Music-themed games aim to soar up the charts once again

After hitting some sour notes last year, music video games are reworking their acts.

DJ Hero 2 (out today, $60 for PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii, ages 13-up; party bundle with two turntables and mike, $150) adds head-to-head DJ battles and vocals to its original solo turntable-controller mix. The playlist focuses on newer music, including tracks mashing up songs from Lady Gaga,Rihanna, Eminem and Lil Wayne.

Also out today is Power Gig: Rise of the Six String ($60, for PS3 and Xbox 360, ages 13-up; with guitar, $180), which offers its own take on the Guitar Hero note-matching rhythm game genre and lets you play using a fully functional guitar controller that plugs into an amp.

Competing music games such as Rock Band 3 (out Oct. 26) also aim to help players transfer their skills from hitting buttons on plastic instrument-shaped controllers to playing the real thing.

New overtures are needed to amp up the music games category. Sales swelled with the arrival of Guitar Hero in 2005, reaching more than $1.7 billion in 2008, before dropping by about half in 2009. The numbers are down even more this year, says analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities.

Contributing to the slide: Developers flooded the market with titles including The Beatles Rock Band, LEGORock Band, Guitar Hero: Metallica, Band Hero, DJ Hero and versions for portable game systems and phones. Meanwhile, 25 million homes that already own games can opt to download new songs rather than buy completely new versions. "The market is saturated," Pachter says. "The days of 20 million people buying these is over."

But that’s not stopping other games from trying to hit high notes:

Rock Band 3 (out Oct. 26, $60 for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, ages 13-up) has two new twists — for the first time, players can opt for keyboards ($129 with game) and there’s a more-like-real-music Pro mode, which teaches skills that transfer to real instruments.

Just out is Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock ($60-up, for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, ages 13-up), which veers from its traditional story of an evolving band to a dialed-up-to-11 "Monsters of Rock" fantasy game.

Karaoke Revolution publisher Konami puts hip-hop center stage in Def Jam Rapstar (out now, $60 for PS3 and Xbox 360, $50 for Wii, ages 13-up), which has a playlist that includes 50 Cent, LL Cool J, Outkast, Dr. Dre andSnoop Dogg. Players can upload their own music videos for online rap battles.

Hip-hop has been served up on the soundtracks of many games, from Madden NFL Football to Grand Theft Auto, but virtually ignored by music games. "When you have a game like DJ Hero 2, you get people together who may not even listen to hip-hop, you get some people who are familiar with it but may have forgot the impact hip-hop had," says rapper and actor Common, whose song Universal Mind Control appeared in the first DJ Hero. He hopes that tracks from his upcoming album can be available for download on the new game. "It is another avenue to keep hip-hop on the forefront."

And those game designers adding the potential to segue music gaming skills to real instruments, says Jeff Walker of Power Gig developer Seven45 Studios, hope to convert those "who have been on the fence on whether or not they want to try this category of gaming."

By Mike Snider, USA TODAY