- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 5, 2009

Here’s an abbreviated look a multimedia title for teens in the family.

Guitar Hero: Smash Hits (from Activision, for the Xbox 360, $59.99) — Continuing the assault on gamers trying to save up for Guitar Hero 5 and Rock Band Beatles, this pre-emptory strike retools what Activision considers the best tracks from previous Guitar Hero releases.

Each of the 48 songs now offers full instrumentation (a four-piece band of two guitars, drums and vocal) so the package can use the full complement of Guitar Hero World Tour peripherals (sold separately). That gives players the chance to warble along with and keep a beat to such Guitar Hero stalwarts as Heart’s “Barracuda,” Ozzy Osbourne’s “Bark at the Moon,” The Police’s “Message in a Bottle” and Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.”

To be fair, as a standalone release, the game trumps the original World Tour with better character animation, the ease with which songs are unlocked and a creative career mode. The God of Rock challenges players to play gigs through Wonders of the World, with arenas, for example, stuck in middle of the Amazon rain forest. Players earn cash for premiere concerts and can update clothing and gear in the process. Up to eight players (two teams of four) can work online in band competitions.

Those who say they already have played through these tunes should take another look: The note structures are different, smarty-pants, so good luck nailing those five-star performances.

Also, using Guitar Hero: Metallica as a blueprint, all tracks are already unlocked in a Quickplay mode, a certain number of stars are required to advance in career mode, and using the double bass pedal (sold separately) in the expert-plus drummer difficulty is a workout.

The steep price point, obviously tied to acquiring the licenses for the original master tracks, makes the decision to buy this one a parental dilemma.

The “T” rating remains for the sometimes-graphic song lyrics.

Sims 3: Collector’s Edition (from Electronic Arts for Mac and PC, $69.99) — Escaping reality has never been easier in the latest chapter of the franchise that helped define the gaming’s virtual life genre.

I admit I haven’t been a fan of this mega-time-waster, especially since I barely have the energy to solve and enjoy my own life, but the games have been popular for a decade and Sims 3 finely continues their tradition.

After sculpting a complex group of avatars, which even can be made into a family, players can give them a combination of personality traits; from unlucky to lazy to kleptomaniac. Next, buy and design a dream house, and take up existing in Sunset Valley.

With tasks that are too lifelike for my taste, the player may put together a perfect color scheme for a couch, lose weight by working out at the gym, throw a birthday party, take guitar lessons and apply for a job.

There’s no longer a need to be afraid of excruciatingly long load times, so the player can feel free to leave his house, explore the city and tap into a user-friendly map locator to visit specific areas such as the local theater and graveyard.

Any control freak in the family will appreciate the detailed levels of working toward a life goal such as being emperor of evil or a rock star; all while remembering to eat, bathe and sleep.

Players can get more stuff through an online component; a free download of a new city called Riverview should be high on the priority list. Some items costs real money and trading is always welcome.

Other nuances to Sims 3 include a house designer verging on a CAD program, the chance to shoot movies to share, becoming a ghost and forcing younger Sims to complete their homework assignments.

As a reminder to parents, the simulation creates a near-real-time life experience that includes aging, death, love, pregnancy, birth and using the bathroom — but there’s nothing too graphic.

The collector’s edition includes a pamphlet of tips and a gem-shaped USB Flash drive containing some computer media and a code to download a slick sports car for the new Sims household. It’s not worth the extra $20.

Those who need a more action-packed fix should try another Electronic Arts simulation, Spore.

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