IGN Review of Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol Encore
Disappointment. Fans of the American Idol TV show are no doubt familiar with the word. Maybe you wanted Bo Bice to win it all or maybe you wanted Carrie Underwood to get eliminated in the first round, but chances are your favorite singing show has let you down once or twice.
Sadly, if you've been waiting for Karaoke Revolution Presents American Idol Encore with the type of anticipation you generally save for the worst of opening night auditions, disappointment will pretty much sum up your experience with this game. Now, I'm not trying to do a Simon Cowell impression here. Encore isn't a horrible game -- it's not even a slightly broken game -- but it is the launch of the storied Karaoke Revolution franchise on the Xbox 360, and frankly, we were expecting more.
If the Karaoke Revolution games of the past have passed you by, getting a handle on the gameplay is simple enough. Encore has 40 songs such as "Come Sail Away" and "Copacabana" packed onto its disc and challenges you with singing them for points and praise from the judges -- yes, Randy, Paula and Simon are present and accounted for. Each time you choose a song, the words and syllables begin scrolling across the screen with pitch and timing bars above them. You sing the words and try to keep the arrow that reacts to your voice gliding over the on-screen lines. Keeping the arrow in the proper place means messing with the octave you're singing in and holding notes for certain amounts of time. Confused, 50-year-old Idol fan looking to pick this up as a way to connect with your gaming kin? It'll be second nature once you get the mic in your hand.
Once you get the basics of how to sing and adjust your performance, there are a couple of caveats you need to get down. First up is phrases. When you're playing, you'll find the song broken up by vertical white lines -- these sections are phrases. When you hit a white line, the game will score the phrase you just sang with a written descriptor ranging from lousy to great. You can track how you're doing on a given phrase by watching the Phrase Meter on the left side of the screen fill and change color. If you can get a "good" or "great" rating on three phrases in a row, you'll start a combo and get bonus points for every phrase you nail from there on out. Above that is a crowd meter that lets you know how you're doing with the fans. Nail the sparkly lines of text and you'll get a crowd boost.
In the end, all these boosts, phrases and points are tallied for a final score that breaks down how many goods and poors you've received as well as ranking the performance.
Okay. So like I said, this isn't a broken game -- in fact, it's got a lot going for it. What sets this apart from the most other Karaoke Revolution games is -- duh -- the American Idol license. Although this isn't the first time Fox's peanut butter has gotten into Konami's chocolate, the experience is by no means stale. When you boot up the game, you basically have the option of jumping into an American Idol competition or just singing your little heart out.
If you go the route of the show, you'll find the formula that's made the program a pop culture icon. You'll choose your character, audition for the judges, go to Hollywood and compete in a handful of rounds as you try to work your way down to being the last crooner standing. After each of your performances -- you're not subjected to watching the other singers -- Randy, Paula and Simon break you down or build you up, you're given a score, and if it's an elimination show, the contestants are listed, rated and cut while a disembodied voice intros the next round (Seacrest out).
A nice addition to the mode is the ability to customize it to the amount of time you feel like putting in. Sure, you can save after every performance and walk away at will, but the game also allows you to choose do a Quickplay, which is just one song with the judges judging at the end, or choose between four-, eight-, 13- and 18-round single-player competitions. Want a full Idol contest with up to seven friends offline? Encore's got you covered -- Multiplayer Contest let you and your friends square off against each other and the computer in one to seven rounds of a full-fledged show.
Beyond the ability to duet and battle with in-house friends, Encore boasts three online modes for you to go out and conquer. Head-to-Head is the self-explanatory face-off you'd expect where the host picks the song, Arcade League puts you and up to seven folks in a score-based competition, and American Idol Tournament puts you and your friend's list into the show and lets you duke it out to be Paula's favorite.
So what holds Encore back from being the greatest karaoke videogame ever? Basically a lack of options and excitement. While the online stuff is still fresh in our brains, let me tell you that you can't chat once you're to the song screen. Once the competition starts, there's no button to hold down to communicate with your online friend like in Rock Band. In fact, you don't even get to see the other person's singing progress like Rock Band. At the end of every phase, you get to see your opponent's score. Worse? When you're at the setup screen you can chat but only through the headset. Yes, you're holding a microphone and your TV probably has speakers, but you'll need to wear your headset to chat it up.
There's an option to download songs for your game -- and loading screens even encourage you to go pick up new tracks using Microsoft Points -- but there's no telling how many (or few) songs will be made available for download. This barebones feel is pretty much the theme of Encore. When you start an American Idol competition, the game just doesn't feel like the show. To begin with, your character customization options are extremely limited. You can't create a singer from scratch, can't change a character's name and can't change a model's body type. Not being able to adequately make yourself kind of knocks the wind out of trying to become the next Idol superstar and is even more depressing because these options are included on the PlayStation 2 version of this game.
With the processing power of the 360 and the game's debut on said system, you'd expect Konami to push what we've come to expect from Karaoke Revolution's visuals, but Encore doesn't. In fact, it appears the game is so grounded in trying to look real that it has no flair or soul whatsoever. The judges are lifeless models, the performers on stage barely move, and the sets are pretty bare.
When you get rolling in the competition, things seem okay at first as far as making the game feel like an episode of the show. Each judge is voiced by their real-life counterpart and has a seemingly hefty pool of quips to use, but when you advance to Hollywood or whatever stage is up next, you're taken to a static screen where a list of names is cut down to show who gets to move onto the next round. C'mon -- I don't even get the chance to stand on stage with my opponents and watch them sulk off in disgust?
Also, there's no Ryan Seacrest. Instead, an unknown, disembodied voice lets you know about the next round. I needs my 'crest!
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