With numerous releases over the past few years including SingStar Party, SingStar Anthems, SingStar ‘80s, SingStar Pop, SingStar Rocks!, and SingStar Legends, the SingStar franchise is obviously a very popular one in Europe. SingStar Rocks! is the first in the series to make its way to North America. Will the karaoke experience be just as rockin' this side of the Atlantic?
SingStar Rocks! is not unlike karaoke night at your local bar. Once you've had a few drinks you'll grab a microphone, pick your favorite song, or at least one you know the words to, and proceed to belt out your rendition of said song, hoping you don't sound as much a fool as you feel. The difference here is that SingStar Rocks! will rate your performance based on pitch, tone, and rhythm. As you progress through a song, the notes that you sing will be displayed in relation to the notes you should be singing. By comparing your performance with the pitch and timing indicators, you can tell if you're singing flat or sharp, are off tempo or are simply not holding the notes for their entire length.
There's also a performance meter that indicates how well you're doing overall at any point during the song. Keep the meter in the bonus zone and you'll rack up extra points. Sink into the danger zone and you'll quickly be booed off the virtual stage. That's the Sing Solo Mode in a nutshell. You can also choose to sing in Freestyle Mode. In this mode you won't be evaluated so you can add your own twist to the song to make it your own...or so you would think. One of the issues with SingStar Rocks! is the inability to drop the original vocal from the track, if one wanted to. It basically counteracts the Freestyle Mode. For example, if you choose to sing “Cool” by Gwen Stefani, you'll have to sing along with Gwen Stefani. How do you freestyle a song when the original artist's rendition is playing in the background? Similarly, when you're finished singing a song you can play it back afterwards to hear your performance, but you'll struggle to do so when the original vocal queues up again. The inability to drop the original vocal is a key oversight by the developers.
SingStar Rocks! is inarguably best enjoyed in the company of friends. The developers obviously recognized this and have included a variety of party games for up to two teams of four players. Among them is Battle, where two opposing players sing the same song at the same time while being scored individually. The player with the highest score wins. Then there's Duet, where two players from the same team sing together and are awarded a combined score. There's also Keep it Up, in which a player from each team must keep the performance meter above a certain marker for as long as possible; and Pass the Mic, a round where the microphone gets passed from one teammate to another after a set length of time.
Don't be fooled by the name, even though it's titled SingStar Rocks! you'd be surprised how diverse the songlist actually is, featuring 30 songs from a variety of artists and genres including rock/alternative, pop, hip hop, R&B, and classics. You'll be able to sing Fall Out Boy's “Dance, Dance,” “Speed of Sound” by Coldplay, “Love Shack” by the B52s, hit the high notes of Gloria Gaynor's “I Will Survive,” rock out with Lynyard Skynyrd's “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Girls & Boys” from Good Charlotte, The Killers' “Somebody Told Me”, classic D.J. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince with “Summertime,” Elton John's “Rocket Man,” and Dusty Springfield's “Son of a Preacher Man,” among others. There's something for everyone in the track list but as I said, just not much in the way of rock, at least not enough to call this compilation SingStar Rocks! This first installment for North American audiences probably should have been simply titled SingStar.
The visual presentation in SingStar Rocks! is really slick. While you perform a song, the video for that song, if one exists, will play in the background. If you have the EyeToy USB camera, you can use it to watch yourself in place of the artist's video. The songs themselves are also high quality. The production as a whole has very much a VH-1 vibe to it. Included in the SingStar Rocks! package are two microphones, one with a red-colored band and another with a blue-colored band, as well as a USB converter, so you can host a SingStar Rocks! party right out of the box.
I definitely see the potential in the SingStar franchise, even more so when the game becomes available for the PlayStation 3 in early 2007. With that system's included hard drive, I imagine you'll be able to download even more songs of your liking from the online PlayStationStore. With that said, I think it's important that the developers allow players to drop the original vocal from the track. Not only does it make it difficult to hear yourself during playback, but it also counteracts the essence of the Freestyle Mode. As a single player game, SingStar Rocks! also lacks the progressive gameplay and incentive to keep coming back for more. As it stands, I can really only recommend SingStar Rocks! as a multiplayer game, that's where this title really shines. If the idea of inviting a few friends over to see who can bring the least shame to Marvin Gaye's “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” sounds enticing to you, let the karaoke party begin.