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Why new music games rock

"Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock" adopts a metal-tinged fantasy motif.
"Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock" adopts a metal-tinged fantasy motif.
  • Popular franchises such as "Guitar Hero" are realizing the need for innovation
  • Microsoft's new motion-sensing Kinect lets you shake a leg naturally
  • "Rock Band 3" will offer a new Pro Mode for more realistic gameplay

Editor's note: Scott Steinberg is the head of technology and video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global, as well as the founder of GameExec magazine and Game Industry TV. The creator and host of online video series Game Theory, he frequently appears as an on-air technology analyst for ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and CNN.

(CNN) -- After watching music game sales plummet 49 percent in 2009, the makers of popular franchises such as "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" are realizing the need for innovation.

Rather than simply add new songs and play modes, or champion individual bands like The Beatles or Van Halen, this year's crop of rhythm-based titles will instead focus on new features and technical advancements.

Below are several ways 2010's most promising music games hope to regain their position on the charts.

Whether they'll provide a rousing encore remains anyone's guess. But for now, hoist those lighters high. With over a dozen of these games due out by year's end, the party's just getting started.

Motion controls

Rather than offer arrow-bedecked mats to stomp on, games like "Dance Central" and "DanceMasters" instead eliminate physical accessories entirely.

Using Microsoft's new motion-sensing Kinect (a 3-D camera for the Xbox 360), both of these games let you shake a leg naturally, with no need to hoist handheld gear or step on pressure-sensitive plates.

Each uses your body as the controller, and presumably offers moves you can use on an actual dance floor.

UbiSoft's "Just Dance 2" will also let players get jiggy with the Wii remote, while "Michael Jackson: The Experience," also compatible with Sony's PlayStation Move, lets you recreate the King of Pop's signature steps.

Likewise, remix simulator "DJ Hero 2" further expands support to two plastic turntables and a microphone, which you can physically scratch, sing or battle on.

Exotic themes

Instead of pushing the technical bar, "Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock" adopts a metal-tinged fantasy motif, complete with a full-fledged psychedelic quest mode that pits "The Demigod of Rock" against "The Beast." (And bears obvious similarities to the aesthetic found in recent action-adventure "Brutal Legend.")

By contrast, sonically-inclined shooter "Rock of the Dead" takes a more novel (if no less gonzo) approach, making you mash buttons on existing guitar controllers to defeat zombies and other creepy-crawlies.

The two games hope to prove there's life beyond simply strumming along with canned music videos or animated nightclub performances.

Realistic gameplay

Among other features (e.g. support for a 25-key MIDI keyboard and three-part vocal harmonies), "Rock Band 3" will also offer a new Pro Mode, in which gameplay claims to more closely resemble real-world musical technique.

Rival game "Power Gig: Rise of the Six String," also looks to address complaints that in-game skills don't transfer to live instruments by using a controller capable of doubling as an actual guitar.

Whether either will make music lessons fun, let alone turn you into the next Joe Satriani, as yet remains to be proven.

Social networking

Beyond letting players belt out classic jams like "Juicy" and modern-day smashes (e.g. "Best I Ever Had") hip-hop karaoke simulator "Def Jam Rapstar" also lets you edit and share videos of freestyles and performances online. "SingStar Dance," compatible with Sony's gesture-tracking PlayStation Move controller, likewise allows for video distribution over the Internet as well.

On the flip side, in addition to providing online matchmaking options, "Rock Band 3" players can further publish playlists, achievements and in-game activity over Facebook and Twitter.

Digital distribution

Millions are already downloading new songs for current music games or creating their own tracks for online sharing.

Now publishers are using digital delivery to push entire standalone titles to new platforms such as smartphones and the Web.

From games for your iPhone ("Linkin Park Revenge") to titles that run on cloud computing ("Instant Jam") and browser-based diversions ("Recordshop Tycoon"), it just goes to show: This year's music games are going to new levels to captivate gamers -- wherever they are.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Scott Steinberg.


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