Considering that just about everyone that’s reading this site doesn’t live under a rock, you’re probably aware of the runaway hit that is American Idol and the numerous knockoffs. Whether it’s on a TV show or in a karaoke bar, someone’s looking to become the next pop star trying to sell a million CDs. So is it any wonder that the latest title in the rhythm game genre would capitalize on this craze? Konami, ever-popular creators of the successful Dance Dance Revolution series, are bringing the beats away from your feet and into your vocal cords with Karaoke Revolution.
If you’ve played DDR, you’re probably familiar with the basics of Karaoke Revolution, but instead of using your feet, you’ll have to sing in time with the music. The bottom of the screen hosts a rectangular area that scrolls the lyrics to the player’s chosen song. Above the words are clear ovals called note tubes, which indicate pitch and length that a phrase should be held: small ones for quick notes, longer ones for belting out a tune. A note arrow tracks the specific note that is currently being sung, which lets you know just how far off you are during your performance. Singing on key gets the crowd hyped up and cheering while hitting the wrong notes will get the lights turned off on you as you’re booed off stage. You can also string together “combos” with special note tubes that can pull the crowd fully onto your side. At the end of each song, the game will rate how accurate your singing was and assign a grade. Hit enough notes and you’ll score a gold or platinum record, which can unlock new secret items for play.
These basics are gone over in the Training mode, which also throws in a practice song for you to get accustomed to. Arcade mode allows players to decide a set list and sing through up to 5 songs of differing difficulty levels of speed and lyrical complexity. Casual players can turn their PS2s into a Karaoke machine thanks to the included Karaoke mode, which will allow singers to perform any one of the 36 initially available tracks in the game. Overly competitive singers can gather a few friends together and perform in the Karaoke Competition, which leaves the judging of an individual’s act in the hands of their fellow players.
The true meat of the game, however, resides in its Showtime Mode, which allows players to unlock new songs, videos or other secrets within the game. Players start off by choosing a character to represent them on stage from one of the 8 preliminary characters, each with a specific outfit as well. Starting off entertaining your friends at a house party, you’ll try to win the crowd at 8 different venues, including a state fair, a TV show and finally a large stadium. Since each level demands harder and harder songs, you might find yourself a bit hard pressed to take the stage with a tune you don’t know. Fortunately, crooners with stage fright get the option to have a sound check, which acts as a free practice run before getting in front of a crowd.
The graphics, while not the most impressive, doesn’t really have to be for this kind of game. In fact, the 3D cartoon-like characters are rather expressive with their lip-synching, which, for the most part is pretty right on. Similarly, the crowd is nicely animated, and displays different emotions based upon your performance. Throw in the background animation, which will vary depending upon the location but often shows some life of its own, and you’ve got a relatively active environment. Rounding out the graphics are some decent particle effects, primarily seen when you’ve hit the combo note tubes just right. If there were any gripes about the graphics, it would have to be that some of the audience members can look a little two dimensional at times, based on the panning and tilting of the camera angles. Additionally, it can seem to be a little strange to see a man singing a song from a female vocalist or vice versa with a woman’s vocal track playing through the speakers.
Which leads me to the soundtrack, which is nicely balanced from the past four decades of music. We’re talking about everything from Madonna and Dusty Springfield to Avril Lavigne and R.E.M. Fortunately, the multiple formats should appeal to just about every music fan. Plus, Konami’s added the ability for expansion packs in the future, so additional songs can be added to the experience. Since the entire game functions off USB microphones, just about any mic can be plugged in, including the SOCOM headsets. I’d actually recommend the Logitech Microphone peripheral, which picks up your singing much better than a headset and is designed around singing. It might not seem important, but since the game can even detect a vibrato within your voice, having a good mic can be the difference between a good and great performance.
However, there are a few big problems with the game. First of all, since the makers of Karaoke Revolution couldn’t get the actual song rights, there are new renditions made by the designers of the game. This means that the notes that the in-game singers have added or subtracted from the actual tunes may throw players that know the songs or own the radio versions. What’s more, while the game is rather accurate for varying ranges, accommodating anything from a high soprano to a low base, these renditions have an unnerving way of invalidating singing outside of its specific range. I played this game with a number of friends, including a few professional singers, and even they became infuriated that they were scoring low marks with songs they knew by heart. Making it even more of a niche product is the simple fact that you do have to be able to carry somewhat of a tune, because those without some kind of pitch will essentially be murdered as the difficulty level goes up. This is definitely not like DDR, where just about everyone can step on a pad in a direction, which will probably lose some fans. Finally, while there is the expansion pack option that’s been built into the game, there’s no way to download or import other songs into the title, meaning that once you’ve gotten used to every track, you’re practically done. Even the unlockables aren’t really enough to keep this game fresh with the exception of breaking it out every time a large group of friends comes over.
Overall, Karaoke Revolution is a creative spin on the rhythm genre. It takes songs that everyone knows, places the mic in the player’s hands, and gives them a stage to shine on. However, players that can’t carry a tune or adapt to the in-game renditions will be hampered, and the novelty can quickly grow stale after a few hours. If you like singing, you’ll definitely want this game, but other players should rent it to see if they want to become a lyrical superstar. Let’s just hope that more expansion soundtracks come out soon to boost the replay of this game.