The Song Remains the Same
Breaking out a karaoke machine (which SingStar really is) at any party is a lesson in human psychology. Most regard microphones the way cavemen regard monoliths.
First, there is feigned disinterest and denial. Everyone either can’t sing, has a horrible voice, or boy, will you look at the time… Then, signs of curiosity. Partygoers sneak looks at the song list and send sidelong glances at friends in an attempt to gauge whether or not it is uncool to announce one’s love of The Scorpions’ Winds of Change. Finally, after the first few songs, the atmosphere of the room does its own winds of change, and those who were embarrassed at having to sing five minutes ago are now embarrassed at wanting to sing every song.
Try this experiment using the combination of alcohol and peer pressure (it never fails), and watch those song-phobic inhibitions drop faster than booty at a hip-hop club.
The two new SingStar offerings, Amped and 80’s, are stand-alone karaoke games that thicken the track list, but refuse to mess with the formula that made the original SingStar a hit in Europe. Of course, Europeans have far fewer reservations about singing high notes or wearing tight pants (are the two related?), so the U.S. success of SingStar largely depends on how acceptable karaoke is for the twenty- to thirty-something crowd here in the states.
Unlike the main competition in the console karaoke market, Karaoke Revolution, SingStar adopts a clean, hip austerity in its presentation. The simple menus, easy-to-read lyrics and pitch prompts, and actual music videos used in the background make it attractive to the generation brainwashed to believe that Apple is somehow hipper by being whiter.
The two titles being reviewed here—Amped and 80s—target specific age bands. The kids in their twenties (born in the 80s—jeesh!) will recognize more songs on the Amped collection, which features alternative rock hits from Fall Out Boy (This Ain’t A Scene, It’s an Arms Race) to The Killers (When You Were Young). There are a few older rock tunes here, like Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild and Pearl Jam’s Alive, but the majority of the tunes are recent, heavy, and high-pitched. One wonders if what’s falling in Fall Out Boy are the poor boy’s undropped testicles. He sings that high.
But the young hipsters crooning Nickelback might not know all the delicious offerings on the 80s volume. From Blondie’s Heart of Glass to Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round, the pop songs are just more fun to sing than the rock stuff on Amped. Even better are the vintage videos in the background, among which Duran Duran’s Rio features not just skinny ties, yachting, and painted bikini-clad women, but also two dudes playing bona-fide, I-shit-you-not air saxophones.
Having the real music and the real music videos is both an unexpected plus and an unexpected minus. On one hand, they’re music videos! Harkening back to the time when MTV only played music videos in all their weird art-student glory. Remember Twisted Sister’s awe-inspiring We’re Not Going To Take It video? Genius. And using the real music means not having to hear crappy cover renditions.
On the other hand, licensing the master tracks has tied SingStar’s hands when it comes to silencing the vocals. Though you can control the mic volume, you cannot control the volume of the singer on the track, so rather than replacing the singer’s voice, you merely sing over it. It’s not noticeable in most cases, but “freestyle” mode should give you more freedom to improvise.
There aren’t many modes or options for gameplay, either. Party mode features duets, battles, and a hodgepodge “pass the mic” game. None of these make you feel competitive, and though the automatic leaderboards are neat and easy to keep track of, SingStar is more karaoke than video game.
And that becomes clear if you try to play alone. There are no rewards for excellent singing, no unlocking of new songs, and no real motivation to sing by yourself. If you are the solitary sort, it might be better to get a Paxil prescription (probably not ~ Ed.) rather than the party-friendly Singstar.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some neat tricks. Being able to swap out discs without turning off the game is one small feature that is huge at parties. Best of all, scores and profiles are saved across discs, so though Amped and 80s are able to stand-alone, they can easily be combined into your tracklist.
The other sweet surprise, the inclusion of a “rap meter” on Run-D.M.C.’s It’s Tricky, forgets all about pitch and measures your rapping rhythm instead. It’s Tricky might be the only rap song represented here, but oh, the bated breath we hold for more hip hop. You know you didn’t memorize all the words to Jump Around for nothing.
The only unforgivable flub is that SingStar can only be played on official SingStar microphones. Konami’s Karaoke Revolution mics won’t work, and neither will any of the third-party USB mics. Such an oversight, or deliberate shooting of one’s own foot, might mean that SingStar will only be big in Europe.
But SingStar: David Hasselhoff will be huge.