Release Date: November 8, 2005
Karaoke Revolution - the non-Bemani Bemani game. The black sheep of the music genre. The game your friends bemoan upon seeing its presence in your collection. They nod with approval while you pound your fists on bongos, cheer while you rip through "Iron Man" (even though your flamboyant use of the whammy bar is a little silly). They even grit their teeth and say, "Yes, your dancing skills are above and beyond those we could ever hope to have." But as soon as you start crooning along with Trapt for a very special rendition of the hit single "Headstrong," the malicious laughter starts pouring out.
You wouldn't have thought Harmonix was behind this game. It's ugly, the song choices are mind-bogglingly bad (albeit up-to-speed with the target American Idol-loving crowd), and nobody feels 300 percent awesome when they play this game, as with Harmonix's other hit, Guitar Hero.
The game isn't bad. Pitch-matching works great, and the varying difficulty levels are completely fair. The trouble is in the song choices and the embarrassing presentation that simply pales in comparison with the modern classic that is Guitar Hero. Fun will be had, but playing Karaoke Revolution Party feels like hanging out with someone's "hip" grandpa who watches Fox and MTV to keep up with the trends. That is to say, you'll feel like a complete jerk, and that just might be the right atmosphere for a party with a few sardonic friends.
Party plays exactly like the first three KR games. Players sing along with a myriad of recognizable tunes while trying their best (usually in vain, which is ironically for the better in this case) to match pitches with competent professional singers like Beyonce and Mick Jagger. Not so fun alone, but with a few friends to bear witness, the fruits of your folly could become the stuff of legends within your group of friends.
To keep with the precedent of Bemani games, an on-screen pattern is needed to keep players up on what to do next. For KR games, the pitch-matching line that scrolls across the screen is less help than the usual "press this button, and then that button" setup of these games. A little thing called "intuition" is mostly what is to be relied upon, so your tone-deaf friends might not be able to use the game as a guide to sing along with all of their favorite songs.
As with most of the fun to be had with KR, the pitch-matching line is ripe for abuse. While repeated plays can help players figure out which line on the screen stands for which pitch, it is never exact because of varying scales between songs. (The guy from Trapt does not sing with the same range as Mariah Carey, in case you weren't aware.) So, for players unaware of the progression of a song, wavering the voice with the hopes of finding the right note is a common practice. It is also the unintentional reasoning as to why KR games might have a place in the face of vanilla karaoke: They force players into doing strange things with their voices that would otherwise have been lost in the ether of uninspired sounds.
Example: A friend is playing the freshly unlocked "Brick House." He is also completely unaware of the existence of the song. Familiar lines, even the ubiquitous "she's a brick - hoooouuse," are transformed into whinnying, atonal rumblings, the sound of an honest-to-god panic in hopes of finding the right tones. Now that's a party.
Speaking of unlockables, there are few important ones available in Party. There is no career mode, which is a blessing in disguise; nobody would want to take the time to sing-a-long all by themselves just to get the few locked songs and - worse yet - extra characters and clothing/accessories! There are also mini-games, which range from interesting-but-boring (pitch-controlled pong) to strange and abhorrent (stage diving).
A few new modes add to the party experience. My personal favorite is Medley, which strings multiple songs together in an embarrassing string of one-hit-wonders and, if I'm lucky, one or two okay songs. The heralded Sing and Dance mode is one that will be played by few, enjoyed by fewer; exhausted pants from most GameCube fans aren't going to help anybody hit the right pitches while Beyonce croons on the TV. Of course, as long as you know the song, you only have to pay attention to the arrows as they fly by, even if you don't know the lyrics; matching the melody is all you need. Still, it must be a scary sight to see someone humming and groaning along with Madonna while hopping around the dance mat floor.
The characters are terrible, cursed by Harmonix's strange pseudo-super-deformed style. A little Japanese influence shows, but mostly these freaks look like Bratz rejects. Yet, therein is another surprise: watching balding, deformed weirdoes shaking their hips in pink leather pants is much more appropriate for a party setting than even the PUNK RAWK/METAAAAAL avatars in Guitar Hero. The moral is: bad can be good, and that's what KR is all about.
The main negative point, graphically, is the crowd, which is composed of - I'm not joking about this - about three to five people repeated fifty to sixty times. This game isn't much of a polygon muncher, so why not go for, say, fifteen different people? Or, better yet, randomly generate clothing from the pool of accessories already in the game and have a nightmare-inducing yet entertaining bunch of weirdoes booing the player for messing up the high notes in "I Will Always Love You."
If you have multiple consoles, the GameCube version is definitely not the one to go for. It is packaged with the cheaper, Nintendo-designed microphone packaged with the latest Mario Party games - meh - and doesn't have access to Xbox Live, which, for a small fee, could potentially bring the song-count up to double the original amount (that's 100 songs!).
As a karaoke game, Party is the best available, even if it's presented in the worst way possible - a way that, again, you might love if you own the "Best Of" collection for American Idol. Real karaoke still has its place - that lets you pick good songs sometimes, too - but the strangeness inspired by Party's limitations and quirks is a great conversation piece. Guitar Hero is king, but if you got this one under the tree this Christmas, don't start pining for the receipt just yet.