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Music games rock ’09 fourth quarter

The release of “Madden NFL 10” usually notes the arrival of the fall gaming season.

This year’s release of the popular sports franchise — the game was released Aug. 14 — again signaled the end of the summer gaming season by ushering in the busiest four months in video game sales.

The final quarter of 2009 will see a number of big releases, but a few of the big games once expected to hit store shelves this fall, like “Bioshock 2,” have been moved to early 2010. That leaves a less-crowded holiday release schedule, providing space for an under-the-radar hit.

At this point, five games stand apart.

Harmonix is banking big on the upcoming release of “The Beatles: Rock Band” on Sept. 9. The game’s developers and producers have said they believe the lure of The Beatles is enough to pull in even non-gamers.

From what I’ve seen of the game, it looks amazing. It spans The Beatles’ years at EMI Records, from their iconic performance on the Ed Sullivan Show through their sessions to record “Abbey Road.” The developers constructed colorful “dreamscapes” for the band’s later, more experimental period. There will be 45 songs, along with the ability to download the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Rubber Soul” complete albums. The game will also feature three-part vocal harmonies, adding a new spin to the genre.

Activision will counter with not one, but four music games this fall.

The first — “Guitar Hero 5” — will be the standard fare. Following the path of the first four games, “Guitar Hero 5” will offer 85 playable tracks and will allow for use of previously downloaded tracks and other songs from past games.

That will be followed by “DJ Hero” in October, the teen-geared “Band Hero” in November and then “Guitar Hero: Van Halen.”

While the “Guitar Hero” vs. “Rock Band” battle will be fun to watch, Activision already knows it has the likely top seller this year in “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.” The sequel to one of the best-selling games in history will probably leave every other game in its wake this fall.

Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed II” looks like an improvement on the very strong original.

My pick for top original game this fall goes to “Brütal Legend.” Actor and comedian Jack Black lends his voice to a game that links fantasy storytelling with heavy metal music.