Review: Singstar Vol. 2 (Sony PS3)

Singstar Vol. 2
Genre: Singing/Rhythm game
Developer: SCEE London
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: 10/28/08


A word, before we begin: as Singstar Vol. 2 is functionally identical to the original PS3 Singstar, which was released earlier this year, so too will the review be mostly identical. There’s no reason to re-write a review if Sony isn’t interested in renovating the game; as such, new commentary will be italicized, while the core content of the review will remain unchanged. If you’ve read that review already, feel free to skip to the italicized text. Suffice it to say, however, if you own Singstar already, whether or not you feel the need to own Singstar Vol. 2 will depend exclusively on whether or not you feel the need to spend forty dollars on more songs; if you do, this is good, but if not, it isn’t.

So, okay, yes, there’s no story, so let’s talk gameplay modes. There’s solo and duet singing, as well as the typical “Pass the Mic” play that lets you switch players mid-song to compete for points in various ways. Generally speaking, there’s plenty of gameplay variety here, and as there’s nothing to unlock or compete for, it’s really all about the singing for fun, which is actually pretty entertaining; the game fulfills its requirement as a party game that you can just grab some friends and play without having to spend hours unlocking everything (*coughEveryNintendoGameOnTheWiihack*) to get maximum enjoyment out of the experience. There’s also the option to upload videos and audio clips of yourself singing online for other people to judge; while many of us are, most likely, atrocious singers for real, it’s nice to know that we might be able to listen to people who don’t butcher songs on the service, if such a thing appeals to you.

Visually, instead of having a customized digital avatar sing and shake their booty on-stage as scores are earned, Singstar Vol. 2 simply shows you the music video of the song you’re singing (which is amusing if you’ve forgotten how awful 90’s music videos were, if nothing else) and the interface (words to sing, pitches to hit, the normal). Generally speaking, the videos are all top quality, and the interface looks good enough and works well enough in context. As far as the audio goes, the songs are the exact songs as they were originally recorded, so they’re pretty much spot on, and the one or two background tunes that pop up during menu selections and such are cute and inoffensive; generally, the aural presentation in the product is of top quality, though your mileage may vary insofar as actual content is concerned.

The content, for those wondering, once again follows the “thirty songs per disc” format of the prior games, and as such, the content of the track list will be what interests you. As such, it bears noting that a significantly large amount of the tracklist consists of instantly recognizable tunes, from Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” to The Mamas & The Papas’ “California Dreamin'” to Yael Naim’s “New Soul” and beyond, and whether or not you’re tired of some of the songs in the list, in general, the list is solid. That said, more than a few tracks are either wholly unnecessary (Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten”, which is downloadable from the Singstore) or fall into the category of not being songs one would immediately pick to sing from an artist (Eminem’s “Without Me”, Radiohead’s “Street Spirit”, Gnarls Barkley’s “Run (I’m A Natural Disaster)” and The Killers’ “When You Were Young”… and, while we’re on this subject, to everyone out there making music games: STOP PUTTING “WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG” INTO GAMES; THE SONG IS ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE, AND WE’VE BEEN SUBJECTED TO IT IN SOMETHING LIKE SIX GAMES NOW I mean really) when other songs are available. That said, the significant amount of rap/hip-hop tracks in the game (mostly classic songs like Tone Loc’s “Funky Cold Medina” and Young MC’s “Bust a Move”, though these songs are still awesome), combined with the fact that “Without Me” is mostly unedited and hilarious to play with friends makes the track list mostly recommendable, though the fact that there’s a significant amount of unedited profanity in the aforementioned song might make parents want to consider their purchase of the game for younger kids, just in case.

As far as gameplay is concerned, well, as I’ve said before, it’s a karaoke game; if you know what that means (whether it be from Rock Band or Karaoke Revolution or whatever) then hey, great, skip the next paragraph. If not, well, here you are:

“The gameplay in Singstar Vol. 2 consists almost entirely of singing, which probably isn’t much of a surprise. As in previous Singstar games, the words are displayed at the bottom of the screen, along with a series of bars that appear directly above it, some of which may be glittering. Your objective is to match the pitch of the actual song, so that your vocals trace across the bar, thus earning you points, moreso if you complete the glittering bars. If you’re off-pitch, your vocals will pop up either or above or below the bar you’re aiming for so as to indicate how off you are so that you can adjust, so you can adjust your pitch to try and score regardless. Depending on how you do, you’re given any one of a number of different descriptors like “Hopeful” based on your score. The game judges neither words nor tone, so you need not sound like Villie Valo to sing “Wings of a Butterfly” (and could we please get “Buried Alive By Love” in the Singstore at some point or another please?), nor do you have to sing the actual lyrics. The downside of this is that you can simply hum and earn points with no penalty, but on the upside, if you’re so inclined, you can feel free to come up with your own words to the songs and sing those instead. The game seems to respond well to your voice, and so long as your microphone works and you can match the pitch of the song, you should have no issues to speak of with the gameplay.”

Aren’t uniform gameplay mechanics wonderful?

For those who’ve played Karaoke Revolution, the Karaoke Revolution and Singstar games differ from one another, as noted, in how the lyrics are displayed; Karaoke Revolution games show the lyrics as the blue bars come onto the screen, while Singstar games show the lyrics and the pitch bars one section after the next, with completed sections disappearing as new sections pop up. Basically, both styles have their strengths and weaknesses, but if you’ve played one, you can adjust to the other well enough, and if you haven’t played either one, you can still figure out how the game works with little to no difficulty. Those who have played Rock Band or Guitar Hero: World Tour will notice that both of these sorts of modes are supported in these games, thus allowing you to pick and choose your favorite play styles, so if you haven’t played a game of this sort before Singstar Vol. 2, no worries; just change the singing type from “Scrolling” to “Static” and test that out, and BAM, you’ve tested Singstar. If you know how a song goes, you’ll obviously be better off than if you don’t, but you can learn the song well enough with a little time, assuming you want to, and if you can match the pitch, you’re golden either way. Singstar Vol. 2 also offers rap sections in songs or entire rap tracks, where the song grades your “rapping” by judging if you match the tone of the original rap, more or less, without forcing you to hit the appropriate notes exactly. Singstar Vol. 2 also offers up “Freestyle” sections where you can pretty much do whatever you want (the game doesn’t score freestyle), so if you want to make an ass of yourself or whatever by making up your own little freestyle rap or song, by all means, knock yourself out, though if you don’t, you’re not obligated to do so either.

In the prior Singstar review, there was a section here that discussed the changes from the UK and American releases and how the changes from one to the other seemed unfortunate. However, while Mr. Lucard seems to feel the UK release of the game features a better track listing, having looked over both, frankly, I can say that most of the removed songs in this release aren’t songs many people are going to miss. This isn’t to say that the track lists aren’t different; on the contrary, the UK and US releases are DRAMATICALLY different from one another, it’s just that most of the songs in the UK release aren’t particularly memorable in comparison to the songs in the US release. Of the UK track list, the only notable songs excluded from the US release are Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing”, Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration”, Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City”, and Nirvana’s “Lithium”; everything else is either available as downloadable content (see next paragraph) or isn’t particularly notable, as it received little US recognition and/or airplay. The track listing change in this case seems to be catered more to the fact that there are taste differences based on what side of the ocean you live on, and as such, US players get songs from Gnarles Barkley, Pink, Paramore, and Natasha Bedingfield, while UK audiences get songs from Blur, Maximo Park, Morrissey and Spandu Ballet. If the aforementioned acts appeal to you, however, you might be a little disappointed that you’re getting Elton John instead of George Michael, which is purely a matter of taste.

This is off-set, however, by the Singstore. As the title cleverly implies, this is an online store you can access through the Playstation Online Network which allows you to download tunes; for the low, low cost of $1.49 apiece, you can download any one of (at this time) over two hundred tracks for use in your game from an astonishingly large collection of artists. Seriously; you’ve got, off the top of my head, tracks from Duran Duran, The Rasmus, HIM, Guano Apes, Billy Ocean, The Spice Girls, Blur, Blondie, Roy Orbison, Elvis, Culture Club, David Bowie, The Weather Girls and En Vogue, and that’s not even a quarter of the artists available, though that’s probably about half of the artists that are recognizable, so keep that in mind for later. There is, literally, something for everyone available in the Singstore… if you’re willing to part with the cash for it. Though in fairness, it’s not like you can sing HIM or Spice Girls songs in many other karaoke games, really, so one must take the good with the bad. Oh, and on the off chance that you already own Singstar mics from the PS2 version of the game, you can safely buy the “game only” version of Singstar Vol. 2 (which is about $20 less), as the PS2 mics work with the PS3 game… though if you lack the mics, you’re beat; you can’t use normal USB mics in place of the Singstar equipment.

The online component of Singstar Vol. 2 amounts to being able to make a profile online where you can post your high scores, audio clips of you singing your karaoke (which the game seems to record in the background as you’re playing… which is very frightening if you sound anything like I do), and short video clips of you doing whatever, if you have an Eye-Toy. You can also pick your way through other people’s video and audio recordings; the audio recordings are often pretty rotten, but the video recordings can be amusing at times. Granted, half of them are large-chested girls singing karaoke (poorly) or little kids singing (AWWWWWWWW whatever), but occasionally you’ll stumble across Captain Jack Sparrow or Chewbacca singing and dancing and that generally makes it worthwhile.

In other words, it’s basically Youtube for people who like singing.

Unfortunately, even with the astronomical variety of the downloadable tracks, the amusing (and free) community videos, and the generally solid gameplay variety and mechanics, there are problems, some more puzzling than others. The biggest problem, of course, is that this is just another karaoke game, for better or worse, with a bare-bones design to it. If you like Singstar as a brand, this is exactly like all the others, only sans a theme; if you don’t, well, this is exactly like all the others… only sans a theme. Downloadable tracks are something of a nice addition to the product, to a point, but the fact that there are only thirty tracks in the game itself coupled with the fact that you may well be turned off by half of the tracks from the word go depending on your personal preferences, well… it makes the game feel like something of an overpriced product; had the core game cost something closer to $20 or $30 (the core game, sans mics, is $40; with mics, it’s $60) it might have been more reasonable.

And on that same line of thinking, this is a freaking Blu-Ray disc for crying out loud! I understand the whole “we can only fit so many songs on the disc” mentality when DVD’s are brought into play; judging by the download size of the songs, each song is somewhere between 50 to 100MB in size, so thirty songs, even at the 50MB size, would take up a minimum of a gigabyte and a half of space, probably closer to two or three gigs at maximum. But, um… Blu-Ray discs have more storage than that. I mean, that’s the entire selling point of the things, right? 25GB of storage space on a single-layer disc, 50GB on a dual-layer disc, this was one of the major talking points of the technology… and yet, we’re being handed a game that, by all indications, could have fit onto a single-layer DVD and being charged full-price for it? Please; unless the front-end for the game is something like 20GB in size, the impression here is, shockingly, that Sony isn’t doing very much with their next-generation technology that they couldn’t do with a DVD.

Hey, someone has to say it.

This brings us to the fact that the game is functionally identical to the prior PS3 Singstar title; you can use your DLC in either game, access all of the features and such you would come to expect, and so on, only with a brand new intro sequence, which once again features a song that isn’t on the disc, only this time the song is from Queen. Note to Sony: STOP DOING THAT. You are just pissing people off, and BELIEVE ME, I am in the vocal majority here. The problems from the prior game are still intact; some songs aren’t available for download in one region or another because of licensing issues and such, which is ESPECIALLY annoying because, frankly, I still don’t understand why in the bloody hell I can still download tracks from The Zutons but not anything from Daft Punk. The fact that this game is functionally identical to the prior release unfortunately means you’re paying forty dollars for what amounts to an expansion pack, and while it’s nice that I can get SOME of the good songs from this game from the Singstore, I can’t get ALL of them, meaning I would have to shell out forty dollars for the game if I wanted to play those. I could even see doing this if, much like Rock Band 2, I could install the content from the original game to my hard drive (that’s what the thing is there for, right?), but such is not the case; you NEED to switch discs if you want to play songs from one disc to the next, which is annoying and will only become MORE annoying as more discs come out (and they will).

It also bears noting that, after a stellar start with the Singstore, the variety to the product has taken a huge dive; while it’s nice that more HIM and Rasmus tracks have been placed online for download, the fact of the matter is that most of the tracks online at this point are from virtually unknown acts who MIGHT be popular in the UK or other countries, but aren’t even remotely notable in the US, and as we’re reviewing the US version of the game, well, it’s unfortunate to log in and realize “hey, there’s nothing worth downloading here”. I mean, hey, fantastic, you put up some more Duran Duran, but there’s still only TWO Spice Girls tracks and you only have up ONE Savage Garden song? Also, to redeem my masculinity somewhat, the ONLY downloadable Faith No More track you could put online is their cover of Lionel Ritchie’s “Easy”? Oh, and speaking of covers: why is there a cover of “Easy” and “In the Air Tonight” in the Singstore, but no ACTUAL tracks from Ritchie or Genesis/Phil Collins? I’m not saying “you should cater exclusively to an American audience”, but I AM saying “you should at least pretend you want my money”, because if you don’t, hey, I’ll be happy to spend it on Rock Band instead.

So. Taken at face value, with no further expectations or scrutiny, Singstar Vol. 2 is a fun, amusing karaoke game that offers a wide variety of musical tracks to choose from and a ton more to download as well as a bunch of different ways to play around with them, but it’s functionally identical to the prior game that ALSO came out this year, and the downloadable track list is moderately anemic and caters almost exclusively to people who live in countries that are not the US. It’s simple to play, fun, and offers a lot of variety if you’re willing to fork over the cash, and hey, watching people making videos of themselves doing stupid things never really gets old (as Youtube has proven), except that most of the videos that are popular are videos that were popular months ago, because no one can really top a guy in a Chewbacca costume dancing to a Scissor Sisters song. Upon inspection, however, it’s really the exact same thing as every game before it with the ability to download content (at a cost) and watch short videos (which is entertaining so long as there are videos worth watching) added in, and the fact that there are only 30 songs when the game is PS3 exclusive and built onto a disc that could hold easily three times that amount of tracks is kind of insulting. It’s also really annoying realizing that, out of over three hundred songs available online at the moment, most of these songs are catered towards UK audiences when you don’t listen to UK artists. If you’re looking for another singing game, hey, this will do it for you no questions asked, but if you’re looking for something that’s good to go out of the box, or something that does a little more than last generation’s titles, you might want to rent Singstar Vol. 2 first to see if it’s worth shelling out the cash on the game AND the songs you’ll end up having to download to keep the game entertaining.

The Scores:
Game Modes: GOOD
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: UNPARALLELED
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: GOOD
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS
Final Score: DECENT GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Second verse, same as the first, Singstar Vol. 2 is a functional carbon copy of the first PS3 title with a different track list, which will really only appeal to people who want the songs on this disc; otherwise, it does absolutely nothing new and novel at all. For fans, the game looks, sounds, and plays the same as the prior PS3 Singstar title, and as such, also features all of the cool options, like downloadable tracks, videos of people goofing around playing music, and the ability to switch discs to play both games as needed. For those who don’t know if another track pack is worth the investment, however, well… the game looks, sounds, and plays the same as the prior PS3 Singstar title, and you may well be able to download the tracks you WANT from the disc off of the Singstore, thus making the disc itself unnecessary. Further, the huge influx of UK-friendly music to the Singstore, combined with the fact that user-friendly options like installing the first game to your hard drive so you could just make one giant song list were apparently not even a consideration here, and Singstar Vol. 2 is a pricy track pack or a new introduction to the game at best, and an over-priced disc full of songs you don’t want or could get on the online service that isn’t worth the forty dollars you’d need to spend on it at worst.

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