SingStar for PS3
Full disclosure and all that, I spent two of my more youthful years teaching English in a southern region of Japan, and during my time in the land of the rising sun spent more hours than I'm comfortable confessing to singing karaoke while imbibing a range of local beverages.
Naturally, after two years of misspent evenings, hoarse mornings and literally tens of thousands of Yen thrust into the ether I am, if I may be so bold, something of a karaoke connoisseur. Little surprise then, that I have always been the SingStar series' greatest advocate and most discerning critic. The premise is a perfect one - karaoke perfection spread across a range of modes, both single and multiplayer, and embracing a range of musical genres.
The problems with past iterations? Well, nothing per se although the multiplayer could have been considered lacking, the song roster unbalanced or incomplete - both areas the first next-gen installment for the PS3 has sorted out to greater and lesser degrees.
But first, the basics, and long-time fans of the series will be pleased to see that very little has changed. You sing along with the various tracks on offer via a microphone attached to the console. Old-school PS2 mics will work with the PS3 version of the game, but more convenient wireless devices are also set for release. After completing your chosen number, you'll be awarded a points score based on your pitch and timing.
Original videos are offered for all of the game's tracks, but should you be so egotistically inclined you can also opt to use the PlayStation Eye in order to see your performance staring back at you as you sing along. The camera also allows you to record performances solo, or with pals, and upload them to the "My SingStar" area, where you can browse videos and photos from other budding SingStars - of both the surprisingly good, and the very very bad variety.
My SingStar is certainly very "FaceBook", and Sony will be hoping this new socially interactive community element will help lengthen the game's life span, as well as encouraging players to spend more time with the game. Which brings us neatly to the PS3's main selling point - the SingStore. As the name suggests, this is an online music store allowing the SingStar player to download new tracks for serenading friends, or warbling solo style for practice or posting online.
While there are 30 tracks that come with the game, if you want to broaden the selection you'll definitely be heading online to the SingStore in order to grab what you might call a more eclectic roster of tunes. Not that the bundled selection is in any way bad, Robbie, the Fratellis, Scissor Sisters, Killers, REM, U2 and Gorillaz offerings laughs a plenty, there just isn't a great range on offer - most of the tracks being well below 20 years old, the majority less than 10.
At 0.99 GBP or 1.49 Euro per track the Store isn't too pricey, either, although you'll be surprised how quickly the bill can run up if you go too mad with the additions. 44 tracks hit the SingStore at launch, with several hundred promised, and they all download seamlessly while you play the game. Which, you could say is just what the series needs, although there is a nagging voice in mind screaming that Sony might also have given us more 'out of the box', as it were.
Taking in the overall aesthetic of SingStar PS3 and things certainly are looking very good, the menus proving slicker than an oil slick off the Alaskan coast. EA would be proud. This is certainly a non-hardcore title that knows its audience perfectly, and while a few of the features could use a little more polish, it looks likely Sony will continue to develop the game as the online side of things progresses. For now, then, the 30 second video limit on My SingStar seems a tad mean, while browsing the online community stuff can also be a bit of chore. That said, everything still looks and sounds awesome, and when you're half-cut these minor niggles will pale as you blast through another rousing rendition 'Alright'; the neighbours hammering on the wall in fits of rage.
SingStar PS3 is an almost perfect party game, then, that will go down a treat with your friends and can be the making of a social gathering. The series has been updated well for Sony's next-generation console, and despite a few flaws - the flawed track list being the biggest - it's hard to grumble with what is, after all, dangerously compelling entertainment.