Release Date: April 3, 2007
One of the biggest shows on television this time of year is FOX's "American Idol." Just about everyone wants to be a music star somewhere deep down inside, so a show about average people becoming famous, by way of some inspired singing, really touches upon the idyllic dream that anyone can make it in America if they try hard enough. Because of the success of Idol, karaoke bars have begun springing up left and right as hopeful singers want their time in the spotlight, regardless of whether or not their voices are worthy of it. Keying in on this phenomenon, game companies have made an effort to give those people, who may not necessarily be good enough to make it on national television, a chance to shine from the comfort of their very own living room — with karaoke-based video games! The most recent musical offering of this sort is Singstar Pop, published and developed by Sony Computer Entertainment.
The Singstar franchise has been going strong in Europe for a while but just recently found its way over to the States. Sony had already previously released a Singstar title in the U.S., named Singstar Rocks, with a focus more on rock music, obviously. Singstar Pop has now hit the shelves with a promise of heavy-hitting diva power, a plethora of Disney alumni and a mountain of pop-punk melodies galore, to keep you singing and shaking your groove thang on through the wee hours of the night. You can pick up either Rock or Pop with a pair of USB microphones packaged in, or purchase them separately, as game only, after you've bought one or the other. So, if your musical tastes are all over the spectrum, there's no need for you to worry about being confined to a single genre.
Unlike other karaoke-influenced games, the Singstar titles come with every track already unlocked and at your disposal. You choose to either play it in Solo mode, or in Party mode if you have people over, and then sing your heart out to one of the game's 30 available tracks. There's no urgency to pile up high scores right away to earn new songs, so you don't have to worry about unnecessary pressure to deliver a solid performance, but it also takes away from the game, as you don't have anything to look forward to once you've tried your hand at all of the songs that are immediately available. This can be even more bothersome if you only happen to know a handful of tracks from the game's song list. You'll more than likely end up only sticking to whichever songs you know and forgetting the rest, since there's no real motivation to do otherwise, other than the money you just dropped on the game's purchase.
Where Singstar Pop really manages to shine is when it's added into a party setting. You can invite some friends over, drink some social-skills-enhancement beverages and have a hell of a good time. Singstar delivers seven different party-style game modes, and they're easy to pick up and understand from the start. You can set how many players will be participating, and then the game will instruct you as to when you need to pass the mic to the next player. In Battle mode, two players from opposing teams will sing the same song at the same time, and whoever gets the highest score in the end wins, while in Duet mode, two players from the same team will sing a song together and be awarded a combined score.
The other modes available are Medley, where each player will sing a medley of songs; First to the Post, where the first player to 5,000 points wins; Keep it Up, where a player from each team has to keep the performance bar above a set marker for as long as possible; Micro-Medley, where a player from each team sings a micro-medley; and Pass the Mic, where each person sings for a set period of time and then passes the microphone on to the next player.
When you sing any song in the game, your performance is evaluated by pitch, timing and the ability to sustain longer notes. The game scoring itself all depends on a few variables, though. You're able to choose whether you want the game to judge your vocals with a little more leeway, or go Simon Cowell on your ass with bitter harshness, by way of three selectable difficulties at the beginning of each song: Easy, Medium or Hard. You'll then be presented with your chosen song's accompanying music video, except for a few tunes that use random band footage instead, as the lyrics and the proper note pitch display across the screen. By successfully hitting notes on pitch and doing so with proper timing, you'll be able to build up combo modifiers and rack your score up higher than usual. Obviously, the more familiar you are with a certain song, the better your chances are, but the game keeps track of the note you need to hit as well as which note you're actually singing at all times, so you can usually still half-ass a song you've never heard before in your life and come away with a decent score.
Singstar Pop doesn't necessarily have anything that would constitute in-game visuals, unless you consider streaming video a graphical achievement. The presentation is very sound, though, and the audio sample rates on the game's song list must be particularly high, as they all will sound fantastic over your television speakers or home theater system. If you happen to have the EyeToy peripheral, you can attach a personal photo to your profile, or even replace the music video footage that plays in the background with live video of yourself and your friends. It's also rather impressive that the game allows you to play back your entire performance, and even add all types of hilarious vocal effects, such as a robotic tone or making yourself sound like a chipmunk.
While there's not really a lot to Singstar Pop, everything it does offer is of relatively high quality. The songs sound crisp and clear, the interface is extremely user-friendly for people of all ages and tech skill, and the microphones themselves are very responsive; also, on the definite plus side, both the game and microphones are compatible with the PS3. Anyone who listens to mainstream radio, or tunes into MTV or VH-1 when either of the channels are actually playing music videos, will be familiar with almost every song on the game's soundtrack, and the music videos are an added bonus.
The only problems consumers may find with Pop's soundtrack is that with only 30 songs, it's quite lacking compared to other games of its type, and, surprisingly, there's a clear absence of any musical groups from the boy band era, such as N*Sync, the Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees. There aren't even any tracks by the solo artists from those groups — "No Justin Timberlake! OMG!" With people over, though, Singstar definitely has the potential to be an instant crowd-pleaser and the life of your party, especially if large quantities of alcohol are involved. Unfortunately, if you're hoping to get a worthwhile experience out of Singstar Pop straight out of the package, with a substantial single-player mode, you're going to be left severely disappointed.