Review: Singstar ABBA (PS2)

Singstar ABBA
Genre: Singing/Rhythm game
Developer: SCEE London
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: 12/02/08


A word, before we begin, again: as Singstar ABBA is functionally identical to the billion other Singstar games before it (with the exception of being devoted to a specific BAND over a specific GENRE), 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 any of the various other Singstar games already, whether or not you feel the need to own Singstar ABBA will depend exclusively on whether or not you like ABBA, or alternatively, Mama Mia; if you do, this is good, but if not, it isn’t.

As noted previously regarding the PS3 version of Singstar Vol. 2, it is a generally fun, enjoyable experience, mostly because of the ability to download new songs and watch/make videos of ridiculous behavior while playing the game. The PS2 games, lacking either of those features, generally get by because of their price point: you can, in most respects, acquire the games, sans microphones, for about thirty dollars, and as each game contains about thirty songs, well, the cost-to-value ratio is generally pretty good. As such, however, rating such a game is somewhat difficult at the best of times, largely because it’s really designed to just be an expansion of the prior titles, and as such, whether or not you’re going to want to buy the game is going to come down to whether or not the track list is worth owning. Singstar ABBA does present a tracklist that features a bunch of songs you can’t sing anywhere else, so it has that much going for it, and if you’ve never played one of the games before (and don’t own a PS3, though this version of the game DID, in fact, come out for the PS3) it’s not a bad buy at all, but whether or not its worth your thirty dollars will really depend on your personal tastes.

So, as with every other Singstar title ever, there’s no story, so let’s look at the gameplay modes. All of the modes from the various other versions are here, from solo, duet and battle modes for one or two players to “Pass the Mic” play that lets you switch players mid-song for up to eight players to freestyle karaoke play that just lets you sing without having to earn points (or match pitches). As is the standard for the franchise, there’s nothing to unlock, nothing to earn, and nothing to strive to accomplish; you’re given thirty songs to sing across a bunch of different modes, as well as the ability to switch out your disc at any time for another disc from the franchise. The variety in gameplay comes from being able to access any song in any Singstar game you own at any time, which is what makes the experience so fun and adaptable, since you can go from pop tunes to 80’s tunes in a flash. As party games go, it has enough modes and options to be instantly accessible, and offers enough to do to keep it in rotation, though there’s nothing new or exciting here, as there hasn’t been in any of the PS2 releases since the first.

Visually, Singstar ABBA, as with all games in the series, shows you the music video of the song you’re singing, the words to sing, the pitches to hit, and the odd words of encouragement as you play. The videos are about as good as can be expected, though it bears noting that most of them are from the seventies and eighties, so you’re generally going to be looking at some grainy video in most cases, though the interface and menus look good and are easy to navigate. If you, for whatever reason, don’t like the videos, you can always hook up your Eyetoy and watch yourself singing the songs, if, you know, you’re not already embarrassed enough at the idea of your bad singing that you feel the need to be shamed further. As far as the audio goes, again, all of the songs are the master recordings, so they’re pretty much perfect, and the background tunes that pop up while browsing menus are just fine.

That said, the ENTIRE disc is NOTHING BUT ABBA. Presumably, there will be people out there for whom this will be a significant selling point, but for the rest of you, you’ll have to weigh in whether or not singing “Dancing Queen” is worth thirty dollars. The song quality is perfectly fine, and if you’re a fan of either the band or Mama Mia, you might well have some fun with this, but realistically, unless you’re a fan of the musical/film, a fan of the band, or a fan of Singstar in general, chances are VERY good that this isn’t going to do a lot for you. There’s no breadth of genre to the product; it’s one band, and not a particularly notable one for anyone under thirty at that, leaving the whole specialization of the disc with a somewhat limited appeal out of the box.

As far as gameplay is concerned, well, time for the copy paste:

“The gameplay in Singstar ABBA 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 ABBA to sing “Mama Mia”, 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.”

Further, “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 ABBA 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.”

Now, as this is a PS2 game, and is as such part of the PS2 series of Singstar games, all of the neat stuff the PS3 game featured, IE the ability to see people’s weird videos, the ability to download songs, and so on, are not in this version; as such, for the reduced price, you’re essentially getting a frontend with some songs stuffed into it. And again, that isn’t a bad thing; for thirty bucks, you’re getting a good, solid party product, and if you happen to own other games in the series, this is another disc you can swap in or out to keep things going, offering up more variety for gatherings and whatnot. Singstar ABBA generally plays about as well as its predecessors, meaning that if you liked any of the other games, you’ll like this one too, so long as you like the tracklist.

However, as has been noted previously, “the biggest problem, of course, is that this is just another karaoke game, for better or worse. If you like Singstar as a brand, this is exactly like all the others; if you don’t, well, this is exactly like all the others.” Now, Singstar ABBA is basically a pick up and play game, as everything is open and ready to use from the get-go, which means you can simply play it and enjoy it, but that ALSO means there’s no reason to play it outside of a social setting; without the ability to download tracks or watch videos that the PS3 version has, or the unlockables and character editing of a Karaoke Revolution, it’s basically really only going to get any use as a social game. That’s not a bad thing, by any means, but if the track list isn’t to your group’s liking, it might be difficult to justify picking up this iteration of the game.

There’s also the matter of there only being TWENTY songs on the disc. I mean, I KNOW you were looking at the thirty dollar price point and thinking “but it’s a full-priced product” but, haha, no, joke’s on you: you will not only have to be willing to part with your money for a product devoted to one band, but you will ALSO have to accept that the disc contains ten less songs than a normal Singstar game. Further, the PS2 version contains five less songs than the PS3 version for no discernable reason save that Sony wanted to convince PS3 owners not to buy the cheaper game if they wanted the TRUE ABBA experience. Now, okay, if you’re REALLY that big of an ABBA fan, more power to you and all that, but you could BUY twenty songs on iTunes and sing along with them instead for less money than this game costs, and the only possible reason for the game to be more expensive for less content is because ABBA demanded the money. Again, if you’re willing to spend that money, hey, more power to you, but YOU ARE PAYING MORE MONEY TO SUPPORT A BAND THAT HAS DONE NOTHING IN TWO DECADES because, somehow, their name carries some sort of weight to it. Congratulations, you inspired Ace of Base and someone made a theatrical production based around your music, that does not mean you can command a higher price for your product than bands people under thirty might know more than two songs from. There’s a difference between “supply and demand” and “unwarranted self-importance”, and demanding full-price for a smaller product places Singstar ABBA SQUARELY into the latter category, thus making it worth even LESS than the normally limited Singstar products preceding it.

The bottom line is, if you’re a karaoke game fan, or you love ABBA, or you love social video games, and you don’t mind paying for less product, Singstar ABBA is probably worth your cash, as it’s a fun, easy to play karaoke game, just all of the other games in the series. It’s simple to play, good fun at parties, is completely compatible with the other discs in the series, and features a tracklist that your mom and dad might be able to sing along with. Singstar ABBA can’t touch the PS3 version, of course, as it lacks the downloadable content and the online video watching, not to mention five additional tracks, but if all you have is the PS2, it’s a fine choice, so long as you don’t expect anything new and different and you’re okay with twenty songs for thirty bucks. Singstar ABBA is still the same game as the franchise has always provided with more specialization and less songs, for better or worse, and if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll have fun with it. If you’re looking for something else, though, Singstar Vol. 2 (or a Rock Band/Guitar Hero product) might be more your speed; the PS2 Singstar games are treading close to wearing out their welcome, and while Singstar ABBA is the only way to really play songs from ABBA in the Singstar games, it’s only for people who really love the band and don’t mind paying the same price for less content than you would normally get from the series. Someone, somewhere, is the target demographic for this product, much like someone, somewhere, enjoys paying people to punch them in the face, but for most people, there’s not going to be any tangible benefit to owning a disc of twenty songs they barely recognize and that no one they know wants to sing along with.

The Scores:
Game Modes: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: POOR
Balance: GOOD
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: BAD
Appeal: BAD
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS
Final Score: BELOW AVERAGE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
So, to sum this all up, let’s sing a little song, shall we? If you want to put on the chorus from “Dancing Queen” in the background, feel free:

This game’s lame, thirty bucks just to buy a name,
Twenty songs, and the game’s the same, that’s a dirty shame, oh yeah,
Sure, you can dance, you can jive, if you think the band deserves all of their fame,
But for the rest of us, it’s cash to save, instead of buying this game.

I think that sums it up. I’ll be here all week, try the veal.

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