'Rock Band' takes center stage among video games

The video game allows you to play garage rock in the living room on Fisher-Price-sized instruments.

Rock 'n' roll it ain't. But "Rock Band," the new video game from the developers of "Guitar Hero II," is pretty close – a safe way to exercise those big stage dreams, without getting glitter stuck in your teeth.

Like the latest edition of "Guitar Hero" (reviewed Nov. 23), this is a rhythm game. Notes scroll across the screen; your role is to hit the corresponding button on your plastic instrument at the correct interval, and the sweet, sweet sounds of heavy metal echo forth. The difference is that on "Rock Band," in addition to a pint-sized toy guitar, you get a surprisingly large set of plastic drums and a plastic microphone.

Total list price is $170. Sound absurd? Well, sure, it's pretty absurd. (There's an argument to be made, for instance, that children might be better off learning an actual instrument.) The experience mixes lunacy with exhilaration – sometimes, after wiping the sweat off my forehead, I feel a particularly invigorating (and embarrassing) high. In my band, however, I'm the lead guitarist.

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Other "musicians" may have more substantial qualms: the microphone, for instance, doesn't pick up individual words. It picks up tones, and sometimes not very accurately. The bass lines can get a little repetitive; the drum lines are difficult. Still, if you don't mind a little silliness in your life, "Rock Band" is the second-best thing to stage-diving. – Matthew Shaer

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