Since the karaoke phenomenon took off in the U.S. in the early 1990s, there have been several decent attempts at bringing the late-night bar-scene event home. Over in Japan, where it's pronounced "kah-ah-oh-kay," the portable karaoke machine has practically become standard picnic equipment, second to the portable grill. While these machines did their job decently, the technology was the equivalent of gluing a PA to a tape deck. Get an instrumental track and off you went. It was clear that a change was needed, a big change. Dare I say it, a revolution, a Karaoke Revolution
Having delivered three versions of Karaoke Revolution to the PS2, Konami finally turns to the Xbox. Essentially a remake of the first game on PS2, the plainly titled Xbox version, Karaoke Revolution, brings the hard-edged action gaming crowd a little light-heartedness with this superb singing game. Not merely content to scroll text across the screen with some backing music and stock footage, Karaoke Revolution brings the genre to a new level by judging your performance, providing several modes of play, and packing the virtual juke box with great songs.
In order to make the world of karaoke come to life, there are eight characters from which to choose, each with up to four outfits. Eight different settings provide the complete array from a house party up to a stadium show. A backing band will be there but it's really the on-screen crowd that you need to please.
Developer Harmonix, the brains behind Amplitude and Frequency, has created a scoring system that measures your skill on the included headset microphone. Sing a song in a monotone without any rhythm and you will be booed by the crowd. Nail a pitch-perfect version and they'll go wild, fireworks will shoot off, and the woman in front will ask you to sign her chest. OK, maybe the last one is wishful thinking, but there's definitely a strong reaction on screen. Your character will get more into it as well, moving across the stage, getting into the song, and even glowing. Even the microphone gets into the act, leaving white vapor trails on the screen.
The scoring system is based on pitch and rhythm. Hit the right tones at the right times and you're on the way to becoming a superstar. There is no voice recognition so you're free to change the lyrics around and belt out "Like a Surgeon," if you choose. Different skill levels give more or less leeway in what it considers to be accurate. The range on Easy is a bit broad while Expert requires a pitch perfect performance.
As the songs progresses, bars move from the right side of the screen to the left, along with the lyrics. Each bar represents the length and pitch of each of the words of the song. The higher up the bar is, the higher the pitch of the song. The bar is usually flat, indicating a steady tone, but sometimes it can be a long and squiggly trail, meaning that there is a serious vocal workout ahead of you.
To help you figure out how well you're doing, an arrow on the left side of the screen shows your current pitch. Just like in Dance Dance Revolution, as the moving bars hit the impact line on screen, your words need to flow out like an excited Boy George. If the arrow is pointing at the bar, sparks will fly and it will glow green filling up your song meter.
Karaoke Revolution breaks the song up into chunks of lyrics, one or two lines of a song, for scoring. The more you fill up your song meter during this segment, the more points you get. This meter gets reset at the end of each section. A terrible singer will get a Lousy score, but can move on up to Poor, OK, Good, Great, and even Expert. Get at least a Good score and you will start a combo. This combo will keep climbing as long as you keep getting a Good or better rating.
In addition to the meter for each segment, there is also an overall meter. The overall meter is divided into three sections: red, yellow, and green. Keep it in the green with a good performance and a special segment of lyrics will scroll on the screen. The vocal bars here are sparkly and if you nail it, you'll be rewarded with a crowd boost. The crowd will start cheering and more special effects will happen in the background, like fireworks and your name scrolling by in lights.
It's funny how such a simple thing as a glowing character and a cheering polygon crowd can affect you, but when I was singing the songs, I just started getting into it and I felt bad when my performance was plain awful and got booed off the stage. I would start right over again at the end just to show them what I had, which I admit isn't all that much.
In starting the game, there are a few different single-player options. Karaoke Mode enables you to choose from any of the songs without the scoring system, good for practicing or playing with friends without worrying about a score. Arcade Mode gives you a series of three to five songs to get through, tallying up a total combined score. Showtime Mode is the closest thing to a story that the game has.
Showtime is the one area where work can be done to unlock the bonus features. Starting off in the first arena, the house party, four songs are available to be sung. Complete any one of them in a satisfactory way and the next stage is unlocked. This way you unlock all of the initial songs in the eight areas. Get a gold record with a high score in an area and a new outfit for one character is unlocked. Get a platinum record for the other one. Get a platinum record on four unspecified songs and another four songs are unlocked.
Admittedly, the game aspects of Karaoke Revolution are pretty minimal. There is no Career mode or Story mode. After a couple hours, I had unlocked all of the areas in Showtime and had gotten a dozen new outfits. What was left was a game where I could select from a variety of songs and see how well I could do. Still, I was having too much fun to stop. It was a thrill to see my character glowing and running across the stage and knowing that I was kicking ass with my voice.
The real strength here is the ability to know how good your singing is and actually improve it. With the arrow on the side of the screen, you know if you're a little too high or low and you can adjust for that. Pretty soon, changing pitch on command gets easier and you're really singing along with the song. I don't care much for going out to karaoke bars and trashing songs so having this on my PS2 was perfect.
To expand the idea, two multiplayer modes bring your friends into the action. Arcade mode has the game score the singing ability as players take turns for each song. Karaoke Competition mixes it up a bit by having the other players rate your performance. Thankfully, it's a secret ballot. Five different buttons are assigned to a one to five score and the vote can be cast without the singer knowing that you thought his version of "Hey Jealousy" plain sucked. After everyone has had their turn, the high score wins. Just make sure you can trust your friends.
There are a whopping 50 songs on the Xbox version, with about 25 in the game, and about 25 downloadable ones via Xbox Live. Many of these songs were previously on the various PS2 versions, but the Motown hits are exclusive. They're all easy to download, taking less than five minutes for all of them.
The Motown Songs Exclusive To The Xbox version include:
The general list includes
- I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch) - The Four Tops
- I Heard It Through The Grapevine - Marvin Gaye
- I Want You Back - The Jackson 5
- I'll Be There - The Jackson 5
- Just My Imagination - The Temptations
- Please Mr. Postman - The Marvelettes
- Stop! In the Name of Love - Diana Ross & The Supremes
- The Tracks of My Tears - Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
- This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You) - The Isley Brothers
- What Becomes of the Broken Heart - Jimmy Ruffin
- All You Wanted
- Are You Happy Now?
- Billie Jean
- Bizarre Love Triangle
- Broken Wings
- Chain of Fools
- Crawling in the Dark
- Don't Know Why
- Every Morning
- Everything You Want
- Girls Just Want To Have Fun
- Heartbreak Hotel
- Hey Jealousy
- Hit Me With Your Best Shot
- Hot Stuff
- How You Remind Me
- I'm Coming Out
- It's The End of the World As We Know It
- I've Got You Under My Skin
- Kiss Me
- Ladies' Night
- Like a Virgin
- One Week
- Red Red Wine
- Save Tonight
- Science Genius Girl
- She Talks To Angels
- Smooth Criminal
- Son of a Preacher Man
- The Power of Love
- Waiting For Tonight
- We Are Family
- When a Man Loves a Woman
- Wind Beneath my Wings
- You Really Got Me
- You're the One That I Want
There are some very important things to understand about singing the motown originals in Karaoke Revolution
. Because they're sung by the original singers, instead of the me-too singers doing the other versions, they're MUCH harder to imitate accurately. The songs sound simple, and you'll know the words (or you might think
you know the words), but they're very complex and difficult to sing. Upon trying songs such as Chain of Fools
or even Please, Mr. Postman
, you'll quickly learn just how good these singers were (or still are).
The graphics in Karaoke Revolution are cartoonish, colorful, and workmanlike. Harmonix made sure to put in plenty of different animations for the characters. They'll bob their extra large heads to the music, lean back and wail on some loud sections, and just get in the groove. It really feels like they get more amped up for the music when you do better. Ruin the song and they'll hang their heads down as the lights turn low.
The different areas sport some unique looks and offer animated, detailed backgrounds in them. A subway station features trains going by and a carnival show has roller coasters in the background. Keeping with the rest of the game, it looks fun and almost a bit goofy. The higher up the level, the bigger the space for cheering fans. Some of the fans look a bit flat and can almost disappear at the wrong angle, but they sure are enthusiastic.
Karaoke Revolution features 50 different songs that have been recorded by in-house musicians. Having the original versions would have cost a fortune so remakes were made that sound almost identical. The songs range from recent songs by Nickelback and Avril Lavigne to older hits from Michael Jackson, Madonna, and the Kinks. Konami's Karaoke Revolution site list's all the songs in the game and lets you hear parts of each one. While I was not a fan of every song in the game, there are still a fair amount that I did enjoy. After all these years, I finally learned what the lyrics are to R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World."
In the game itself, you can modify the volume of your own vocals, the volume on the headset, and the volume of the included vocals on the soundtrack. This way you can hear tow the vocals should be, how you really are, or a mix of the two.
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