sgtreznor's Def Jam Rapstar (Xbox 360) review

FINALLY, a music game for hiphop-heads

No matter what your taste in music, most of the music rhythm games these days have your needs attended to - except if you're into hip-hop and rap. Some might argue that titles like Singstar has the odd rap song here and there, but these are generally just your generic karaoke classics, but if you've got a real love of hiphop, you're pretty much forgotten about ... Until now. Def Jam have taken a step away from their fighting games to fill the gap with their hiphop music game, with the self-explanitory title called Def Jam Rapstar.

The layout of the game is fairly basic and follows a lot of the other music rhythm games: There's a career mode, where you work through a series of songs, have a few challenges along the way to test your timing and flow, during which you unlock more songs along the way. There's also a party mode, where you just pick any of the songs (provided they've been unlocked in Career mode), where you can rap through a customised playlist, duet with someone, or even throw down and challenge them to a battle. There's also a freestyle mode where you can write and record your own raps over the top of a list of backing tracks - you can even film the peformance and upload it to the community site where fellow MCs can praise/mock your skills, but we'll get to that later.

Much of the success of this game really does depend on your knowledge and familiarity of the material, so suffice to say that if you don't like hiphop, you're not going to like Def Jam Rapstar. Even if you do like it, but you don't know the song, you'll be just mumbling or making random noises into the mic, which is never fun for anybody. The game doesn't really help you out either when tackling tracks you may not have heard before - unlike your usual Rock Band titles, the little bouncing ball above the lyrics doesn't bounce in any structured time-scheme, so sometimes you'll get a line where the little yellow ball bounces nice and slowly in time, only to be followed up by a line that bounces through faster than you can blink.

Another frustrating thing about this title is the tracklist. Generally when a game's released, we get the UK version if there's no localised version for Australia. Normally this makes zero difference, but in the UK version of Def Jam Rapstar, there's a large portion of UK hip-hop artists. Generally speaking, not a lot of UK hip-hop makes it to our shores, so even though I love my hip-hop, there's a fairly sizeable chunk of artists here that I've never heard of - Chipmunk? Bashy? Tinchy Stryder? TINCHY. STRYDER. Is that even a word?? I'm all for expanding my hip-hop knowledge, but the killer here is that these tracks have replaced some of what's on the US version. I would trade any of these tracks to get Ice Cube's Today Was A Good Day or even Slick Rick's Children's Story back on my disc.

The other problem with the tracklist is the fact that this game is released by a music label. Now, Def Jam is pretty much the ultimate of labels in the hip-hop world, so there's a lot here on offer - but there's still a lot here that's missing. I understand the licensing issues that music games have, but the weakness really shows. For example, they have a Beastie Boys song on the tracklist, but because Beastie Boys went their own way fairly early on in their career, the only license they have permission for is their track Brass Monkey, which is probably one of the worst songs they could've picked from their massive back catalogue. It amazes me how can you have a hip-hop game without a single Jay-Z track. Personally, I'm a huge fan of Aussie hip-hop, so I can't help but think how great it'd be to be able to rap along with my favourite artists.

But despite my annoyance at the songs that aren't there, the songs that ARE there, are pretty solid, covering an impressive range of styles that also create a fairly accurate timeline of how far things have come - from tracks like Rob Base's classic It Takes Two, all the way to the newer style with artists like Lil Wayne and Soulja Boy. Although saying that, the Soulja Boy track, Turn My Swag On, is quite possibly the worst song I've ever heard in my entire life. Seriously, I think I'd rather hear the final death rattle of my only child than be forced to listen to that song ever again.

And at the end of the day, if you don't like the raps that are on setlist, you can make your own! This is where the game truly shines, and the ability to separate the true MCs from the rest of the pack is right here. There's a number of backing tracks here for you to throw your own raps over the top. Just pick your favourite track, and let loose. With added vocal effects and a wide range of styles to pick from, no matter what your style of flow, there's going to be something there to keep the rhymes going for days. Easily one of my favourite parts of the game.

As well as just rapping along with your favourite tracks, you can also record 30 second videos yourself spitting some dope rhymes! Rapstar has Xbox Vision and Kinect compatibility, meaning that you can record your rhymes, and upload it to the thriving online community!


The Community side of Rapstar is one of the big points for this game - the sense of community here is huge. Both within the game, and on their website, you can upload your favourite videos, watch other videos, rate your favourites, and even battle with other MCs around the world. If you've explored the online community that Singstar has, it's very much along these same lines.

The one downside is that the site is almost unusable. Many of the features are still "coming soon" despite the game being out in the US for nearly 3 months now. Most of the videos take forever to load, and the whole site can be so goddamn sluggish that I end up just rage-quitting and closing the window. Which is a damn shame, because I love the idea behind what they're trying to achieve here and there seems to be enough people trying to use it, but the end result disappointing to say the least.


PROS
- great range of songs that not only make a great set-list, but serve as a great timeline for hip-hop over the years
- the Freestyle section is perfect for budding MCs, or even people who have never had a chance to write their own raps
- playing it with a group of friends who are all hiphop heads is GUARANTEED a fun time
- the Community side allows you to show off your skills to the world

CONS
- great artists, yet questionable song choices
- familiarity with the songs are a must 
- the 'Community' section is slow and sluggish
- the Rapstar website that is used for a lot of the Community aspect could've been integrated with the game better

Despite the problems that this game has, it's a solid release into a game genre that's desperate for attention, so it's great to see Def Jam stepping up and trying something new. Yes, the hip-hop karaoke game has been tried before, but with disappointing results, but here it looks like we're getting much closer to a true quality release. Hopefully over the next few months we'll see some a wider range of DLC available - hopefully DLC that even crosses labels.

If you love hip-hop, then you're going to love this release and I can't recommend it highly enough - do it now 'cos tomorrow 'aint promised today

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