Konami's Karaoke Revolution finally has stateside competition in SingStar Rocks!, a new PlayStation 2 karaoke game developed by Sony's London studio. SingStar is a prolific series in Europe--entries are available with subtitles like Party, Anthems, '80s, and more--but Rocks! marks the first time the franchise has appeared in the US. It contains a reasonably satisfying song lineup and is geared more toward the multiplayer party scenario than dedicated, career-based single-player singing. For your money, you also get a pair of pretty good microphones and a USB adapter that lets them interface with the PS2. The game is a little short on game modes and other frills, and diehard karaoke fans will likely find that the game lacks staying power, but SingStar Rocks! serves nicely as a casual singing-based game for those less discriminating songsters.
Music-based games live and die by their track lists, and Rocks!' is decent enough. The game sticks to its rock theme with some recent songs--Fall Out Boy's "Dance, Dance," The Killers' "Somebody Told Me," and Bloc Party's "Banquet"--while also throwing in a wide range of classics, from Blur's "Song 2" and the Scorpions' "Wind of Change" all the way back to the Stones' "Paint It, Black" and, of course, "Sweet Home Alabama." But some puzzling choices round out the list, including Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Gwen Stefani, and...DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince? Accomplished artists, all of them, but their inclusion here doesn't make a lot of sense. It feels like whoever assembled the game's lineup couldn't fully commit to the rock theme--perhaps rightly so, since not everyone in your drunken crowd will want to sing that style of music--but the attempt to add variety seems halfhearted with such a spare and strange group of artists.
There's no pretense of a career mode or any other obstacle blocking you from any of the songs in SingStar Rocks! As soon as you fire up the game and navigate through its minimal, stylish menus, you can access all 30 songs and start singing them. Mechanically, the game works just like any karaoke machine you've seen in some seedy bar: The lyrics are displayed at the bottom of the screen with an indicator showing which line you're supposed to be singing. Above that, you get a series of horizontal bars that approximate the relative pitch you should sing the current line at, and these are filled in as you sing (with bars appearing above or below the lines to show where you're flat or sharp). Finally, a small performance meter constantly gauges how well you're doing. It's all elementary as karaoke goes, and it won't take even novices long to get a feel for it. As with Karaoke Revolution, SingStar only measures your pitch, so you're free to hum the words or sing an octave lower if you just want the highest score. But what fun is that?
In the single-player mode, you simply pick a full- or short-length version of any song, then sing it and receive a numerical score rating your performance. The point values here seem to be arbitrary, though, so a letter or percentage ranking would have been a more meaningful gauge of how well you've done. Things get a little more interesting on the multiplayer side. The duet mode lets two players sing at the same time to generate a combined score, and this mode is good for easing shyer players into the action. Battle conversely pits you against each other by making you sing different parts of the song.
The real meat (such as it is) of the multiplayer is the pass the mic mode, which lets two teams of up to four people each fight it out through five rapid-fire minigames. Again, these are pretty basic--one of them throws a quick medley of song snippets at you to keep you guessing, while another awards victory to the first player to reach 5,000 points, and a third requires you to keep your performance meter in the "good" region to keep playing. The multiplayer modes add some much-needed variety to the rudimentary core karaoke gameplay, though the minigames are all just minor variations on the same theme, so they're only mildly more interesting than the single-player game.
There's not a lot more to SingStar Rocks! than that. The game does record each of your performances and lets you review them, as well as add some goofy sound filters, after each song. Then you can save your favorite recordings for later mockery. This is a good-looking game for what it is, with its slick-looking menus and interface. When you play each song, you'll get the original music video playing in the background, or at least some relevant concert footage for some of the older songs. The game features EyeToy support, so you can replace the video with an image of yourself and run a bunch of trippy visual effects on it, which is amusing enough if you're into that sort of thing.
If you're looking to get in on some basic karaoke action without breaking the bank, SingStar Rocks! won't really steer you wrong. For $50, the included microphones have a solid feel to them, and since they use USB to connect to the PS2, you'll hopefully be able to use them with the forthcoming PlayStation 3 version of SingStar, as well. (For what it's worth, both Rocks! and the microphones worked fine on the PS3.) That version is due out in the first quarter of next year, and as long as you don't play Rocks! every single day, it ought to remain entertaining at least until that time.