Dec. 29, 2012 at 11:36 AM ET
The New Year's Eve long weekend is upon us, and you know what that means — good friends and good times ahead. If you're looking to add that special something to the party, then may we suggest you fire up some video games?
Yes, video games. A great multiplayer game has a way of adding extra life — and extra fun — to a group gather. Below we take a look at five video games guaranteed to get your party started ... and then keep it going well past midnight. (Champagne not included.)
"Dance Central 3" - Xbox 360 (Kinect required)
While the "Dance Central" games are pitched as a great way to learn some dance moves and maybe even get some exercise in the process, I've found them, more than anything, to be a great way to get an entire room of people laughing. At each other. At themselves. And probably at you. And I mean this in a good way.
As with the first two Dance Central games, "Dance Central 3" uses the Xbox Kinect motion sensor to read the movements of your entire body as you try to follow choreographed dance routines performed by a colorful array of characters on the screen. And while you can play this game solo, the real fun comes in playing with others as you pit your dance skills (or the total and complete lack thereof) against those of your friends.
"Dance Central 3" takes players history-hopping through 40 years of dance crazes and the music that went with them. So whether you like to do some '70s style disco to the Trammps, get your '80s boy band boogie on to New Kids on the Block or go "Gangnam Style" with Psy here in modern times, there is something for everyone at the party. Meanwhile, the developers at Harmonix noticed just how popular this game is at parties and have added two new party-specific modes: Party Time and Crew Throwdown, the latter of which pits two teams of up to four players against each other in a competition to see who has the "best crew."
Grab a drink, grab your friends, turn up the volume and get ready to dance ... and mock each other.
Sing Party - Wii U
Who needs a karaoke bar when you can bring the karaoke right into your home ... and make a competitive party game of it at the same time. "Sing Party" for Nintendo's new Wii U game machine comes packaged with a microphone and, in karaoke style, presents players with a variety of songs new and old to belt out.
You've got tunes from Rihanna, Jackson 5, Lady Gaga, The Wanted and James Brown among others. The Wii U's new tablet-style GamePad controller lets the singer read the lyrics right there in front of them and also lets you act as a kind of DJ, lining up tunes to keep the party jumping ... er ... singing.
For this weekend's gathering, be sure to check out the Team Mode, which has the crowd splitting into two groups who then try to top each other's vocal skillz. There's also Party Mode which has one person act like a lead singer while the rest of the room performs back-up vocals and dance routines. Of course, if you sing like I do (and by "sing," I mean "squawk") then you may need a beverage or three before you start.
"New Super Mario Bros. U" - Wii U
This much we know: Nintendo knows how to make a great family-friendly game. And nothing is more family friendly — and I mean friendly to the entire family — than "New Super Mario Bros. U."
The game features the clever, colorful platforming fun that Super Mario games are famous for. But this time around, it adds the Wii U's new tablet controller into the mix. And the addition of this gadget — called the GamePad — really accentuates the group fun.
I tested this game out on my own family over the Christmas holiday and had three generations playing happily together. My 5-year-old son and I used the standard Wii Remote controllers to take Mario and Luigi through their paces, maneuvering them through levels, collecting coins and fighting goombas as one would expect. Meanwhile, I handed my 67-year-old mother the GamePad and tasked her with assisting us. When you have the GamePad, you simply tap on the touchscreen to drop platforms helpfully into position for the other players to jump on; or you tap on enemies to keep them from harming your pals. With the GamePad in hand, even the most casual player can join the fun in a low-stress way.
"New Super Mario Bros. U" supports a total of five players (four using the standard controllers and one using the GamePad to assist) and is a great way to get people of all skill levels playing together.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed - PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U
This zany, fast-paced kart racing game is just the thing to add a bit of zip into any gathering. You and your friends and family members can burn rubber together — and pit your (virtual) driving skills against each other — in the game's four-player split-screen mode (the Wii U version supports up to five players).
You'll start by picking from a variety of favorite Sega gaming mascots — there's Sonic the Hedgehog (of course) as well as new gaming hero Wreck-It Ralph, from the Disney movie. You'll then compete across a variety of wildly inventive race tracks that will have you speeding along not only on the ground, but in the air and on the water. That's because the "transformed" in the title refers to your race cars — which transform from cars to boats to planes mid-race.
PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale - PlayStation 3
If you want to spike your gathering with a competitive spirit (and maybe a bit of good-natured trash talk) then fire up this multiplayer fighting game.
With characters and settings plucked from your favorite PlayStation titles, this brawler featuring the likes of Kratos from "God of War," Nathan Drake from "Uncharted" and Sackboy from "LittleBigPlanet" allows up to four players to duke it out in frantic, over-the-top style. Yep, nothing brings friends together like pummeling each other with high-flying, eye-popping Super Attacks.
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you can follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.