- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2007

Here’s a musical way to return to the days when the Berlin Wall fell and “The Cosby Show” ruled the airwaves.

The premier opportunity for the video gamer to become a rock god returns in Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s (from Activision for PlayStation 2, $49.99) with a new set of songs ready to take air guitarists on a nostalgic trip.

The 1980s music scene offered power ballads, new wave and big-hair metal, and the latest Guitar Hero gives players a taste of each genre through a too-familiar interface and selection of 30 songs. Players still use a guitar-shaped controller with whammy bar (not included; a wireless ax can be had for about $59.99) and press buttons corresponding to notes that fly across the screen.

Although highlights such as the Vapors’ “Turning Japanese,” Billy Squier’s “Lonely Is the Night” and the Scorpions’ “No One Like You” are worth conquering, I felt the game would be better with a keyboard peripheral rather than the guitar.

My gripe comes with the many songs that offer only mediocre guitar wizardry, such as Scandal’s “The Warrior,” while the developers excluded efforts from 1980s stalwarts such as Van Halen, U2 and Whitesnake.

The best part of the Guitar Hero franchise is still the co-operative mode, in which a pair of players tackle different parts of the song simultaneously(lead guitar, rhythm guitar or bass).

Before moving on to thesinging portion of this column, music lovers can pop a DVD into their PS2 and appreciate a recent concert from a popular 1980s girl group that did not make the Guitar Heroes lineup.

Return to Bangleonia: Live in Concert (Shout Factory, $14.98) boasts the best-known version of the Bangles as they rip through 18 songs, including the familiar “Manic Monday,” “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Hazy Shade of Winter.”

An optional commentary track with three of the members enlightens, while acoustic versions of two songs highlight the mesmerizing harmonies that made them pop stars.

After singing along with the girls, try out a video-gaming karaoke machine expanded with an ‘80s motif that is much easier than its earlier incarnation. SingStar ‘80s (Sony Computer Entertainment, $49.99; disc only, $28.99) is bundled with a pair of microphones and a connector to enable amateur performers to sing along with stars from the decade while watching the original video performances.

The last time I tried SingStar, the songs were too difficult and microphones too unresponsive for my liking, but this selection of 30 tunes gets the package right. I still had no chance with Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” or Squeeze’s “Tempted,” but I belted out a falsetto for Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” growled through Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and crooned Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.”

Pitch, timing and sustain are all important and graphed on the screen as a guide for the performers, who can work alone, compete or sing along with another. Immediate playback of a performance can humiliate or offer valuable lessons for the budding performer.

Additionally, an attached EyeToy camera (purchased separately, $29.99) rounds out the fun as it captures the live performance and pops it up on the television screen.

Sony also has just released a set of 30 rock songs under SingStar Amped ($29.99). It’s a welcome expansion pack, but I wish crooners luck with the likes of “Owner of a Lonely Heart” from Yes and Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.”

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski @washingtontimes.com).

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