4mm Games – Def Jam Rapstar review

Hip hop gets its very own version of Singstar
Photo of 4mm Games – Def Jam Rapstar

When we partake of some Rock Band at the weekend, we play the drums, the guitar and the bass. Rarely do we make a move towards the microphone – and if we do, we’re generally told to sit back down (or words to that effect). Unless, of course, it’s Sabotage or So What’cha Want by the Beastie Boys coming up, because we can pull them off. We might not have pitch or a particularly tuneful voice, but we do have some rhythm, and we can rap. So we were pretty excited to review a game dedicated to the noble art of the flow.

Go with the flow
Def Jam Rapstar gives players the chance to spit at the Xbox mic with Career, Party and Freestyle modes. Freestyle gives you a background beat to rap your own lyrics over. Party mode gives you the option to set up a playlist, a pair of mics and battles or duets with two players at a time. As ever, the main event is the Career campaign, in which you’re challenged to progress from opener to rapstar legend, from bottles of Lambrini to bottles of Cristal.

Sadly, the Career campaign is rather lacking in the sparkle and bling department. Each stage must be completed by performing a small selection of tunes and scoring enough points to unlock the next level. There are also extra optional challenges, such as an endurance test which requires the player to plough through multiple songs, or a rap in which you have to keep up a perfect streak of correct lyrics. But that’s it – there are no actual career decisions such as signing to different labels, earning money or buying those G-Shocks and Bentley convertibles you’re always rapping about.

Even so, progressing through the campaign’s library of tunes is undeniably enjoyable. There’s quite a sense of satisfaction when you nail a fast-paced rap section with perfect timing. Def Jam Rapstar judges not only the timing and lyrical delivery of the player, but also pitch accuracy, as some tracks require a bit of old-fashioned singing. As well as these scores, useful post-song feedback is provided in the form of a full lyric sheet, with any words you stumbled over marked clearly in red.

Musical selection
The selection of artists and music i Rapstar is pretty decent, although there are a few lame filler tracks and notable omissions. We were surprised to see neither of the Ices – ‘Cube’ or ‘T ‘ – (although, thank goodness, neither was ‘Vanilla’). Annoyingly, Ice Cube is featured in the US version of the game, but not in the UK. We’ve had some unfortunate home-grown replacements drafted in, such as Tinchy Stryder, N-Dubz and Tinie Tempah.

We’re far from chuffed that Ice Cube’s ‘Today was a Good Day’ has been replaced by N-Dubz drivelling on about finding girls on Facebook – but as ever, the track listing is something of a subjective issue. On the plus side, Dizzee Rascal gets a shout, and there are a good number of classic tunes included from the likes of the Notorious BIG, 2Pac, Run DMC, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys and Snoop Dogg.

Online integration
Def Jam Rapstar comes replete with a full set of online leaderboards and a community option in the main menu. The community allows players to upload short videos of their own performances, providing they have a Live Vision camera or Kinect hooked up to their Xbox.

We have Kinect, but while US players received the patch that enables support for the camera last month, unfortunately it’s still yet to be delivered to UK residents. As a result, we couldn’t test the game’s video upload system – although that might have been for the best. We’re not sure the world is ready for our rendition of ‘It’s All About the Benjamins’ powered by eight helium balloons.

We had to settle for watching the online efforts of others, discovering some surprisingly entertaining clips, with some impressive mic skills on show in some cases, and some impressive giant foam cartoon character suits in others. Videos can be rated by viewers, so the cream rises to the top of the virtual community to be seen by more and more members. Atlantic Records is even running a ‘search for a new British rapstar’ via the community – the winner of which will be signed to the label.

There’s one obvious hole in Def Jam Rapstar’s online armoury, however, and that’s the lack of an online battle mode. Two player battles and duets can only be hosted locally in your living room.

Company: 4mm Games

Def Jam Rapstar is a good blast of hip hop karaoke. The track list has its high and low points, but on the whole it's pretty solid. It's true that the Career mode could use some more sparkle, and we'd like to have seen an online multiplayer battle feature - although the latter is offset to some extent by the active video recording community.