Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: November 18, 2008
My karaoke experiences have generally been limited to the occasional bar on a weeknight, and while I've played Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and even a little bit of SingStar, I've never really felt all that compelled to sing to myself in my own living room while a game tells me what I already know, that I'm a pretty horrible singer. However, for reasons I'm not entirely sure I'll be able to convey in this review, I found Lips to be surprisingly addictive and definitely a lot of fun in a group atmosphere.
Lips is Microsoft's first attempt at cashing in on the popular music game genre without the use of Activision's Guitar Hero and MTV/Harmonix's Rock Band franchises. While Lips isn't a full band game like either of those titles, the singing mechanic here is definitely more engaging and better presented than what either company has managed to do with their respective band games. It's not quite on par with what SingStar has become, but it's a step in the right direction for Microsoft, and it can easily be built upon with downloadable content from Xbox Live.
Like most other karaoke games, Lips has you following the on-screen words while a meter determines how your vocal pitch matches up with what's intended for the song. Most of the tunes incorporate the use of the actual music videos for the background image, with a few of the older tracks using custom-made videos that look less appealing. There's no real way to fail at singing, and the game will never boot you out of a song for underperforming, but there is a score to keep track of your progress, as well as the addition of stars that can be gained if you've managed to activate the special mode by doing well and filling up the gauge.
You can pull off the special mode by moving the microphone in a certain angle, which is displayed on-screen. Once you do this and the mode is active, hitting the right pitch will net you the number of stars that show up on the pitch bars on-screen. These stars are used to level up in the game, which gives the whole thing an RPG-like feel and actually makes playing it on your own compelling and worthwhile. Since there are no song unlocks to mess with (everything is available at the start), it's a pretty good way of creating a viable single-player experience.
However, multiplayer is definitely the intended route for Lips, and since the pack includes two microphones, there's almost no reason to jump in and just play by yourself, unless you can't get anyone else drunk enough to join in. You can easily hop into a game that's already in progress simply by shaking the second microphone, turning it on anytime, and the game does a great job of gauging both voices without picking up any interference. You can opt to just play a straight-up game of karaoke as well, with no pitch judging or scoring, which is probably going to be perfect for most party settings. There's a jukebox mode as well, which constantly plays the videos and songs, allowing you to jump in at any point and play along.
Along with the regular singing mode, there are a few other mini-games that you can choose from, like one that has you diffusing an on-screen bomb by filling up a glass of water by hitting notes. You then tip the microphone to cause the water to spill out of the cup and onto the ignited fuse. There's another mode that gives you a virtual music video that's meant to mimic the movements you make with the mic. There's not a whole lot of substance to any of the additional modes, and they don't add a lot of value to the core game, but at least there's something to break of up the pace, if you want.
Scoring is handled by hitting the correct notes with your pitch, and depending on how often you're able to hit these notes, you'll rack up score multipliers to enhance your tally. At the end of the round, your score plus any stars you managed to gain are tallied up, and up to six different medals can be awarded to a player, depending on accuracy and other small feats. Not being particularly skilled, I still found the game to be pretty forgiving and often scored over a million on most of the songs, once I figured out the correct timing for using the special meter.
As far as the included mics go, they're the best microphones I've used in a video game karaoke title so far, and outside of not having rechargeable batteries, I couldn't find much to fault with them. At the very bottom of the mic, you have the power button, but you can also just shake the mic to turn it on when Lips is playing. There are small lights at the bottom of the mic as well, which change colors and pulse to the beat of the song. The mics have some weight to them, so they don't feel like little pieces of plastic in your hand, and I never had any issues with them losing a signal or not registering my voice, nor was there any delay from the mic to the system, even on an HD display.
The song selection is a pretty mixed bunch, featuring stuff from across the board, spanning over quite a few decades. The mix is mostly modern, or at least from the '90s on, but there's plenty of classic '70s and '80s tunes, including a classic Johnny Cash track. I enjoyed most of the selection, aside from a couple of modern country tracks that just aren't my thing, and I'm curious to see what type of DLC pops up for Lips in the future. One neat feature about the game is the ability to import your own songs from your PC or other device into the game, and while it doesn't give you the words on the screen to follow along, it's still fun to put on in a party setting, giving you the virtual video option to display along with the music.
The multiplayer modes in Lips are a bit basic, allowing only competitive or duet modes with two players. You can opt to let other people in on the game using the 360 controllers, which allows them to press buttons and make certain sounds during a song, like a tambourine or a wood block noise, but the appeal in doing so is obviously pretty limited. Still, playing with another person in a group setting is definitely the ideal way to go, and you can also switch out a singer whenever you choose, and since you can't fail a song, anyone with any skill can jump in and enjoy themselves.
Altogether, I really enjoyed Lips, and I definitely think Microsoft is headed in the right direction with its first karaoke attempt. I'd like to see a few more modes tossed in for multiplayer, and maybe a bit more incentive for single-player modes outside of ranking up and gaining stars, but the track list, mic construction, and overall feel of the game is definitely capturing that casual yet fun style of play. It's definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of music and rhythm games, and even if you haven't played a karaoke title before, Lips isn't a bad place to start.
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