The Rapstars Are Takin' Over...
Note - The videos are from my Ustream channel of me rapping... so I'll leave it at that.
The hip-hop genre has been left out of the dust in the modernized boom of rhythm gaming that is dominated by the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises. Instruments are fun and all plus there are exceptions of including some rap songs in these games and other karaoke games like Singstar. However, there has never been a true karaoke game that defines rap music. In other words, there has never been a game that is really meant for rappers that want to spit their game to the world. Get on the Mic was the first and lame attempt at it, but Konami and 4mm Games decided to make things right with Def Jam Rapstar. The karaoke element is spot on for a game like this, but its the extra community features that makes Rapstar something special in the rhythm genre. The potential is also there for things to come as it lays out a solid framework to how to make a good rapping game and plus it is one of the cheaper party games to get this holiday season on consoles.
If you have been a veteran of karaoke games, Def Jam Rapstar is simply SingStar but mainly hip-hop and rap focused compared to all the poppy stuff SingStar offers. This is definitely a game meant to be loved by hip-hop and rap fans, because if you're not from the get go, then you might as well stick with SingStar on the Playstation 3 or Lips on the Xbox 360. There are three modes in Rapstar with Party, Career, and Freestyle. Party mode is basically your quickplay mode where you can play any song along with making playlists if you want to rap consecutive songs. It is pretty straightforward when it comes with this mode especially playing alone or with another player. Multiplayer consists of duet and battle modes where players can duet rapping verses at a time or be certain rappers for the song (One player as Dr. Dre and the other as Snoop Dogg in "Nuthin' But A G Thang" as an example) while battle is both players rapping out the same song and the higher score wins. The duets are handled pretty well for the most part as there are standout songs where they shine. Career mode is the bread and butter of the game as play tiers of songs for mics to unlock the next stage and status of the game as the goal is to well, become a Def Jam Rapstar. It is unfortunate that some songs, especially the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Big Poppa" are locked from the get go as you have to play the career mode to unlock them. You think by now rhythm game developers have learned that all songs in these games have to playable from the start, but yet they still haven't figured that out in 2010. Then again, it does give incentive for players to play career mode to unlock those songs and other customizable elements which I'll mention later on. Plus, there are various quick challenges that test your timing and scoring skills for more microphones such as getting scoring a certain number in a limited number of phrases. Freestyle mode allows players to simply freestyle with beats given by the game. This plays a huge part in the video uploads as players can show what they're capable of besides the main songs in the game.
Players are judged by lyrics, timing, and pitch (in certain songs) in Rapstar. While knowing the lyrics and having good timing are key factors towards getting a high score, you do have to sing to have a good pitch rating in some songs. This is usually the case with songs that have ladies singing the choruses. In addition, you can BS the lyrics to a certain extent as long as you keep your timing and combo multiplier going since all you have to do to max out the orange bar in the various phrases to score points. Once you fill up a yellow meter next to the one I just mentioned, you will activate platinum power, the game's version of star power that doubles your multiplier. It is still though about having a high score keeping that multiplier active throughout a whole song to get those "Off the Chain" ratings and be up high on the leaderboards. Even the difficulties don't have that much of a difference as the game can still be pretty generous even on hard if you don't know the song that well, but there is an unlockable expert difficulty where you rap without the lyrics being displayed. The major other feature of Rapstar is the community aspect where you can customize and upload videos to the game itself and its website for other people to watch and rate as long as you have a Playstation Eye or the Xbox Live Vision camera (also Kinect when it comes out too according to the developers). The video customization ranges from adding audio and visual effects to make your performance stand out from just another video of you rapping in some room. These videos of your performances or freestyles can are uploaded in 30 second chunks for the whole world to see. It is pretty similar to SingStar to how these community features play out besides customizing your videos like crazy having an echo and some money flashing on the screen.
The tracklist is basically all the songs you can think of that has influenced rap in a major way throughout its whole history from the 80s like "It Takes Two" to more recent stuff. The artist lineup is also a who's who of the rap game over the years from Slick Rick with "Children's Story," Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Notorious B.I.G., and 2Pac along with the artists of today with Kanye West, Lil' Wayne, 50 Cent, and Drake. While I'm happy with most of the tracklist the main game offers in terms of the diversity of serious and party-like songs, there are some songs by artists that make you cringe like Ja Rule, Soulja Boy (even though "Turn My Swag On" is one of those guilty pleasure songs which I'll admit), and others I would namedrop. At least there's downloadble songs in the future assuming Konami and 4mm Games go by a weekly schedule releasing them, but who knows how long the wave of DLC will last pending on the game's success and demand by the community. The major disappointment in Rapstar at its core is the fact that radio edits are used in all these songs along with their edited out music videos. You can still curse in the game if you know which ones pop up, but it is bleeped out in the lyrics' display and it can disrupt the whole flow of the performance.
Despite some glaring flaws, Def Jam Rapstar is truly the karaoke game hip-hop and rap fans have been waiting for years. Finally, someone made things right making a game for those that their dreams of being a rapper. The usage of radio edits in all the songs is disappointing, but keep in mind Konami had to release this thing with a Teen rating. It would be nice to play these songs uncensored later down the road, but come to think of it, a Mature-rated karaoke game does not really make that much sense from a business standpoint. The tracklist is very solid including songs that were big back in the day and still are today along with more recent tracks the kids are used to these days since you have to attract as many people as possible. Sure there are missing artists due to licensing issues by other publishers, but the potential of weekly DLC is a good thing for the future to keep players busy. Speaking of keeping players busy, the community features will keep this game going for the long run with the video uploads, freestyle mode, and online leaderboards. Generally, it is those party games that everyone that knows rap music can enjoy and it is at an affordable price of 70 dollars with a microphone compared to the triple digit bundles that DJ Hero 2 and Rock Band 3 will have. There is indeed lots of potential with Def Jam Rapstar as it is right now and hopefully it can become a legitimate franchise in the future.
- Solid tracklist having the who's who of rap music.
- Community features like customizable videos that can be uploaded and rated will keep this game going,
- Core rapping/singing mechanics are also solid,
- One of the cheaper new party games to get this holiday season.
- Radio edits for all the songs as the blurred out lyrics can be distracting at times
- Some songs are locked, which is unfortunate but it does force you to play career mode
- If you're not a fan of hip-hop and rap music, then this game is simply not for you.