THE VIDEO GAME industry isn't suffering nearly as badly as others this season. Probably that's because it's staying creative and covering all bases.
Sure, there are plenty more shoot-'em-ups and sports simulations. But for those who grouse about video games being a waste of time, there are tons of new titles designed to enhance creativity and bring/keep the family together.
MUSIC TO OUR EARS: The biggest growth in the game industry this year (and about 20 percent of overall sales) has been in music-oriented titles.
For big spenders, EA's "Rock Band 2" and Activision's "Guitar Hero World Tour" are the next best thing to headlining concerts. These hefty bundles - each lists for $190, much more than the $40 to $70 most new titles cost - pack a button-controlled mini-guitar, a microphone and drum kit you can plug in and synch up with a video game for Xbox 360, PS3, PS2 and Wii.
"Rock Band's" replica Stratocaster guitar feels more realistic; the same can be said for "World Tour's" drum set. Ultimately, the buying decision may come down to which game has the artists and songs you prefer, as the rivals' controller/instruments are interchangeable.
Wanna play more economically? The motion-sensitive Wii Remote and Nunchuck controller work with Nintendo's family friendly "Wii Music" to coax out the sounds of more than 60 instruments. You really can't hit a bad note, and the play list is dominated by public-domain tunes everyone knows.
Most contemporary of the Wii bunch is XS Games' "PopStar Guitar," which comes with two slip-on, color-coded AirG button controllers for the Wiimotes and a song list of hits from the likes of Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Fall Out Boy and Maroon Five.
SING OUT: If just vocalizing's your thang, Sony's got your number with the "SingStar" series for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3, bundled with or without microphones.
Newly popped-out "SingStar Abba" for both systems will have you shouting "Mamma Mia!" Put yourself into music videos (using the PS-Eye camera) and, on the PS3 version, record and upload performances online.
An Xbox 360 devotee can now play host to Disney's "Sing It," and Microsoft's "Lips." The latter is served with two unique mikes that put out a pulsing light show and also function as musical instruments.
For the Wii, EA's "Boogie SuperStar" sets a player on the road to stardom with a new on-screen cartoon look, dance moves and 35 tunes to croon through the included Logitech mike. (Three more mikes can be added.)
SMARTY PANTS: That portable Nintendo DS game system is good for avoiding boredom on the bus or train, but it's also a tool to sharpen the brain.
Get your kid ready for college with Aspyr's "Future U," a fun-minded SAT prep game powered by the study guide experts at Kaplan.
Younger scholars can test their knowledge with two DS editions of EA's "Brain Quest" focused on grades 3-4 and 5-6. Also promising to sharpen wits on the DS are EA's "Travel Games for Dummies" (including Sudoku, Solitaire and Crosswords) and the mini-games of Majesco's "Left Brain-Right Brain 2."
Even if your knowledge is mostly trivial, you can still pursue it on video games. Sony's "Buzz! Quiz TV" for PS3 has four wireless (nice) Buzz! Buzzers and allows you to take the competition on line, while the version for PlayStation Portable, "Buzz! Master Quiz" - likewise featuring pictures, video clips and sound bytes - offers wireless Wi-Fi competition with PSP-equipped rivals.
IT'S YOUR WORLD: Let those creative juices really flow in "LittleBigPlanet" (Sony), a game changer for the PS3 in more ways than one.
Literally everything from the characters (cute little creatures called Sackboys) to the environments can be custom-crafted to your vision (and shared with the world) in this side-scrolling, 50-level game.
Also thrilling PS3 owners (and making others jealous) in the just-opened, customizable online environment called "PlayStation Home," actually the first "Second Life"-like virtual universe to be made available on a game console system.
Nancy Drew mysteries are "in" with young girls again. So I'll bet they'll enjoy following a trail of clues into the Canadian Rockies on "Nancy Drew - The White Wolf of Icicle Creek" (Sega), playable in Junior or Senior Detective modes in versions for the Wii and PC.
APOCALYPSE NOW:Are there are ever some first-rate, world-saving shooters out there - all rated Mature 17+.
Fight off the zombie hoard in "Left 4 Dead," Valve's unbridled explosion of madness and mayhem, blood and guts for the Xbox 360 and PC platforms.
Washington, D.C. is in horrific, bombed-out, post-apocalyptic shape in Bethesda's "Fall Out 3," but maybe you can do some good or evil in this eerie game for Xbox 360 and PS3.
The underwater dystopian (that's anti-utopian) city of Rapture is the scene for "Bioshock," newly enhanced by 2K Games for the PS3.
We're also taken by "Resistance 2" for PS3, a war scenario pitting the U.S. military against aliens that's set (like scary sci-fi pictures of yore) in the early 1950s.
WII-LAX: A great thing about games for the very popular Nintendo Wii system is that most are easy to learn.
Even serious-minded EA Sports has belatedly gotten with the easy-to-operate plan in new titles like "NBA Live 09 All-Play," "Fifa Soccer 09 All-Play" and "Celebrity Sports Showdown." The latter will have you competing with rockers and jocks in activities such as Wild Water Canoeing, Beach Volleyball, Rapid Fire Archery and Slalom Showdown.
EA also is bringing board games to life on the Wii, with animated classic and world editions of "Monopoly" and with a "Hasbro Family Game Night" with "Battleship," "Boggle," "Yahtzee" and more. *