But PDZ really shines online, when you engage in two-player coop mode. You'll move stealthily though all the missions as in the single player game, but the developers have added some surprise, puzzle-filled challenges for you.
Can you hear me roar? I'm just a little disappointed with PETER JACKSON'S KING KONG. While the game's graphics are really florid and occasionally scary (it's like Lost on steroids), the gameplay seems short. Yeh, I love the opening scene, rocking on the ocean à la The Perfect Storm. But it's not that interactive, and it could have been. While it's fun to play as the giant ape, the final scenes including Kong and the Empire State Building should have been imbued with more passion (especially since Jackson wanted to do Kong more than Lord of the Rings ) . . . and mo' better gameplay. In other words, it needs more intelligent design.
Overall, though, caveat emptor. These, generally, are games that cost $60 a pop, 20 percent higher than most games. Be warned that none will induce geek rapture in your soul during every moment of play. But on the occasions that they do, the feeling is pretty darn like Siddhartha Gautama approaching nirvana. Which is not to say you'll follow the four noble truths and becoming a wandering ascetic. Then, you'll have to give up the 360.
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