Reviews: Somewhere, Simon Cowell is crying.
Somewhere, some place on the internet there may be a YouTube-quality video of me attempting SingStar at E3. I was talked into trying out the unfinished game against my will, and although my singing didn't come off as impressive, I was nevertheless impressed by what the PS3 game had to offer. Sure, Rock Band may have been the first music game to bring vocals to next-generation consoles. However, that game's strictly rock playlist doesn't include everyone's pop favorites, which, even though I'm a classic rock fan, I feel are better suited for the wannbe Idols out there.
The Playlist: Piano Man and American Pie available
SingStar includes the ideal karaoke songs people love belting out in bars right on the PlayStation 3. Weezer's ?Buddy Holly,? OutKast's ?Hey Ya!? and MC Hammer's ?U Can't Touch This? represent a successful mix of pop, rock, alternative, RnB and rap. A lot of them also represent worthy songs Rock Band and Guitar Hero won't touch. That's to SingStar's advantage. While you may be able to sing to The Rolling Stones (who provide ?Sympathy for the Devil? in this game) elsewhere, the competition's narrow-minded playlists stop far short of Britney Spears and Len (remember the one-hit wonder that sang ?Steal My Sunshine??).
Slick Music Video Interface
Besides having broader appeal, SingStar is the Idol of the gaming industry when it comes to singing games because it includes actual music videos in the background. As you sing the lyrics and match pitch bars in the foreground, the slick interface shows Hammer busting moves in his genie pants, The Fonz strutting his stuff in front of Weezer and Amy Whinehouse trying to not do drugs in her video as the backdrop. Watching certain videos will bring you back to the pre-TRL days when videos were played on MTV without annoying screaming or bloated countdown nonsense in between. It may also give you a chance to see videos of The Beach Boys and Stones for the first time. Without a doubt, this beats seeing poorly modeled characters move like Disney animatronic figures.
That foreground interface contains no surprises; we've seen scrolling pitch bars and lyrics since Karaoke Revolution. It's still nearly impossible to get a really good rating by singing the words without knowing the words well beforehand. It's also still very possible to blatantly cheat by humming to the pitch bars to earn a near-perfect rating. Of course, friends, the way this game is best played, won't let you get away with that. Other than solo song, there are multiplayer-friendly modes of battle, pass the mic and duet, all of which make this a fantastic party game. The party just has to be local since there's no online gameplay to speak of. The other thing that will be a big hit for your friends and not for you is you spending your money to buy more songs that they insist you purchase. It's called empty out Matt's wallet. Fun game.
SingStore is where the playlist shines
Some aforementioned songs, like Hammer's ideal 80s hit and Len's one and only hit, aren't actually part of the disc's 30-song playlist. They're downloadanle tracks from SingStore, the in-game online store for more songs. The interface is straightforward and clean looking and, for just launching, filled with a good starting lineup. However, at a $1.49 a song, it's hard to know where people are going to draw the line when it comes to buying Franz Ferdinand's ?Take Me Out? if they purchased it on iTunes and separately as a ringtone already. I'd be great to own the song here and be able to export it to an MP3 player, computer or cellphone by buying it and really owning a copy. Alas, that's just a wild pipe dream.
The reason that I wish songs weren't as expensive is not because they're not worth buying at $1.49, but because I want to purchase almost every song I see in the online library. There's Elvis, Billy Joel and Don McLean singing ?American Pie? (sadly, the shorter, radio-friendly version). And, this is only the beginning. The online store doesn't have song packs yet, but I'm eager to see what the library has available as time goes on thanks to the wide range of genres.
My SingStar Online: Where Idol rejects hang out
In addition to buying songs online, SingStar has a social networking setup similar to any Facebook clone. A photo of your choosing and your gamertag, your best score and comments from other people make up much of your profile at first. You can then add friends, video playbacks, snapshots and audio playbacks of your best and most embarrassing on-stage moments. The video and pictures are possible through The PlayStation Eye or a compatible webcam. Although this social network is open to Idol rejects, it does include performance ratings, so you could be in you're a bruising star rating or critical comments if you're terrible on the mic. So far, though, everyone's less of a cranky Simon Cowell and more softie Paula Abdul (who, by the way, also has a downloadable song: Opposites Attract).