All these karaoke video games have got it all wrong. All of them focus on scoring you based on how well you can emulate the pitch and cadence of the original song. But actual karaoke, actually getting up and singing songs has very little to do with how well you can sing like the dude from Creed or whatever. It's about embarrassment. It's about self-deprecation. It's about making a song your own. It's about public drunkenness. It's about jumping out of your seat like a lunatic and rushing to whatever passes for a stage because your friend just got up to sing Build Me Up Buttercup. Back on the PlayStation 2, Sony's SingStar series was popular, but it only provided the basic ability to judge your singing. But on the PlayStation 3, it provides something that more closely resembles what karaoke is all about.
Of course, the basic concept of SingStar hasn't really changed. The game provides players with songs to sing, and an on-screen display shows you the pitches you should be hitting and the words you should sing. The closer you get to this, the higher your score. You can sing by yourself or with another player. At the end of a song, your score is saved to a local leaderboard.
Sounds pretty normal, to the point of being boring. That's why it's a good thing that SingStar on the PlayStation 3 makes use of the PlayStation Eye camera and the console's online abilities to create a community of people, around the world, singing songs and uploading 30-second clips of the performances to a central server. In the game's online area, you can create and edit your profile and dig through the profiles of others and watch them sing. That sounds pretty standard and not all that exciting, and I was pretty skeptical about the whole thing at first, but once you dive in and start watching what people are uploading, it's easy to get absolutely hooked.
The My SingStar Online section quickly turns into one of those revelatory moments where technology makes the world seem just a little smaller. This becomes especially noticeable when you start looking at the list of latest uploads, which is full of people from around the world, and they're doing more than just singing. The best videos are brief performance pieces, from the trio of guys who re-enact a piece of a Supergrass video, to the guy in the UK who dons a Chewbacca costume and dances around to the Scissor Sisters, to the two girls who sing innocently while their boyfriends sneak up from behind and dump water on their heads, to the American kid singing Natalie Imbruglia while dressed up like a Ghostbuster, these videos feel like a window into living rooms from around the world.
The videos are automatically created whenever you play. Each song has a specific 30-second section that's recorded, and an on-screen icon lets you know when the camera is rolling. At the end of each performance, you can go through and watch your clip, listen to the audio portion of your performance, and look at ten snapshots that are taken over the course of the song. You can opt to save any of those to your hard drive. From the saved media area, you can choose to upload your clips for the rest of the world to see. Content can be rated on a five-star scale, and it's easy to check how many views and the rating of your stuff from your online profile page. With all of this going on, the game's scoring system seems irrelevant--the judgment of your peers feels way more interesting and, unlike that dopey computer, other humans can judge you on style.
The constant with all music games is that they live and die by the quality and quantity of their song list. Previous SingStar games have been broken up by genre, letting the country fans sing country in peace without having to deal with any rock or rap. The PS3 version of SingStar attempts to throw multiple genres together, which means you probably won't like every single song in the game. There are 30 songs on the disc from artists like Amy Winehouse, Beck, David Bowie, OutKast, Pixies, The Cardigans, Warrant, and Weezer. But you can also get online and buy additional songs for $1.49 each. The downloads are usually around 60MB each, and you get the song, as well as a version of the music video that has been cut up a bit to work on a 16:9 screen. The game launched with 200 songs already available.
There are a couple warnings to consider when purchasing SingStar and buying songs out of the online store. For starters, your online purchases are locked to the PS3 that downloads them. So if you want to bring songs to a friend's house, be prepared to pack up your PS3. Also, the game only works with Sony's SingStar microphones. If you have a Rock Band mic or any other USB microphone, you're still out of luck. If you have SingStar mics from any of the PS2 releases, however, you're set. If not, the game is offered in two pacakges, one with mics and one without.
Now, some of you are undoubtedly super-shy and would never dream of letting the world see you, in your bedroom, singing. That's fine. But if you're a little more extroverted and want a sanctioned location to look like a jackass, or if creatively creating 30-second videos to the delight or disgust of an online audience is up your alley, SingStar is kind of amazing. Just don't rock a Kangol hat and a wrestling belt when you sing--that's my thing.