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Break out rhythm games, break out in a sweat

Lou Kesten Associated Press

Every article about America’s obesity epidemic seems to mention video games. That’s not surprising, considering that video games have been blamed for juvenile delinquency, low SAT scores, teenage promiscuity, high gasoline prices and just about every other problem facing the nation.

But being a dedicated gamer doesn’t mean you have to turn into a Jabba the Hutt-sized couch potato, particularly if your regimen includes selections from the ever-growing genre of rhythm games.

To play games like Konami’s “Dance Dance Revolution,” you have to replace your controller with a floor pad and try to match the onscreen action by stepping on different sections. Even the most devoted gym rats will work up a sweat during a good “DDR” session.

Any of the following games are a good bet to get you up off your La-Z-Boy:

•”Pump It Up: Exceed” (Mastiff, $59.99, for the PlayStation 2, Xbox): “Dance Dance Revolution” remains the most popular rhythm game in America, but in Asia it’s being challenged by “Pump It Up.” Instead of having pressure points directly to the left, right, front and back of the player, the “Pump It Up” pad puts them on the corners, demanding quite a bit more agility. Oddly, the additional movement makes the workout feel more like dancing.

“Pump It Up” is not recommended for those who are out of shape or asthmatic; progressing through just the first few levels is exhausting. Later levels require you to press three buttons at a time, so you have to crouch and use your hands – good practice if you have ambitions of becoming a break-dancer. The music is the usual beat-centric techno, with enough elements of metal, classical and Latin to keep things interesting. (Three stars out of four.)

•”In the Groove” (RedOctane, $39.99, for the PlayStation 2): “DDR” fans impatient for Konami to release some fresh beats have flocked to this game from dance pad manufacturer RedOctane. “In the Groove” sticks to the classic dance pad layout, but like “Pump It Up,” it throws in some three- and four-button moves that will have you hitting the floor on all fours.

Fortunately for some of us geezers, “In the Groove” has five difficulty levels, starting with a laid-back novice mode that lets you ease your way into the game. A fitness mode asks you to input your weight and then tells you how many calories you’ve burned in a session.

The music, again, is a lot of bass-heavy techno, although disco-fied remakes of tunes like Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” and the Cardigans’ “My Favorite Game” sent us into a fit of ‘90s nostalgia. (Three stars out of four.)

•”EyeToy Play 2” (Sony, $49.99, for the PlayStation 2): Maybe you’re looking for more of an upper-body workout? “Play 2” is the latest application for Sony’s EyeToy peripheral, a camera that picks up your own movement.

For example, you can swing punches at an onscreen boxer, or use your hands as paddles in a game of pingpong. You can play air guitar or drums, kick soccer balls or hit home runs, wield a chain saw or a cheese grater.

At times the lack of precise control is frustrating, but all the games are very simple, and there are a lot of them. That simplicity and variety – along with the sheer ridiculousness of watching your friends flail their arms about – make “Play 2” an ideal party game. (Two stars out of four.)

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