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Jonathan Takiff: With a focus on art, music and fitness, new video games appeal to players of all ages

MANY'S the "concerned citizens group" that's come down hard on video games. This season, though, these same Priscilla Goodbodies ought to be offering "most valued citizen" honors to game-company execs for all their family-friendly fare.

"Dance Central" is among the best games for the Kinect system.
"Dance Central" is among the best games for the Kinect system.Read more

MANY'S the "concerned citizens group" that's come down hard on video games. This season, though, these same Priscilla Goodbodies ought to be offering "most valued citizen" honors to game-company execs for all their family-friendly fare.

Art and music, short-shrifted in schools, are being celebrated big time in new console-based games.

And while video games used to earn a rep for breeding couch potatoes, many's the new game encouraging players to get off their duffs.

Sparking that trend is the motion-tracking technology first seen in the Nintendo Wii and seriously embellished this year by Sony with Move peripherals ($100) for the PlayStation 3, and by Microsoft with its Xbox 360 Kinect add-on ($150), all with ample software support from third-party game developers.

EXERCISE THIS: Want to help someone fulfill an annual New Year's resolution to shape up? Encouraging coaches are ready to pump you up in a new crop of exercise-oriented video games. Why, they're even kindly disposed at 5 a.m.! These software programs also offer customization and even nutritional guidance. And each offers online support groups.

"EA Sports Active 2" (for Xbox 360 with Kinect, PS3 and Wii) is priciest at $100 and also highest-tech, with a strap-on heart monitor and companion sensors that keep you honest. The Wii version allows optional use of the Balance Board. The Kinect variant makes do without an otherwise-required sensor strapped tight to the upper thigh.

But Kinect can lose sight of you when you drop for push-ups and stretches, requiring a body re-scan. Annoying. (For all Kinect-games, you MUST position the camera at least 8 feet - and better 10 feet or more - from your workout spot, with a clear area in between.)

Fans of the TV show should appreciate "The Biggest Loser Challenge" (THQ, $40, for Kinect and Wii), set at Bob and Jillian's ranch, featuring familiar activities and specialty fixes like Beach Buns and Belly Buster.

Wanna look and move like a pop star? Try "Getting Fit With Mel B" (Sony, $40), designed for use on the PlayStation 3 with the glowing Move tracking controller and companion PlayStation Eye camera, placing your image on screen next to Scary Spice.

DANCE MOVES: Need more entertainment value to get motor-vated? How about one of the new dance games designed to get you shaking that thang to pop, hip-hop and funk hits current and past?

"Dance Central" (Harmonix/MTV Games, $50) is loads of fun and may be the finest-tuned first-generation game for the Kinect system, period.

Enjoying a big comeback this year, "Michael Jackson: The Experience" (Ubisoft, $50, for Wii) will have you swiping the supplied spangly glove and Wii-mote in the air as you cop video choreography from the likes of "Beat It," "Billie Jean" and "Black or White." The tutorial mode is only accessible after

you've first scored well on a number.

If holding onto a remote while dancing sounds dumb, check out the "Zumba Fitness" (Majesco, $50) dance-exercise program for Wii, PS3 and Kinect. Here, the hips-tracking remote is strapped to the waist with a special fitness belt.

For those who yearn to move and sing simultaneously (look out, Beyoncé), that challenge is best fulfilled with "Singstar Dance Party Pack" (Sony) for PS3 with Move. Two pro-style microphones are included in the well-priced ($40) package, along with a 50-tune (all hits) program to perform alone or in groups. Should you dare, there's an option to review and even post videos of performances.

ARTS 'N' CRAFTS: Role-playing as Mickey Mouse, gamers paint themselves out of jams and rescue characters lost in time (including some from Disney's cartoon past) in the unexpectedly fine "Epic Mickey" (Disney, $50) for Wii.

Also a stitch: "Kirby's Epic Yarn" (Nintendo, $50), a unique and charming scrolling Wii game set in a world of fuzzy yarn characters and settings.

THQ also lends support for creative endeavors on the Wii with the uDraw Game Tablet ($70). This wireless device links and takes power from a flush-mounted Wii Remote. And it helps artistes produce pretty cool work for on-screen viewing, either freestyle or with templates supplied in the included uDraw Studio program. (Other titles sold separately.)

GAMES IN YOUR FACE: What's the hottest and most realistic sports simulation of the season? "NBA 2K11"(2K Games, $50-$60), thanks largely to the Jordan Challenge that lets you dunk and jump like Michael.

The PS3 version is especially cool, supporting Move-controller use (a better option for inexperienced players) and 3-D TV viewing on one of those newfangled sets. Best Buy already has the 3-D mode on its copies. Otherwise, the upgrade is available (free) online.

Likewise 3-D-TV-ready from Sony for PS3 are "The Sly Collection" ($40) and what's arguably the most exciting motoring sim of the season, "Grand Turismo 5" ($60).

SCREEN TRANSFERS: As ever, new game adaptations of movies are plentiful and available in every console, portable game and PC form. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" (EA, $30-$60) is just so-so; "Megamind: The Ultimate Showdown" (THQ, $40) offers cute stuff for younger gamers.

Pumped up with new attitude are Activision's "James Bond 007-Blood Stone" ($30-$60) and "Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions" ($30-$60), the latter featuring less flying but more fist fighting and personality from four different Spider-Men, taking on foes like Green Goblin, Kraven and Mysterio.

MAKE MINE MUSIC: What's new in music-making games? "Rock Band 3" (Harmonix/MTV Games, $50-$60, for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii) boasts a new Pro Mode with note-for-note play on a 17-fret, 102-active-finger-position Mad Catz guitar ($120-$150).

Also debuting with the game, the first wireless keyboard peripheral ($60-$80 from Mad Catz).

For those who crave the thrill of trill there's "Disney Sing It: Party Hits" (Disney Interactive, $50, for Wii and PS3) with coaching by Demi Lovato, plus the songs and mini-game-stocked "Grease: The Official Video Game" (505 Games, $30, for Wii and DS). Gleeks will go gaga for "Karaoke Revolution: Glee" (Konami for Wii, $60), with clips and tunes from the first season.

SMART 'N' SLICK: "Nat Geo Challenge! Wild Life" (D3, $30) offers up-to-four-player PS3 and Wii fun - puzzles and quizzes on our Amazing Planet, Dangerous Encounters, Aquatic Life and Predators vs. Play, profusely illustrated with gorgeous pictures (natch) of the Earth and its inhabitants.

Help your young'un prepare for a new arrival with "Babysitting Mama" (Majesco, $50) for Wii. The game animates a plush baby doll with an inserted Wii-remote and offers on-screen tips in baby care.

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