Don't ask me why, but I love to sing. You'd think with the cards I've been dealt -- no sense of rhythm, the ability to sweat easily, and the fact that I suck at singing -- would keep me away from anything resembling a microphone, but it hasn't. Whether it's rocking in a friend's basement or a trip to the local karaoke bar, I was born to get on stage, butcher terrible pop tunes, and dance until I can't breathe.
It's no wonder SingStar speaks to me.
For the uninitiated in the group, the SingStar franchise acts as a karaoke simulator. You pop a disc in, choose a song, a music video plays, and you sing along. It might sound like a simple product, but 85 different discs from the franchise have been released worldwide on the PlayStation 2. They've sold 12 million copies.
SingStar marks the game's jump to the PlayStation 3. You'll pick up the blue and red microphones (You can buy them packed in with the game, but if you have the PS2 mics, they're the same thing so just buy the disc by itself.) and decide if you want to sing alone, battle an in-house opponent, duet, or face off in an up to eight-person, pass the mic battle. You'll pick your musical poison from one of the 30 songs/six medleys on the disc or whatever tracks you've downloaded -- more on that in a bit -- and get it on. When you're in the game, words will illuminate at the bottom and you'll try to fill in blank pitch and timing bars with your voice, which appears as whatever colored mic you're using. When a line of text ends, you'll get a written critique ranging from "awful" to "cool" along with some points. In the end, you'll get a final score and a ranking that ranges from "Tone Deaf" to "SingStar."
Not too exciting, right? I mean, it's a solid system that works for the party atmosphere Sony's shooting for, but we've been doing all of that for the past five U.S./PS2 iterations of this game. Well, that's not entirely true. For the first time in quite some time, SingStar gives you the ability to turn off the original artist's vocals so only you can be heard singing, and the game lets you jump between groups or individual tracks alphabetically.
But wait, there's more.
When the performance is over, you can listen to an audio playback and if you have a PlayStation Eye -- and seriously, if you're buying this game, buy a PlayStation Eye -- you can look through video clips called Golden Moments, browse ten snapshots from the sing-a-long, and scope a 25-second clip of you belting out the tunes. From there, you can save the video clip, the audio file and any of the snapshots to your hard drive and reminisce at your leisure in your Media Gallery. From that hard drive gallery -- which can hold 60 videos, 100 pictures, and 60 audio playbacks -- you can upload your content to your online profile.
And that's where this game begins to blow every other version away.
I've played a lot of SingStars. They're good, but their focus on the casual party vibe kind of holds them back from being something I'd want to rock when I'm all alone. My SingStar, which acts as your online identity in the PS3 version, eliminates that complaint. Basically the product of a one-night stand between Facebook and YouTube, My SingStar hosts a profile that's all about you. You post an avatar -- either a PlayStation Eye photo of yourself or one of the handful of stock images -- along with your favorite band, favorite song, profile headline, etc. The game showcases your best score on each difficulty and also creates a comment section for your profile that's similar to Facebook's wall. People can drop a note about your stats or videos, and you can reply to the message. Connected to your profile is your online gallery. Here you can upload five of your 25-second videos, 100 of your screens, and five of your audio playbacks. When you feel the need, you can remove one of the clips and upload another -- everything's interchangeable.
Now, when you attach a piece of content to your profile, it automatically gets posted in the SingStar community gallery. Here, you can pop in and check out all of the images, videos, and audio people have posted. You can even score the performance out of five stars to contribute to the average the piece is getting. If the content scores well enough, it'll make it into the Hot Picks of the Week, and if it continues to dominate, it can make it into the Hall of Fame.
All that's awesome, but the thing that's most amazing to me is the title's embracement of the PlayStation Network friend system. Your profile has a section that showcases your SingStar friend roster. Now, this is not an exclusive in-game friend system. If you have a player on your PSN friend list and they create a SingStar profile, they're automatically added to your profile list.
Hold on, it gets better.
Let's say you're fooling around in the Hall of Fame and come across User X's video of the sandwiches singing Supergrass. You dig it and decide that you want to become User X's friend. All you have to do is press the Start button -- which brings up an in-game shortcut listing from just about any menu screen -- and select "Friends List." You'll be presented with the same friends list you get from the Cross Media Bar. You'll select the friend request option, plug in User X's name, and send it off. This option isn't limited to SingStar networking either. This is the EXACT same friends list as the Cross Media Bar -- you'll be able to see who is online, what they're playing, and you'll even be able to message them.
Hallelujah; someone at Sony finally gets it.
The online aspect of SingStar doesn't stop there. As I mentioned earlier, you are now able to download tracks from the PSN to expand your SingStar experience. As I'm writing this review, there are 200 songs currently available on the Store and Sony is planning on trucking out more every two weeks with the goal of having 25 to 50 new songs up a month. The tracks -- which come with their music videos -- that are currently available are a mix between new stuff as well as tracks that appeared in PS2 versions of the title such as "It's Tricky" and "Baby One More Time." I'm sure the big question on your mind is how much these tidbits of musical goodness are going to cost you, and the answer is $1.49 a piece -- a pretty fair market price. You figure, Karaoke Revolution Presents American Idol Encore sells songs for $1.49 and those tracks don't come with a music video, while Rock Band sells songs for $1.99 each, but there's a lot more work that goes into a four-instrument download.
When you hone in on a song you think is worth the cash, you click on it from the store, which has a multitude of organizational groupings to makes browsing simple, and get a track-specific screen. The pop-up gives you the file size (usually in the mid-60MB/low-70MB range), cost, genre, release year, track length, and a preview of the video and vocals. Awesomely, there's nearly no loading for the preview.
Anyway, you add the tracks you'd like to your cart, view the cart and checkout at a traditional PSN screen. The songs download to your PS3 while you continue to play the game or surf the online community. When we went nuts in the office and blew cash on more than a dozen favorites, it seemed like the majority of the purchases took about three to four minutes a piece to get on our hard drive.
This seamless experience -- download while playing, shortcut your way to the friends list, etc. -- is something SingStar really has to be lauded for. Although internet speeds will factor into this, overall, jumping around SingStar is a snap and really, really well done. The menus are always the same soothing rectangles, there's nary a load time between them, and you can jump between online, offline, galleries and games with ease.
It's a pleasure to use.
Now that I've got all of those pats on the back out of my system, let's talk about some of the stumbles SingStar takes. To begin with, you're given this awesome online mode, but there is no online multiplayer. No duets. No Battles. No nothing. For years, Sony's unapologetically promoted SingStar as a casual, multiplayer party game, and it appears that Sony is continuing on that track with this PS3 iteration.
That said, folks looking for a hardcore singing experience akin to Karaoke Revolution or Rock Band were bound to be disappointed with SingStar before they even found out about online. Like I said earlier, these are the exact same gameplay mechanics as every other SingStar, and folks have always had a problem with that. See, Rock Band and KR let you see your vocals before it's time to sing. If you've never heard a song before, you'll see the words and their intended pitch coming so you can try to find that range. That isn't an option in SingStar. You don't see your pitch until you're trying to fill in the bars, and if you've never heard that song before, you're pretty much screwed. Personally, I've never been pissed off by this limitation. SingStar is meant to be a party game -- it's meant to be like you're at a karaoke bar with your friends. Points are kind of an afterthought. Still, it's a fault that you need to be aware of.
As far as limitations to this version of SingStar, there are a few I found puzzling. To begin with, why limit the number of videos and snapshots I can have? I bought this PS3 for its sexy hard drive, and if I want to fill it with videos of me dancing around my living room with my dog, why can't I? The same question applies to profiles. When you get ready to start a song, you can create a profile -- complete with an image -- for each participant. This name and image will then be stored in the game's high scores and player listing so that the singer can choose his or her info before jumping into another song. In the PS2 versions of SingStar, you could save 20 of these profiles. In the PS3 version, you can save 20.
What? I now have a built-in hard drive and I can still only save 20? What if I have a SingStar party every weekend and have a rotating crew of 30?
Now, I'm still stressing that you pick up a PlayStation Eye to get the full fun factor out of SingStar, but I have to admit I'm a bit let down by the device. The Eye flips the image. This means if you're wearing a shirt with text on it, the text is going to be backwards in the video you save. It's a mirror image rather than a normal picture. Also, the quality of the video is pretty low.
Speaking of low quality, the quality of most of the music videos is not HD. Menus, your singing bars, etc. all pop up at 720p, 1080i, and 1080p, but the videos playing behind the bars isn't set to that quality. I can understand this for older videos and downloads, but it looks weird to see a Pussy Cat Dolls video running and not looking sharp. Of course, this is only something you'd be worried about if you were watching music videos rather than singing or if you were spitting in my face and not buying the PlayStation Eye that would display your performance live, but it's still an issue.
Finally, there's a bit of question as to what would happen if you downloaded a bunch of songs and your PS3 exploded. Once you download a track, it's attached to that specific console. You can delete it and re-download it later if you needed space or something, but it would have to be downloaded to that specific PS3. What I'm getting at is that there is currently no way to download a song to one PS3 and get it to another. Even if you were willing to re-buy the track, the SingStore remembers that you've already bought it and won't let you pay again. Instead, it just tells you that the song is assigned to another unit and can't be downloaded. We've contacted the company about the issue, and Sony is looking into it as of the writing of this review. We'll update this paragraph when we find out a final answer.
Oh, and downloadable wallpapers are $1.49? Yeah right.
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