Genre: Rhythm / Music
Release Date: March 18, 2008
Everybody wants to be a star. Whether you're watching the latest dance competition reality show or watching somebody belt out a few tunes on your favorite music video, everybody has looked at the screen with no small amount of disdain and declared, "I could totally do that!" You may sing like a virtuoso who ought to have his own recording contract or sound like a dying cat in heat who should be put out of his (and everyone else's) misery, but we all like to think that our vocal chords are just as good as the next guy's, even if the next guy happens to be a multimillionaire superstar who could buy and sell you every 10 minutes for the rest of your life. Enter Singstar '90s, a compilation of some of the best tunes the previous decade had to offer and a chance to show off your vocal range and accuracy. Well … sort of, anyway.
Don't let the final sentence of the previous paragraph mislead you into thinking that Singstar '90s is anything less than a fine example of presentation because if there's anything it does well, it's being pretty. Graphically, it offers a very crisp and smooth feel, with each option easily distinguishable from the other. The real story here is that each song that's offered for your perusal actually comes with its own music video. Singstar went the extra mile and picked up the actual footage from the music videos so that they could add a visual flair to the presentation that titles like Karaoke Revolution are sorely lacking. MTV, eat your heart out. (You see, MTV wasn't always just a reality TV station and used to play music videos with some degree of regularity.)
Mind you, Singstar '90s is a musical title, and games like this can easily live or die based on the selection of available songs. It looks like someone at SCE kept that in mind when developing this title because it quickly becomes clear that Singstar really pulled out all the stops to ensure a lineup of some of the best songs from its titular decade. All of the truly great songs are here, from Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" to Paula Abdul's "Opposites Attract."
Even one-hit wonders are present, simply because they're so iconic to the decade that we still readily recognize them almost 10 full years later. Sure, Chumbawamba never scored a hit beyond "Tubthumping," and the career of the Spin Doctors went spiraling down the drain after "Two Princes," but these are songs that personify the decade, and perhaps most importantly, they were just a lot of fun to listen to. I challenge you not to chair-dance, even with some of the more questionable inclusions, such as Hootie and the Blowfish's "I Only Wanna Be With You" and Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up." I can only assume that songs like these were included to make us more appreciative of the better selections, but this game still bats a pretty good average in the musical department.
Gameplay, regrettably, leaves something to be desired. While it's true that singing along to each song follows the actual tune fairly well, there is such a vocal range to be had that you pretty much have to be a professional singer if you're going to ace several of the songs, and you're going to need to be able to swap out your vocal chords on the fly if you're interested in doing well on all of them. Worse yet, some of the bars randomly speed up, hurrying you through them when you thought you might have a little time to recover and adjust the pitch of your voice, which tends to artificially drag down your average. The greatest offender of all in terms of gameplay is, to this reviewer's great disappointment, the rap songs. No matter how correct you are, no matter how perfectly you nail each individual syllable, the game will seem to randomly decide to dock you points. This removes a lot of fun from those tracks, and when you consider that many of the best tracks are the rap selections, it's really a kick in the teeth to a title that otherwise has such polish.
Furthermore, while it's true that the option to play an abbreviated version of each song assists those of us who haven't taken professional singing classes, the unfortunate fact is that there simply isn't a lot of variety to Singstar '90s. There are no unlockables to speak of and not much in the way of challenge; even the ability to play in duet mode with a partner can't save this game from the being relegated to the shelf after 30 minutes of play. It's also worth considering that this title carries the distinction of being one of the few games that I would recommend only for players 18 years or older. It's not because of sex or gore or anything like that, but because anyone under that age really won't have the same level of appreciation that older gamers possess for these somewhat nostalgic offerings.
While the recent dearth of music-based games makes for a fertile ground for titles like Singstar '90s to shine, it also creates an environment where competition is fierce and developers really need to step it up a notch if they want gamers to consider spending their dollars on a title. In some alternate reality where the Guitar Hero developers had been hit by a bus before making their game, this title might have a chance as a party game; as it stands, it doesn't even rank second place.