Humming to America.
We have now six actual American Idols—cursed be ye graven images!—and six Karaoke Revolution games. There is no end in sight of the train of false idols (mind your Hebraic law, people) or “revolutionary” imitation singing.
I will try to tread the thin line between insanity and humorous inconsistency by admitting that I didn’t relish Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol, but that it is still an impressive game that many people—the same ones who have made American Idol the most popular TV show on the planet—will love.
[image1]That is, I must balance my subjective feelings—I hate the crooning saccharine drivel—with the objective assessment—that Karaoke Revolution: American Idol does an excellent job with the American Idol franchise, offers lots of content, lots of game modes, and a polished presentation front to back. I might hate its subject, but I like its style.
The basic formula from the older Karaoke Revolutions is preserved in this one. Lyrics run across the screen with horizontal bars that represent pitches. As you sing into the microphone (USB headsets are accommodated as well), an arrow indicates where your pitch is in relation to the pitch of the note. Sing the right notes at the right times and you get higher scores and move on in the competition. Miss the notes, and get ridiculed.
The biggest addition in American Idol Karaoke is the after-song critique by the familiar panel of judges. The idea is good, and adds a personal touch to statistics. When Simon says, “That was detestable” in his sniveling British accent, you understand why so many contestants go apeshit.
But the judging isn’t flawless. When the judges render their decisions, you can distinctly hear hiccups between sound bites, making their critiques sound like pasted-together collages of generic statements. Oh well, at least it’s true to its source. The wide variety of soundbites means that you rarely hear the same message twice, but the messages themselves can sometimes be contradictory. Randy, drawn from life, calls everyone “Dog.”
[image2]And the judges themselves are the actual voices of Simon, Randy, and . . . Laura? Paula Abdul is missing from the line-up of judges without a good reason. Or maybe with a good reason. In any case, Laura is a fine Paula clone, and probably less likely to sodomize your cat.
The mimicking of Paula Abdul doesn’t stop at just her likeness and her fluffiness—her song “Straight Up,” along with the rest of the tracks, are accurate covers of actual pop tunes. Whoever is singing these songs might themselves end up on American Idol someday, because the songs are nearly, but not quite, identical to their Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra, and Extreme counterparts.
And that’s where the confusion begins. Some of the vocal work differs, just a tiny bit, from the actual songs, and that can make a big difference in your score. In particular, the trills and swoops of the mercenary singers can be really hard to follow.
Given the character of the songs—usually epic gospel-influenced ballads—the melismatic singing flies loosely around chords and timing. The singer was improvising, but you are copying. Draw a squiggle on a piece of paper. Now copy it exactly. See how much easier it is to make something up on the spot than to imitate it?
[image3]The worst part of this is that if you rely on the horizontal pitch bars to indicate what the singer is going to do, you will be SOL. The pitch bars are good relatively. They tell you whether the next note is higher or lower than the one you just sang—but how high or how low is a complete mystery.
Maybe only Wisconsin has as much cheese per capita as American Idol’s song list. Cheese can be fun—take “Total Eclipse of the Heart” or “All my Life” for examples—but it can also be agonizing and moldy—like the ear-gouging bland optimism of “Flying Without Wings.” Here’s a lyric, for real, dog. [I’ve added some emendations to help take the edge off.]
Everybody’s looking for that something [the crack rock]
One thing that makes it all complete [and a hooker]
You’ll find it in the strangest places [like church]
Places you never knew it could be [and at the highest levels of government]
Some find it in the faces of their children [if their children are hookers]
Some find it in their lover’s eyes [dude, try not to get it in her eyes]
Who can deny the joy it brings [except Nancy Reagan]
When you find that special thing [the crack rock]
You’re flying without wings [when you jump out the window]
If there isn’t some vomit in your mouth right now, I suggest you eat something. Dry heaving is unpleasant, with or without wings. The song list is also dusty; only two or three songs out of the forty were written within the past five years.
[image4]But if you can see past the aging soft rock song list and the inconsistent notation, the rest of the package is a bountiful harvest of karaoke goodness. Multiplayer modes include duets, knockout competitions, medley competitions, and a Karaoke Revolution tournament mode that randomly selects several events for competition. Partying is clearly a priority, and that is something we can all get behind. Keg stand soloing might not be recommended, but it certainly isn’t impossible, or even improbable.
Deep character creation and customization options round out the game’s personality. You begin with tons of costumes and face types, and as you continue you unlock a gaggle of new customization options. Sir Rock Hard may be bucking fashion trends with his red trousers and top hat, but his moustache and spats scream old school.
The characters animate well; their mouths move with the music, and their dance moves are legion. When they are really rocking, they even emit a faint glow. The venues, likewise, are full and colorful. Not restricted to just the American Idol stages, you will sing at beach parties and at highway rest stops, of all places. It’s a deep game, even if the lyrics are shallower than a kiddie pool in Ethiopia.
I feel a little like Simon, when he told Sir Rock Hard, “I liked the performance, just not the song.” Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol is solid, deep, and full of clever surprises and tricks. Unfortunately, it’s saddled with a song list playing, right now, in waiting rooms all across our nation’s dental and pediatric offices.