SingStar '90s Review

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Publisher: Sony
Developer: Sony London Studio

Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

I'll admit it. I got tickets to Poison's recent tour. Brett Michaels still has great hair. So when I saw that SingStar '90s, the newest chapter in the karaoke-like game line, features Poison's classic "Unskinny Bop" (No, I don't know what could make a bop unskinny – it isn't supposed to make any sense), I had to suppress a little internal yippee.

Hard Headed Mac

As with previous SingStar games, playing is easy, fun, and pretty self-explanatory. The music video plays in the background while lines that indicate the relative pitch and duration of the notes track in time with the lyrics you should be singing. You have the same options as previous SingStar games: You can sing solo, or just sing along for fun without any score. There are multi-player modes, ranging from the friendly team mode (in which you and your partner's scores are summed) to battle mode (which is just each player singing the song alone and whoever scores higher wins). There is also a party mode with many strange variations on karaoke, including a type of sudden-death game in which the first player whose percentage of correct notes drops below a certain threshold loses and a sort-of race in which the first player to a certain point score wins. SingStar is at its best as a party game – performing for and ridiculing the performing of friends can make an evening of amusing entertainment, especially if coupled with alcohol.

Hairbrush Singers

The vocal feats you must pull off to score well in this game bear as much resemblance to singing the actual songs as excelling at Guitar Hero resembles playing an actual guitar. You just need to be okay with either singing how you think it's supposed to sound and occasionally getting the tone-deaf label or sacrificing all that time you spent in the shower practicing and trying to follow the floating bubble-lines. The range of your voice doesn't matter, you can sing the songs in whatever octave suits you best; men can feel free to belt the Cranberries in a resonant bass, while women can wail in soprano tones along with Hootie and the Blowfish. Getting the lyrics right makes absolutely no difference; in fact, when I sang the way Ozzy Ozbourne talks (very few consonants, mostly indistinguishable noises), I always scored much higher. You will also do better if you remove any of the vibrato, growling, or grace notes present in the original song, which means that "good" renditions (measured by score) end up sounding plain and oddly synthetic.

One issue I have always had with these games is the fact that neither the meter or relative location of pitches is consistent from one line to the next. If you know the song, it is not a problem, but if you only vaguely remember that year (I'm not implying anything... really), it can be difficult. Also, if you read music, the lack of a relationship of the position from one screen to the next can be quite confusing until you get used to it.

It's also interesting to see how the game designers have tried to translate things that I swear are not actual notes into tones. I never thought that the "I get knocked down" that permeates Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping" was actually on any particular pitch, but you better sing one unless you want the black spot of the tone-deaf rating. Outright rap songs don't require such translation to notes, instead, you are evaluated by a Rap Meter, which does not discriminate according to either sex, gender, or ethnicity (so they say).

The Challenge of Harmony

For several songs, it takes a while to figure out exactly what part of the song you are supposed to be singing. For example, the climactic chorus of Seal's Kiss from a Rose features multiple voices with differing lyrics and intricate harmonies; without having played through the song before, you will have no idea which line you are supposed to singing, and that's if your ear is musical enough to separate out all the different lines. This seems to be more of a problem with the '90s edition than with previous SingStar games, as many of the featured artists built their careers as ensemble groups (En Vogue, Boyz II Men, and the New Kids on the Block). I found myself arguing with the screen about what should be the melody or just lost about what I was supposed to be doing and sounding pretty tone-deaf.

In previous SingStar games, the creators did a nice job of putting some counterpoint into the duet modes, with each player singing something slightly different, sometime singing different parts at the same time. In this game, they seem to have decided that was too hard and restricted the duets to singing either at separate times or exactly the same thing in unison. This can get a bit old; I sang "Won't you come" at the end of Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun over and over with my compatriots when it would have been easy to have divided the parts (there's the other guy in the background singing "black hole sun") and made things a little more exciting.

Two Steps Forward

This game follows in the tradition of SingStar 80s with a collection of some of the most recognizable (notice I don't say most popular or best) songs from an entire decade. Both a strength and weakness of such decade-based compilations is that they feature a diverse set of music from the time. This game includes something for everyone, from rap to R&B to grunge to pop to whatever-the-heck Chumbawumba is. While this means that almost everyone will find songs they like, it also means those songs will be only a minority of the total songs. Unless you are a far more magnanimous person than I, there will be songs that made you want to commit terrible acts of villainy. Back in the 90s, the mere mention of Wilson Phillips would drive me and most of my friends to violence (forget what Tipper Gore said about rap), and I find that this tendency does not seem to have diminished with time.

For casual enjoyment either alone or with friends, the presence of songs you personally might find unbearable is not that much of an issue. Just avoid what you dislike. But if you are playing any of the party games, the computer will pick your poison for you. The makers of the game have tried to make things a little better by providing you with "shuffle tokens" you can use to veto the random selection and chose another, but you will still end up with something of which you are not fond at some point. If you cannot possibly handle sitting through three minutes of R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" without taking a gun to your head to end the pain, you might want to stay away from team singing modes.

One Colossal Butt

One of my favorite features of the SingStar games, and this one is no exception, is the fact that you get to watch the videos as you sing along. While it is sometimes quite distracting (as when Sir Mix-A-Lot appears on your screen dancing and rapping atop an enormous butt), getting to see the videos brings back warm and fuzzy feelings for a simpler time when music television still showed the occasional music video. I am ashamed to say that I recently did a search on YouTube for Paula Abdul videos (morbid curiosity), and this game has now satisfied that dark desire.

Unlike Guitar Hero, where the box only discloses a sampling of what you will get when you play, everything you can sing is right on the back. If you find a couple song you like and perceive that you will be at least amused by a few more (as I was with my own attempts to rap along to M.C. Hammer's "U Can't Touch This"), then grab a friend or two, a beer or six, and sing into the mics however you want without worrying about the score. If you like the music, you'll have a great time, even with the game's drawbacks.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 22, 2008 3:20 PM.

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