One of the biggest surprise hits ever on the PlayStation 2 has been the EyeToy. An ingenious marriage of a web-cam and a series of little party games, it’s made Sony some serious cash and sent it hunting down fresh ways to get people interacting with their consoles.
That, combined with factors such as the dance-mat craze, is pretty much how we’ve arrived at SingStar. The idea here is that you’re tested on your singing abilities, and your progress throughout the game is determined by whether you hit the right notes or not.
It comes in a hefty package, which features not only the game, but two surprisingly chunky microphones that fit into one of the USB ports on the front of the console. Then it’s a case of loading up the game and getting ready to sing. And the game itself features several modes to test your abilities.
For a solitary player, the career path is probably the best bet. Here you take the role of an up-and-coming singer, and by turning up at clubs and singing well, you’ll gradually build up ‘buzz’. Get enough buzz and you’ll unlock more songs, get invited to more clubs and start on the path to getting a recording deal. And you control things via an apartment where you can, er, choose your ringtone if you like. We didn’t.
As progress is judged by your singing ability, it’s interesting how the game assesses it. Basically, as your song of choice kicks in – there are short and full versions of each available, and most come backed with the official video (or, if you have an EyeToy, images of you singing) – it’s shown on screen, karaoke-style, with the lyrics you need to be belting out.
Also, there’s a series of lines that determine the pitch you need to be singing at, and it’s this that the game effectively judges you on. What it’s looking for is for you to be roughly singing the right note for roughly the right amount of time, and if you do that, your score goes up. Bonuses are awarded for really good performance.
This score, in some cases, has to exceed the target you’ve been given before you can move on. However, it’s easily cheated. The game has no way of determining if you’re singing the right words, so frankly you can just hum at the thing if you want. It’s also best to forget about injecting any element of style, as all the game needs you to do is hit the right note when it wants you to.
These points aside, though, there’s little doubt that SingStar is very good fun, with the novelty value alone worth an evening or two. Where it hits paydirt, though, is in multi-player mode, and if you’re looking for a good party game, then SingStar is pretty much essential.
For example, there are opportunities to sing duets, various little party games such as ‘pass the mic’, and then our favourite, the battle mode, where two people sing at the same time and go head-to-head for the highest score. With the right levels of social lubrication, SingStar is the best thing to happen to multi-player gaming all year, with the option to replay your performance inducing just the right amounts of cringe.
Still, there’s room here for future improvement. We’d like more songs, for starters. While the 30 included are fundamentally fine (taking in Elvis and Petula Clarke through to Sugababes and, er, Westlife), they’re only going to last you so long. We could cynically conclude, though, that there’s going to be a very healthy market for add-on discs here. We’d also like a better single-player mode, which currently is very simple and quite short lived.
All things considered, though, SingStar is a hoot. If you’re going to play it alone, it’s perhaps a questionable investment, but if you’ve got friends coming round to play, it’s damn near essential.With all the furore about how the Nintendo Wii has revolutionised social gaming over the past year, it’s worth sparing a thought for Sony. Because through brands such as Singstar, Buzz and EyeToy, it had been opening up gaming to a wider audience for some time. Not for nothing are games such as these amongst the most popular on the PlayStation 2.
SingStar marks the first time one of them has turned up on the PS3 though, and it’s a risk-free approach that Sony has taken. The core game is pretty much unchanged: you warble your way through a tune, with options for single or multiplayer, and are assessed on your performance at the end of it.
Whatever targets and rewards the game throws up are decoration around this core dynamic: this is a video game that brings karaoke to your living room, albeit in nice clothes. And lacking the dodgy music videos that infest the karaoke machine down at your local hostelry.
Because, credit where credit’s due, SingStar is gleaming, and the video quality has headed north as a result of its arrival on a more powerful machine (it’s HD all the way here). The game mechanic is fundamentally unchanged, and you still only get 30 official songs with the pack, but they’re provided with official videos and backing tracks. It surprised us though, what with Sony’s chest-beating about the capacity potential of the Blu-ray format, that only 30 songs are included by default. This initially struck us as very tight, though there is a reason for it.
Where SingStar PS3 does carve itself a separate path away from SingStar PS2 is in two new additions. One of them – and this instantly relieves you of the need to top up your song library by buying fresh instalments – is the SingStore. Here you can buy tracks individually and put together a collection of tunes you’re actually interested in, rather than suffering through a dozen you couldn’t give two hoots about on a retail disc. Extra tracks aren’t generously priced – 99p apiece is a little too much for our liking, especially as they are old SingStar tunes thus far – but it’s a convenient way to top your game up, and in time should prove to be quite a resource,.
The second addition is My SingStar, which invites you to upload videos, make friends, and basically pretend you haven’t got a Facebook account that does all of that for you.
Incidentally, you can buy SingStar with the microphones for £50 (although, staggeringly, they’re still wired!), or plug in your old PS2 mics and get a solus pack with just the game for much less.
This is, ultimately, an entirely competent, predictable and risk-free migration of the SingStar formula to a new platform. It’s still a fine game, of course, and unrivalled in its field, and if you go in expecting what you’re used to from the franchise, then that’s the best way to avoid disappointment.