First, there was a drunken phenomenon that swept the world. Then came the plague to a parent’s phone bill, American Idol. It was only a matter of time before the vocal invasion came to video game consoles. Konami, the leaders of the gaming rhythm nation, introduced fledgling lounge lizards to Karaoke Revolution last year, and the success of the title couldn’t be denied. Success begs for sequels, so this year prompts Karaoke Revolution Volume 2, The Wrath of Khan (actually, it’s only called Karaoke Revolution Volume 2).
The mechanics of Volume 2 haven’t changed from those of the first Karaoke Revolution game, so veterans of the vocal game will be right at home. For you newcomers to the phenomenon, you 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 the 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 while boosting your score. 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 songs, outfits for onscreen characters or new avatars to play as.
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 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 35 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. New to this version is the option to sing either a shortened version of a song or the entire song itself, as well as a quick play option that literally leaps you into a performance as fast as possible. You can also enter the new medley mode, which throws random clips of songs at players in rapid succession. For instance, you might get the chorus of one song, the first verse of a second song and the ending of a third.
The true meat of the game, however, resides in its Showtime Mode, which is where you’ll unlock secrets within the game. Players start off by choosing a character to represent them on stage, each with a specific outfit as well. Starting off entertaining your friends at a house party, you’ll try to win the crowd at 11 different venues, including a garage, a train station and a country bar. 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 haven’t really changed too much from the first game, but considering that you’re probably not going to be paying too much attention to the background when you’re singing, they’ll do. There are actually a few new animations, such as cars outside of the garage leaping up on hydraulics or new dance steps for your singers. 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.
Once again, the selection of songs from multiple musical genres should appeal to just about every music fan. You’re looking at everything from Britney Spears to Garth Brooks. People looking for oldies won’t be able to go wrong with Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra. So, technically you should be able to find some track that you know, have heard before, or might want to practice. The game still uses any USB microphone, including the SOCOM headsets or the Logitech Microphone peripheral (which is still 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, since the game is essentially a sequel/”expansion pack,” the same problems from the first title still apply to this game. First of all, these songs aren’t the versions you’ve heard on the radio or on your cds at home; they’re all 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. This often results in under or overcompensating for certain notes, which won’t sound nearly as good.
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 the expansion pack option that was shown in the first title is nowhere to be found in this one, your level of enjoyment with this game will only be served by the level of tolerance you have to the included songs. Hate country, disco or pop? You might burn out on this volume rather quickly. 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. If there were a ton of them, maybe, but it’s relatively limited.
Overall, Karaoke Revolution Volume 2 takes the approach of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, adding a few new features while essentially retaining the same gameplay as its predecessor. It still takes songs everyone knows and gives them an opportunity to be a star. However, players that can’t carry a tune or adapt to the in-game renditions will be hampered, the novelty can quickly grow stale after a few hours, and the replayability will innately be tied into how much you like the included songs. If you like singing or dug the first game, you’ll definitely want this edition, but other players should rent it to see if they want to become a lyrical superstar.