'Rock Band' puts on awesome show

Rock Band, the eagerly anticipated music game, lets you live out your childhood dream — virtually — as you play guitar, bass and drums and sing your way to stardom.

From Harmonix, the savvy game developers behind the mega-popular Guitar Hero games, comes this ambitious complete band experience, which is best enjoyed with a group of friends — each tackling a different instrument in front of the same television, or even over the Internet.

While at $169.99 it might be out of reach for some Microsoft Xbox 360 or Sony PlayStation 3 gamers, packed into this Rock Band Special Edition Bundle is the game, a collapsible drum kit (featuring four tom tom pads and a kick pedal), real drumsticks, a Fender Stratocaster guitar (which can also be used to play bass lines), microphone and four-in-one USB hub to plug everything into the game console at the same time. If you already own a Guitar Hero guitar and don't want to play any other instruments, you can opt for the stand-alone game at $59.99.

Similar to in the Guitar Hero games, players form a band and work their way up from rags to riches by pleasing fans and racking up points, and then unlocking bigger and bigger venues. In front of the animated band performing on stage is a kind of giant guitar fret board, with a camera that sails down it as the song plays, to show players which notes/drums to hit at certain points in the song. Color-coded buttons on the guitar neck and drum pads must be hit at the correct time, while the singer must follow the karaoke-style lyrics to hit the right note at the right time, for the proper length of that note. It sounds difficult, and for new or younger players it is, but there is a practice mode and multiple levels of difficulty. (Arguably, the drums are the most challenging to master, but once you get into the rhythm you won't let your band mates down.)

Play well and the virtual crowd cheers you on, but fumble too many times and you might just get booed offstage.

The music soundtrack in Rock Band is extraordinary, featuring nearly 60 classic and newer rock songs, mostly from the original bands (unlike many Guitar Hero songs, which are remakes by sound-alike artists). Highlights include The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again, David Bowie's Suffragette City, Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear the Reaper, The Ramones' Blitzkrieg Bop, Nirvana's In Bloom and Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive.

Adding to its replayability, new songs can be downloaded each week for a couple of bucks apiece. These include classics from The Who, Grateful Dead and Metallica, including a handful of full albums.

You can go with the prebuilt musicians or use the integrated tools to create your own by selecting from hundreds of options for body shape, face, hair, clothes, tattoos and signature moves for both genders.

Rock Band is the ultimate party game, best enjoyed with a group of friends looking for a great time together. While it might take a few songs to get the hang of the rhythm for newbie players, it's one of the most accessible and enjoyable games in recent memory, for all ages. Music fans, run — don't walk — to pick up Rock Band today.

A PlayStation 2 version should be available by mid-December.

Contact Saltzman at gnstech@gns.gannett.com.