Friday, June 20, 2008

Family Fun: Guitar Hero & Rock Band

I'll admit it: I like video games. I always have. Over the last few years, my preference has run to racing games like Gran Turismo, Project Gotham Racing, and Need for Speed. My 8-year-old son also loves video games. He prefers Star Wars Battlefront and Lego Star Wars (and, lately, Lego Indiana Jones). My daughter will occasionally join him in these games, but they're not her favorite pastime. My wife will only play video games occasionally (and then, usually, kicking and screaming). But, other than watching movies or going on a walk, there really aren't that many activities that the four of us like to do together. And then we found Guitar Hero.

For those not familiar with it, Guitar Hero (available for the Xbox 360, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, and Wii) is a video game in which the player uses a special controller (shaped like a guitar) to "play" a song. On the screen, a series of colored "notes" descend from the top of the screen toward the bottom. When the note reaches a line toward the bottom of the screen, the player has to press a button on the guitar of the appropriate color and "strum" another button on the guitar. At the easiest level, there are just three colors of notes (thus, only requiring three fingers). At harder levels a fourth and then a fifth note is added, the notes come more quickly, and many two- or three-note chords are introduced. In short, the game is great fun. And, for the first time, we've found a game that the entire family enjoys playing (but losing to an 8-year old sucks...).

Guitar Hero III (the version that we started with) even allows two players (yes, I bought a second guitar) to play at the same time, either cooperating with each other or competing to see who can do a better job on the song. Watching my 8-year-old kids rock to Paint it Black is a sight worth seeing. Even if I don't love all of the music in the game (a bit too much metal for my taste), it does provide a great counter to the constant barrage of Radio Disney and Hannah Montana...

The Guitar Hero series has been around for a while; I tried it with the kids 9 months or a year ago and it was simply too hard (plus, I'm not sure that we knew what we were doing). Now that they are a bit older and we know what to do, we've all found the game to be fun and enjoyable. And unlike the Dance Dance Revolution series that we've tried and put aside because it is just too hard (even at the easiest levels) the easy level on Guitar Hero are actually playable, thereby allowing new players (and younger players) to get into the game and slowly build their abilities and, more importantly, their confidence.

But the fun doesn't end there. The newest game in the genre is Rock Band and it was my Father's Day present. What is Rock Band, you ask? Simple: It is Guitar Hero times four! Rock Band comes with a guitar (very similar to the Guitar Hero guitar, but with a few more buttons and features), a microphone, and a drum set (four drum pads and a foot pedal with real, wooden drumsticks). With the use of a second guitar (our Guitar Hero guitar works just fine), Rock Band allows our family to be our own little Partridge Family: I play lead guitar, my daughter plays bass, my wife sings (or at least utters sounds approximating the lyrics), and my son plays drums (he's the only one in the family who seems to be able to rub his tummy and pat his head at the same time...). Voila: Instant family fun in the form of a game that engages all of us at the same time (although, I'll admit that watching my kids rock out to Nirvana seemed a bit odd).

If you haven't tried Guitar Hero or Rock Band they might be worth checking out.

(This blog post was not sponsored or paid for by the makers of Guitar Hero or Rock Band. However, I will gladly consider any sponsorship deals that anyone wants to throw my way...)

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