Rock may be hard to find on the Top 40, but it's alive and well in your living room.
Thanks to the intense competition between "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band," anyone who's ever dreamed of being Slash or Pete Townshend can strap on a fake guitar and pretend to be playing Madison Square Garden.
Fans of other genres may be feeling left out, though. Country music is all but invisible in video games, even though, last time I checked, there are plenty of guitarists in Nashville. No one's figured out how to translate the beats and rhymes of hip-hop into gameplay. And forget about jazz, which is probably too complex to recreate on an Xbox.
Rock and pop fans have a wealth of options, whether they want to sing, dance or shred like Hendrix. It would be nice, though, if developers tried to broaden the scope of rhythm games.
_"Guitar Hero: Aerosmith" (Activision, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99; Wii, PlayStation 2, $49.99): That's certainly not the goal of the latest "Guitar Hero," which instead narrows the focus to one band and the acts that inspired it. Short review: If you like Aerosmith, you'll like this game.
It's "Guitar Hero," of course, so mostly you'll be trying to duplicate Joe Perry's greasy riffs. The rest of the band is onstage in cartoon form, and the avatar of Steven Perry will give you nightmares. You follow Aerosmith's storied career, from playing at a high school gym to being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
You get 25 tunes from Boston's finest, from early classics like "Mama Kin" to later hits like "Livin' on the Edge." There are also 12 tracks from other acts like Cheap Trick and Ted Nugent, and three samples of Perry's solo work. Perry also pops up for a reprise of the dreaded boss battles from "GH III."
Most of the songs are fun to play, but it seems a little chintzy to charge full price for just 41 songs especially when you consider that some major Aerosmith hits, like "Last Child" and "Janie's Got a Gun," are absent. Two-and-a-half stars out of four.
_"Singstar" (Sony, for the PlayStation 3, $59.99 with microphones, $39.99 for game only): Then again, "SingStar" offers just 30 songs although Sony has made hundreds more available for download, at $1.49 apiece. The range of material on the disc is a little broader, with some hip-hop (Ne-Yo, Outkast) and dance music (Britney Spears, Scissor Sisters) but rock bands like U2 and Weezer carry most of the load.
The gameplay is simple enough for any of your karaoke-loving friends. Plug the two microphones into your PS3, then try to keep up with the singers performing on screen. The songs are accompanied by their original videos.) You're judged on your pitch and timing, so you don't even have to enunciate the lyrics clearly. There are three difficulty settings, and you can shorten song length if you get easily winded.
Played solo, "SingStar" is kind of pathetic, but it shines as a party game. You can perform duets in which two singers trade off lyrics, or challenge another singer head-to-head. The liveliest mode is "pass the mic," in which you can switch vocalist duties to up to eight players. On its own, "SingStar" makes for a great one-night stand, but if your friends are karaoke fiends, be prepared to shell out some cash for extra tunes. Two-and-a-half stars.
• "Looney Tunes Cartoon Conductor" (Eidos, for the Nintendo DS, $19.99): With a mere 12 songs and a handful of "remixes," this rhythm game doesn't have much staying power. But you can only put so much on a DS cartridge, so the $20 price is just about right.
The gameplay is very similar to Nintendo's 2006 "Elite Beat Agents" in that, essentially, you tap onscreen icons in rhythm to the music. What distinguishes "Cartoon Conductor" is that it's based on the classical compositions many of us first heard in Warner Bros. cartoons. Rossini's "Barber of Seville" becomes "Rabbit of Seville," while Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" is the score for "What's Opera, Doc?"
A few of the compositions don't really match the cartoons: I don't remember Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" being used in a Road Runner short. Still, "Cartoon Conductor" is a painless introduction to the classics, and a refreshing change from the pop soundtracks of every other rhythm game. Two stars.
On the Net:
"Guitar Hero: Aerosmith": http://www.guitarhero.com/ghaerosmith/us/
"Looney Tunes Cartoon Conductor": http://www.eidosinteractive.com/games/info.html?gmid198