Developer: SCEE London Studio
Release Date: May 20, 2008
The new SingStar, Sony's trademark karaoke title in its PlayStation 3 debut, is the kind of game where the disc seems to get stuck in the console, and no one in the house can seem to get it unstuck. The eject button on the front deck of the PS3 seems to do the job, but it can take you a month or more to figure that out.
The game itself is well-suited for people who sing with talent, or just enjoying singing. It's not a good choice for people who don't like to sing, but who, really, doesn't like to sing? You, as I, may sing so poorly you refuse to sing in public, but show me somebody who isn't a shower or bedroom singer — granted, first making sure no one else is in the house, all the windows are sealed tight, and the neighbors are all around are on vacation — and I'll show you a sad sack, indeed. That's the magic of SingStar: it's so infectious, never mind you do-re-mi divas out there, it'll get us, the closet Bowies, Corgans, Winehouses, Orbisons and MC Hammers, out of the shower stall and into the living room belting out a good sampling of styles included with the game, underpinned by a mammoth selection of downloadable tracks available at reasonable price and a little wait (after buying, you can continue to play while you download, and your track list will update when that hot new song resides on your PS3). At last count, we're talking a bit over 200 songs, each $1.49.
Before I get down to the finer-grained details of SingStar, there is one demographic who should avoid SingStar altogether. If you've absolutely convinced yourself the SingStar titles are far more about karaoke translated to a video game than they are the joy of unabashed singing with friends and family, or even alone, if you prefer; and you also find karaoke the silliest cultural phenomenon known to mankind, you may safely move along.
Otherwise, it's time to get down with SingStar, PS3-style.
The game certainly benefits from the improved graphics and audio of the new model Sony console. The accompanying music videos are available for all songs, disc or download. Don't for a moment take lightly that amazing, antique, degraded video tape of Joy Division performing "Love Will Tear Us Apart" sometime not too long before tragedy aligned that band with a new order. Let's not forget the hilarious, still completely lovable "Happy Days" TV program theme of Weezer's "Buddy Holly" video. Video content will be made available for some songs in glorious high definition. At the time of this writing, it's a standard-def world in the SingStar store, but the video content in the store listings is labeled as to format, and HD is indeed coming.
HD video isn't much of a perk when it's your turn to sing, but it definitely enhances the experience of those waiting to join in with one of the two microphones provided with the SingStar PS3 bundle. (The PS3 game uses the same USB adapter and microphone technology as its PlayStation 2 predecessors; if you're already in possession of the mics from your PS2 version, all you need buy is the PS3 title itself, at a $20 savings. The bundle itself sells for $60, not more than any other top-billed PS3 game.) Apparently, Bluetooth wireless microphones were in the works, may indeed still be in the works, but if you have much experience with Bluetooth headsets with your cell phones — even the best, most outlandishly expensive models — if the Bluetooth SingStar mics find daylight, you may be better off sticking with what you've got and just dealing with a little cable crisscross Twister on a particularly wild night.
In this new version, similar to some prior versions, SingStar implements tight integration with the capabilities of the improved PS Eye USB camera for PS3 (oh, the PS2's Eyetoy also works with the new game), and features the expected solo, competition and duet modes, plus some extras. Notably, SingStar PS3 now has the option to completely remove vocals from songs, or fade them out while you're singing, and bring the vocals back in if you flub something like that deadpan, rapping madman Beck, requiring you to pause and a get a re-cue.
The new SingStar tracks, both the ones included in the retail package and the downloadable songs, are, per usual for the series, single-track masters. This means that the developers don't have the vocal track, or any individual track, available to them to easily separate vocal tracks from the original studio masters. Thus, the vocal elimination in the title relies on digital trickery. I know audio engineers who can take just about any single-track master and ditch the vocals, and, though less often but still impressively, spare the vocals and lose everything else. It's witchcraft, I swear.
Even this magic requires tweaking and adjustments made by skilled human interaction, though. In SingStar, the digital filter does what it can with what it has. In some tracks, vocal elimination will approach sublime, and for other tracks, it won't work at all, so the reasonable expectation lies somewhere in between. You'll have to play with your favorites included in the retail package and via download, and see what suits you. At worst, you're no poorer in this feature than the PS2 SingStars, which couldn't even attempt vocal elimination.
The big, big extra in SingStar is, clearly, the downloadable content, but also the new My SingStar Online integration with PlayStation Network. To make grossly obvious comparisons, My SingStar Online is the Flickr and YouTube of music games. With a PS Eye (or EyeToy), you can take snapshots and upload them to your profile accounts; you can also make short video clips of your performances and upload them, too. SingStar PS3 doesn't tie you to owning PS3 Eye or an older EyeToy, so if no camera is attached, you can upload audio only. This is a nice feeling if your wallet isn't interested in a game console video camera, but it's also handy for parents who want to let their children share their singing online but aren't too psyched about making their kids' images available to the SingStar world. Simply enough, just unplug the camera before you start the game. And, yes, inveterate — invertebrate? — shower-singers extraordinaire, you can save all self-made media only to your personal PS3, limiting access to you and your nosy relations.
To make a comparison appropriate to the genre of music games, SingStar is to crooning as Guitar Hero is to the axe. Neither one offers the near-full-service experience of Rock Band, but quite a few music genre gamers who like both Rock Band and Guitar Hero will quickly point to the Guitar Hero franchise as the highlight in full-on shredding. The same goes for SingStar: It's not what you want instead of singing in Rock Band, it's what you want for full attention to the vocals.
SingStar is about the most enjoyable family/social game I've played in a long while — even considering a few top Nintendo Wii party-game titles. One of the highlights of SingStar is that you can suck at singing — and when I say "suck", I mean really suck, because I'm talking about myself — and, unlike Rock Band, you'll never fail out of the song. You just score poorly, but you get to keep playing, as does everyone else. SingStar is also the perhaps the most glitch- and frustration-free game I've enjoyed on any current-gen console. Sure, it's essentially a very simple game in terms of graphics, and it lacks multiplayer online chat and other elements that often cause developers the hairiest nightmares, but getting a simple game spot-on solid, without exhibiting complacency or sloppy design, deserves a solid slap on the back.
If you like to sing, even just a bit, you'll love SingStar PS3. The packages tallies well: all of the venerable favorite features, plus My SingStar Online, a raft of downloadable content well spread from 1960s rockabilly classic to latter-day progressive mood-rock (I made up that genre just now, on the spot, but go ahead and faint because Mercury Rev's "Goddess On A Hiway" is indeed available this moment as SingStar DLC). Even your own catastrophic failures can make you smile an hour or a day later. For purely innocent window-peeping entertainment, watching other players online in their so-called failures, which are often signature moments in community-based gaming, is a blast. I highly recommend this game.
More articles about SingStar