In the beginning, there was SingStar. And it was good. But gradually Man became tired of just singing and wanted something new, and so Guitar Hero was created, and it too was good. But eventually Man, being a fickle sort, became tired of either just singing or just playing guitar, and wanted to do them both together, and he wanted to play other instruments too, and so Rock Band was born, and Man was happy. Gradually though, Man realised that there were problems with Rock Band, not with the game itself, but with the fact that it simply cost a LOT of money to buy, and then to get the most out of it, Man really had to have three friends to play it with, and not all of Man’s friends wanted to play music/rhythm games all the time, indeed, many of them preferred to play shoot-’em-ups, and MMORPGs, and so gradually, as his Rock Band kit started to gather dust, Man thought back to the heady days when he’d been able to play on his own, just singing, or just playing guitar… but those days were no more. Until now.
Yes, it had to happen. Once Rock Band showed us all the fun of being able to play AND sing along to our favourite bands, it was just a matter of time before SingStar had to evolve. But Rock Band et al had already done the multiple instruments thing, and short of adding even more instruments to the mix (jazz trumpet anyone? No, thought not) those clever chaps at Sony London Studio have instead sat down, had a long think, and figured out where to go next in order to take SingStar to the next level, without gamers needing to take out a second mortgage just to buy the bloody thing (yes, I’m looking at you, Rockband!)
They’ve clearly done their research, and know their stuff, and they’ve given us SingStar Guitar. This takes one fact that everyone knows – that the coolest guys in the band by far are (barring the odd exception) the lead singer and the lead guitarist – and does away with everyone else. So no faffing around with sprawling drum kits, or groovy sounding, but – let’s face it, not very sexy – bass guitars, no, SingStar Guitar has taken the concept of Rock Band and slimmed it down to two vocalists and two guitars. Or if you prefer: they’ve taken the fun of basic SingStar and just combined it with the coolness of the original Guitar Hero. Whichever way you look at it though, the concept is simple and great fun. It’s also fairly versatile – while you can play the game with up to three friends (two of you on vocals, two on guitar), you can also get a great deal of enjoyment out of the game playing solo, either as the lone lead singer, or doubling up as lead guitarist/vocalist. One small catch is that should you do the latter, then you really need to already know the words to the songs you’re attempting. Either that, or you need to be the kind of person who can watch coloured notes move down one part of the screen while simultaneously reading words which are scrolling across another part – don’t get me wrong, it’s not impossible, but for most… well, you’ll find it much easier tackling the songs that you already know well.
Luckily there’s a great selection of crowd-pleasing tracks provided (thirty in all), from both past and present rockers, including Queen, The Clash and David Bowie, Vampire Weekend, The White Stripes and Elbow to name just a few, so no matter what your age and musical taste, there will at least be a few tunes in here that you know like the back of your hand and will be able to at least attempt to tackle solo on those days when there’s simply nobody else up for gaming, but you still feel like a jam. And the best thing is that if you’re playing solo, as well as having the option to play each track with both guitar and vocals, you can also play them individually, so basically, you’ve got thirty rock tracks that – should you so wish – you can simply sing along to in the style of the original SingStar, and not worry about any instruments, or have the vocals done for you and just jam away on your ‘axe’, a la Guitar Hero.
On the subject of the vocals though, one small disappointment I had with this game was that in the duet (there’s only one on this release, Queen and David Bowie’s version of Under Pressure, but no doubt others will be available for download soon), should you choose to sing it solo, you select which artist you want to be (Freddie or Bowie) but then for some reason the other singer’s original vocals aren’t supplied as a separate track. So you either have to have both vocals playing, or neither, the latter option sounding weird, as basically bits of the song are missing. The best compromise is to choose the ‘Fade’ option, where the vocals start playing to begin with, but then fade out as you sing, and then fade back up if you stop singing. Unfortunately they don’t always fade up quickly enough to bring the other artist’s voice in on cue, but it is still better than singing the song with massive vocal gaps in it. A minor gripe, perhaps, but surely it’d be a simple bit of programming to just split the two vocals on a duet into separate tracks and then give you the option of singing along with the missing person if playing solo?
Anyway, that complaint aside, if you’ve already played something like Rock Band, then you’ll know that playing an instrument (albeit a videogame controller version of one) while you sing along to a popular tune is just that much more satisfying than simply singing along to a song, and for those of you who’ve not been able to justify spending out the huge wads of cash required for the multiple instrument games of the past few years, the good news is that SingStar Guitar works with just about any guitar controller, so if you’ve already got an old copy of Guitar Hero in your collection, then no new peripherals are needed, and if you haven’t, you should be able to snap one up on Amazon or at your local second-hand software store for next to nothing.
Of course, if guitar really isn’t your thing, then you needn’t feel left out, because SingStar Guitar has a sibling: SingStar Dance. Basically, much like SingStar Guitar is a combination of SingStar and Guitar Hero, SingStar Dance takes the gameplay of the Wii Just Dance titles and – through the magic of PlayStation Move technology – combines them with SingStar to create yet another new experience, this one relying on you moving your whole body rather than just your nimble fingers to supplement the points you earn by singing. So basically – SingStar Guitar provides the videogame equivalent of being the lead singer/guitarist in a rock band, while SingStar Dance offers the opportunity to visualise yourself in a less-instrument driven Boy or Girl Band, where it’s your voice and your ‘moves’ that really wow the audience (sex appeal is also important in these kind of bands, but presumably this is something that London Studio haven’t quite figured out how to simulate just yet).
SingStar Dance offers another thirty tracks, the emphasis this time firmly on tunes that you can ‘bust some moves’ to, and the selection is fairly eclectic, from Diana Ross to Lady Gaga, taking in the likes of MC Hammer, Backstreet Boys, New Kids On The Block and Sir Mix A Lot along the way. The catch is that you need the PlayStation Move motion controller to enable the ‘Dance’ element of the gameplay, however if you don’t have one yet, you can still play the game like original SingStar, ie: by just singing along with the two microphones. Should you be one of the multitude of PS3 gamers who already owns a Move, then you can choose to either sing and dance at the same time, or just focus on your vocals while a friend acts as your backing dancer – if you’ve got two Move controllers, then you can actually have two dancers backing you, should you so wish. I actually read in the initial PR blurb for this that it’s possible to have up to three dancers on screen, however no matter how much I juggled the menu options, I couldn’t seem to get this to work – as far as I can tell, with four players, it’s basically two singing and two dancing, although, much like with SingStar Guitar’s option of playing just vocals or guitar for each track, with SingStar Dance you can choose to tackle all the tracks either as just the singer, or as just the dancer, which adds a little variety to the whole SingStar experience.
So, be you a guitarist, or a dancer, there’s something for you here. I have to say that out of the two games I personally prefer SingStar Guitar, but that’s because I’m more a fan of guitar rock than I am dance-type stuff. SingStar Dance does hold the promise of being the most amusing party game of the two though, as you and your friends find out exactly who has the moves and who’s got two left feet. As a result, I’m scoring both games the same, with an Excellent 8 out of 10 for each. To think that once upon a time playing videogames was something you did on your own in a darkened room and didn’t talk about in public for fear of being ridiculed as a ‘geek’ – now it’s something people actually do socially at parties! Gaming sure has come a long way over the years…
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