Games afoot 

If video killed the radio star, many of today’s 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 game’s mix. But I’m 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.

“They’re all old.”

Well, by “old,” I think he meant “awesome.” Take a look: The Cure’s “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 doesn’t 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 Country’s “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 Winehouse’s “Rehab,” my daughter nailed vocal parts of nearly every song, sometimes achieving 100 percent. As for the drums, let’s just say Neil Peart need not prep his résumé, but I had a blast with the sticks on Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” and Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4.” Drumming certainly doesn’t come easy for me, no matter how stripped-down and color-coded MTV Games makes the act. It’s 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 won’t 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 couldn’t tell which car was mine (“systematic” and “hydromatic” don’t equate visually). Matching “Dance Dance Revolution”-style movements on “We Go Together” was easier, but my daughter showed me up every time. And she’s 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, I’m 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 they’d do with “Reproduction”). 

It’s not likely that kids will be hopelessly devoted to this one, but as Rizzo once sang, there are worse things you could do.

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Rod Lott

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