Damn… it’s stuck in my head.
It happens in a moment. That pop song (the one you were humming all summer long last year, the one with that catchy hook and fresh-faced singer, you know THAT one.) no longer brings sexy back. You can remember how good the song used to feel, how new and hip and all shiny around the edges, but after a hundred hours of radio play, it now just limps through its paces. Even the giant white python around its neck looks less dangerous than bored, and no one really wants to hit Britney anymore, because she’s asked for “one more time” way too many times.
[image1]Singstar, the dashing cool karaoke game that offered so much for the PS2, has finally hit that moment in its incarnation for the PS3. It isn’t that Singstar has changed — it is nearly identical in gameplay and game modes to its PS2 forebear — but that its characteristic slickness is now a shallow disguise for milking a few more dollars out of its fans.
What distinguishes Singstar has always been its style: the songs feature the full-length videos from the artists, the minimalism of the menu and pitch interface is always refreshing, and the “pass the mic” multiplayer mode is still a solid way to turn the onanistic activity of karaoke singing into a competitive but friendly game. Just as in previous versions, you try singing in pitch with the onscreen prompts, seeing both the desired pitch and your actual pitch (and the embarrassing distance between them).
The PS3 version comes with three new enhancements: one excellent, one extraneous, and one expensive. First, the game finally allows you to turn off the vocals on the track that you are singing. The technology that allows this to happen is sometimes inconsistent—on some tracks, not only the vocals but some instruments are also cut out—but since the option is switchable, it can be hailed as one step forward.
But the feature to upload user videos might be two steps back. Using the PlayStation Eye device, you can record your performances and then self-publish your crooning for the world to ridicule. Both recording and viewing videos is relatively easy, but the joy that comes from watching strangers sing is really just third-rate YouTube surfing. I found that I was more interested in how other people decorated their living rooms than in their flamboyant demonstrations of tone deafness.
[image2]The third addition, the touted downloadable tracks offered through the PlayStation Store, is conceptually dead-on but practically a rip-off. It all begins with the included track list.
The included tracks are hardly sufficient for any conceivable gathering. Unlike the PS2 games that relied heavily on party-friendly pop songs and danceable R&B favorites, the PS3 version opts for disaffected and alternative rock songs. Faith No More’s “Epic” and Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me” might be excellent songs (well, maybe not “Crash”), but they just aren’t “singing” songs. What occurs in both of those songs can hardly be called singing at all.
The rest of the list is similarly uneven. There are a couple party favorites in Blind Melon’s “No Rain”, Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”, The Killers’s “Mr. Brightside”, and the Ramones’s “I Want to Be Sedated”. But those are exceptions, where the rule is represented by tracks that are either too unusual (I’ve never heard of New Found Glory’s atrocious “My Friends Over You”, The Scissor Sisters’s “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’”, or The Pussycat Dolls’s “Beep”, and many others that barely qualify as singles) or too depressing for a party (R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”, Coldplay’s “Clocks”, etc.).
And as a sidenote, certain tracks are starting to get overexposed on the video game circuit. We’ve already seen “Epic” and “All the Small Things” in Rock Band, and “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Cherry Pie” in Guitar Hero. It seems that in the world of hip rhythm video games, only a few artists and a few songs exist. People, there’s a giant UNIVERSE of music out there, so why do we keep getting more Rolling Stones songs on our consoles and still have yet to hear a peep from James Brown?
[image3]So, the downloadable music store, right? With over 200 songs to download at $1.50 a pop, it shouldn’t matter that the included track list is junk. However, nearly half the tracks available for download are the ones already released in the track packs Singstar Rocks, Singstar Amped, Singstar 80s, Singstar 90s, Singstar Pop, etc. If you had already bought into the build-a-library scheme on the PS2, you’ll be unhappy to know that you’ve got to do it all over again. Even worse, those PS2 games are (or were, before Sony discontinued backwards compatibility) playable on the PS3, so Singstar fans will have a hard choice between shelling out more money for tracks they’ve already paid for or getting gypped by the franchise they were loyal to.
But what about that other half of downloadable tracks? Don’t get excited. It is filled with no-name British talent. At least, I hope that local favoritism explains the unfathomable and foreign selections.
Here’s an example. Let’s take just the groups represented on the music store beginning with the letter ‘A’. Of the 12, at least 8 get a “what the…” response from me as your American representative: Alcazar, Alison Moyet, All Saints, Alphabeat, Andreas Johnson, Ash (five songs!!!), Asian, and Augie March. The localization is just awful. Karaoke is not where someone should be introduced to new talent, especially if that new talent is Ash. What the…
Under “rap”, to give another example, there are eleven artists represented. Of the eleven, only four are even African-American (Paula Abdul, MC Hammer, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Run DMC), and every one of those four tracks can be found in previous Singstar track packs for the PS2. Don’t even ask me about the other six. Let’s just say that Guano Apes and Blur are as much rap as British cuisine is spicy.
[image4]Still, the music store has potential. Being able to preview tracks and videos is appreciated, and the whole package has the same sheen and style as the rest of the game. Maybe in time the store could be used to fill out the already weak track list, but not with its current offerings, and not in the United States.
The same can be said about Singstar’s PS3 release. There’s a lot of potential in the music store and there’s the much-needed ability to turn off the original vocals, but there’s also the same problems that have continued to linger: the lack of any rewarding single-player game being chief among them. Singstar is still the best party karaoke game for the consoles, but it doesn’t quite step up to the next-generation with confidence. Instead, it steps up the Brit Pop, and that ain’t what we want. Not what we really, really want. Really.