I've been dying for a great rap video game for years now, ever since I played Get on da Mic on the PS2 and wanted to kill myself because it was so bad. Other music games have tried, but they never figured it out. Rock Band just gives you points for saying anything you want during the spoken word portions. Rapping in Singstar is so broken you'll never get a good score. Developer 4MM Games has been working for years to create a rap game that will finally give gamers that true hip hop experience. Def Jam Rapstar is miles better than any other alternative, and is almost a fantastic game, but its attempts for widespread appeal keep it from performing at its peak.
The karaoke genre has been around for almost a decade now, so you can probably guess how Rapstar works, but here we go. Like all games of this type, words appear on the screen and you "sing" along. The music video plays on the screen, though that can be swapped out with footage of the players if you have a PSEye or Xbox camera. I was all psyched to record video of myself rapping the hell out of these songs. But did you know I sound/look/dance like a prepubescent white kid? Seeing the video playback for some of these songs has been the most humbling experience of my life.
There are 45 songs in Rapstar, which isn't a lot but is standard for music video-based karaoke games. The track list is all over the place. East Coast, West Coast, the dirty South, contemporary, old school, and some of the total crap that passes for rap music these days. Take a look at this list:
I feel like I'm pretty up on rap music, but I only knew about half of these songs well enough to try and bust them out. It's an awesome selection of tracks and there's something for everybody in here, but that's the thing. Everyone I tried to play the game with knew two, maybe three songs on here. It was great for a party game because we all took turns, but there is no way I can convince my friends to purchase a full-priced game for that one Snoop Dogg song they like. Honestly though, the only way around this would have been to release multiple SKUs of the game that were themed to different styles. In the future I could see games like these coming with no songs on disc, but with credits towards 45 songs that you hand select out of the store, giving yourself a custom game library (feel free to steal that idea, developers).
There is already DLC on the store, though not a lot. 4MM says every week new songs will pop up on there, so fans of any particular genre of rap should be able to customize their catalog. Personally, I'm hoping more R&B with rap bridges make it onto the store, instead of just limiting it to pure rap (can I get some Usher up in here?). Also, there are some artists that are painfully absent from this game. How is Jay-Z nowhere to be seen? Fix that, ASAP.
In addition to the licensed tracks are 15 beat tracks that rappers can freestyle on. It's not so much for parties as it is for the hardcore out there that actually want to rap. It provides them the tools to get a track up and then show it off to other hip hop fans.
The biggest issue with the game is the editing. I get that the developers wanted a Teen rating, but some of these tracks get butchered. It prevents the game from feeling like a pure hip hop game. Literally every person I played with groaned when they saw their favorite song edited. What makes it worse is that the edits aren't even consistent. Words like "ass" or "hoe" will sometimes be censored, and sometimes left in. Now nothing stops players from saying the words anyway, and I am certainly not advocating people saying a lot of the words that are taken out, but from a purely artistic perspective this should have been an M game. Honestly, what parents out there are magically going to be ok with Rapstar just because it's T instead of M?
If you can get past the editing (and a lot of songs aren't too terribly censored), then the game is great. This is the most fun I have ever had with a karaoke game. Ever. Hands down. And I'm speaking as an expert on the genre, here. There's a level of skill here that makes the game more rewarding. In most cases it's a lot harder to rap than it is to match pitch. Nearly all of these tracks are great party music, so cranking it up and playing with friends is fun as hell.
Back in 2008, Greg Miller and I were really impressed with Singstar's community features. Players could upload videos and vote on each other's performances through the PS3's in game community.
Def Jam Rapstar blows Singstar's community out of the water.
Players using the aforementioned cameras have the option to edit their video at the end of each song. Instead of a preselected clip, rappers can choose any section of the song they want and cut up to 30 seconds of a clip. After they've taken their footage, players can add stickers, audio effects, filters, and animation. You can essentially create your own music video, as low key or as crazy tacky as you want. It's silly, and most of the time it comes off goofy instead of badass, but it's fun, and it makes it so that no two clips are ever the same.
Uploading the video to the community opens up even more features. Sure, there's the in-game system where I can watch and rate videos, but the Rapstar website is where it gets really cool. Every video uploaded goes to the website, where players can rate each other, share their videos on Facebook and Twitter, make friends, earn fans, and develop rivals. They can even challenge each other to rap battles where each player has to submit a video and the users on the site vote on who is the best. It makes the experience universal. So if my friend has the Xbox 360 version and I have PS3, we can still have rap battles and be friends.
The community is what kept me coming back to Singstar, up until I realized it was never going to get better. Def Jam Rapstar's community is still in Beta, but it's already got way more potential. The developer says that over the coming weeks improvements will be made. Right now you can't comment on videos or form Crews (think a guild, but for rapping).