SingStar Pop Review

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Publisher: Sony
Developer: Sony London Studio

Platform: PS2
Reviewed on PS2

Sing along with thirty pop songs in this karaoke-style game that lets you test your vocal skills alone or play vocal party games with your friends.

Kyle Ackerman

I've learned a lot from video games over the years. Some lessons were surprises. I was astonished to discover how well I manage the hive mind of an interstellar insectoid empire. Others were more obvious. SingStar Pop taught me one of those lessons: I'm just as awful a rapper as I thought I was. I can't seem to budge that "rap meter" no matter how I rip out the words to the Gorillaz song "Feel Good, Inc."

To be frank, SingStar Pop is to singing as Dance Dance Revolution is to dancing. It's a lot of fun, and its possible to score highly using your voice, but you aren't really singing. As in the other SingStar games, it's important to match pitch and timing, but not necessarily to sing well. In some ways, the whole thing is very artificial – if you had as much vibrato (or gravel, in some cases) in your voice as the singers themselves, you'd get a dismal score, as your notes wouldn't quite be on the pure tone. Frankly, if James Brown had a song on the disc, he wouldn't be able to score decently singing his own music.

That doesn't detract from the thrill of SingStar Pop, especially as a party game. As the manual itself says, "The hardest thing... is to stand up and perform for the first time." That may be true, but the most fun comes from watching – and hearing – other players standing up and performing for the first time. The game supports both competitive and cooperative party games for up to eight players that let you enjoy singing or just flailing around vocally with a group of friends.

There have been many SingStar games in Europe, and the SingStar franchise is set to be a hot item on the PlayStation 3, but only SingStar Rocks and SingStar Pop have made their way into North American stores. The two are compatible, so if you want more than the 30 songs available from SingStar Pop, you just have to acquire the SingStar Rocks disc and swap discs during play. The selection of pop songs is diverse, ranging from Cyndi Lauper to The Raconteurs. Odds are pretty good that if you're young enough to have touched a PS2 before, there's at least one song you'll like. If your music tastes are more recent, there's probably around five songs that will be to your taste.

Just a Song Made of Dots and Lines

All the play modes work simply and like SingStar Rocks: While the music video plays in the background, the song's lyrics (minus language inappropriate for the "E" rating) appear at the bottom of the screen and lines indicating the relative position and duration of the notes appear in the center of the screen. Hit the right notes at the right time to score big. Fortunately, vocal range doesn't matter. The game will happily accept whatever octave you decide to sing.

One problem with the series is that while the notes of each vocal phrase are shown on the screen as relative lines or dashes, the position of a given note's line is not the same for different notes. That means you might see the exact same note pattern on the screen as before, but if there's been a key change between phrases, the same lines don't indicate the same notes. Also, there's no indication of whether the phrase is long and drawn out or incredibly brief. It all comes down to needing to know and practice the song to do well. Or, you can just enjoy watching everyone fail together.

It's easy to understand that the developers didn't want to fill the screen with lines, and this isn't a problem once you know the song well. But to musicians (who are at first fooled by the background lines into thinking this is a consistent musical notation) and the tone deaf (who just think, it's the same line, why isn't it the same atonal blatt?) This convention takes some getting used to.

So Many Circus Folk

Most of the songs have great videos – often distractingly so. Sometimes the video is so good that if you haven't memorized the song it's hard to keep your attention focused on the lyrics. Several songs are so fast (like "I Write Sins, Not Tragedies" from Panic! At the Disco) that it seems like they were chosen for their video rather than singability. No matter how good a vocalist you are, it will require a lot of practice to match the precise notes and timing of songs like that or the vocal flourishes in the women's pop songs.

I've learned more than the fact that I suck at rap. I've also learned that a Britney Spears song doesn't quite have that same creepy underage sexual vibe when sung several octaves down. In fact, it's possible to sing that deeply and still easily be considered a "rising Britney." The game is worth more than few kicks if you're willing to break it out at a party. If you just love the songs, there's a straightforward karaoke mode (without scoring) and if you love the sound of your own voice, you can listen to and record the masterpieces you've performed, even adding video images from your EyeToy Camera.

Fundamentally, there's only one thing you need to know to decide whether you should pick up Singstar Pop: Do you enjoy enough of the game's songs? The list is on the back of the box, so it's easy to find out for yourself.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 12, 2007 12:15 PM.

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