News from the virtual world:
—HERO WITH THE WORKS: “Guitar Hero” may have reinvented the rhythm game, but let’s face it: Over the last year, “Rock Band” has outperformed it in every regard except sales. No one’s been expecting “GH” publisher Activision and developer RedOctane to settle for second best, so it’s no surprise that this fall’s edition will add drums and vocals, just like the competition.
The most visible hardware addition to “Guitar Hero World Tour” is a fifth drum pad (the “Rock Band” kit has four). The most significant innovation, though, is the Music Studio software, which will let players compose, record, edit and upload their own tunes. Dusty Welch, RedOctane’s head of publishing, said it “has the potential to revolutionize consumer-generated music.”
“World Tour” also promises a robust solo tour as well as the ability to build a career with bandmates you’ve met online — two things “Rock Band” was missing. You’ll also be able to take your four-piece combo online to challenge other groups in a battle of the bands. Acts making their first appearance in a “GH” game include Sublime and the Eagles, while Van Halen is finally forking over some master tracks. Everybody wants some!
—LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL: So what do MTV Games and Harmonix — respectively, the publisher and developer of “Rock Band” — have up their sleeves? So far, they haven’t given up any details on “Rock Band 2,” although we’re almost sure to hear something between now and July’s E3 Media & Business Summit.
For now, the main advantage that “Rock Band” has over “Guitar Hero” — even more important than the drums and vocals — is its gigantic library of downloadable songs. This week brings a real treat: the entirety of The Cars’ 1978 debut album, including such classics as “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Moving in Stereo.”
And here comes another new wave legend. Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh, who’s composed soundtracks for video games like “Jak & Daxter” and “Crash Bandicoot,” revealed that three of his old band’s tracks are coming to “Rock Band.” One of them, he told the G4 cable network’s “X-Play,” is “Through Being Cool,” but he wouldn’t identify the others.
—MAGIC KINGDOM: The Nintendo DS version of Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” is, like most movie tie-ins, mediocre. But it could turn out to be a landmark, thanks to the introduction of a feature that Disney plans to include in all its future DS releases. It’s called DGamer, and it uses the DS’s Wi-Fi capabilities to create an online network for kids.
DGamer lets kids create online avatars, chat with friends, unlock collectible items and trade prizes with other network users. For example, a player who won a sword in “Prince Caspian” could give it to another DGamer buddy. Disney has human monitors keeping an eye out for inappropriate traffic, as well as several layers of security to ensure that kids can’t chat with anyone whom their parents haven’t approved.
Disney has seen some success with online social networks for kids such as Toontown Online and Club Penguin, so it certainly has the expertise to build a similar DS network. Future games featuring Disney Channel stars like Hannah Montana and the Cheetah Girls will also include the software. It’s too bad the technology will probably be limited to Disney games; I’d bet a lot of DS players would like to see a similar network for grownups.
—UNFIT TO SERVE: Nintendo’s “Wii Fit” certainly got plenty of publicity during its launch last week, replacing the monthlong buzz over “Grand Theft Auto IV.” If you couldn’t find “Wii Fit” in stores near you, blame Ellen DeGeneres, who gave one to every member of the audience at one of her tapings.
If you did score a “Wii Fit,” you may be wondering what you’re going to do with that Balance Board once you (inevitably) let your workout program slide. The good news is that more publishers are announcing games that will use the board. Namco Bandai’s “We Ski” is already on the market. Electronic Arts has promised “Skate It” and “Boogie Superstar,” while THQ has “All-Star Cheer Squad” on its schedule. Best of all, it appears that Ubisoft’s “Rayman Raving Rabbids 3” will incorporate the device. In a video Ubisoft sent out last week, one of the rascally rabbits eats the thing.
—NEW IN STORES: Activision brings the popular PC shooter “Enemy Territory: Quake Wars” to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. ... Firefighters, cops and other “Emergency Heroes” race to save lives in Ubisoft’s new Wii adventure.