In its own special way, Def Jam Rapstar can go from making you feel like the king of the world at one moment to a straight-up sucker the next. Sure, that roller coaster of emotion is nothing new for music games--people have been hitching their self-esteem to the highs and lows of their numeric scores for years now. But there's something very special about utterly failing a song when you're trying your best to do a spot-on impersonation of Raekwon from the Wu-Tang Clan that just doesn't happen when you're clicking away on a plastic guitar or singing along to the Beatles.
But that's what's great about Def Jam Rapstar: The mechanics of video game karaoke may be the same, but the experience feels like something altogether different. Here's how our latest taste went: Last week, 4mm Games dropped by a Konami press event in San Francisco to give the press a chance to rap along to a handful of songs from Rapstar. (For the full details of the Konami partnership, including newly announced songs, click here. For previous hands-on coverage, click here.) After expressing my confidence to the CEO of Def Jam that I could easily become a professional rapper if I put my mind to it, I decided to back up that claim by playing a few songs.
The first song I played was "Gold Digger" by Kanye West. Rather than rapping in Duet mode like the previous players had done, I was feeling confident enough to challenge a peer of mine to a full-on battle. The difference between those two modes is that Duet has players alternating lines and sharing a common score, whereas Battle makes you both rap the whole song side by side with competing tallies. Much more competitive that way. Much more on the line. Fortunately, my confidence paid off. My flow was hot and my rhymes were fresh. I rode that confidence to a victory and felt pretty good about the next song up: Wu-Tang's "C.R.E.A.M."
I know Wu-Tang. I used to listen to them all the time. But the difference I soon found out is that I've listened to "Gold Digger" a lot more over the past few years than I have "C.R.E.A.M."--a song that came out 16 years ago. So while I went into the song feeling like I knew it all the way through--even trash-talking my competitor--it turns out I only remembered the chorus. The verses were like a minefield of awkward stumbling and off timing. It was ugly. It was embarrassing. But, it was also a lot of fun.
That what I really enjoyed about Def Jam Rapstar. I made an idiot of myself on the second go-around, but I had a good time doing it. The style of the game and the selection of songs make it very easy to put on a cocky persona and go out there like you're the hottest rapper around. That's not the sort of experience you can get with other rhythm games out there. So, here's hoping that the rest of the game--Career mode, community aspects, and the like--carry that same swagger.