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Singstar Pop Vol 2

Home karaoke makes you question the definition of
What's It All About:
For those who either a) are too afraid to karaoke in public, b) so into karaoke they want to be able to do it anytime, or c) have a group of friend who love music and lack shame, the SingStar concept is perfect, as you get two microphones, a host of songs to pick from and a handy system to manage your singing, and/or make it into something competitive. After releasing the original SingStar bundle, Sony followed it up with a series of expansion discs, offering up 30-packs of genre-specific music to your library. SingStar Pop, Vol. 2 is the latest release here in America. For those new to the game, check out Todd Douglass Jr.'s review of the original release for more details.

This is probably not something I should admit here, but being a long-time PC gamer, the only reason I bought a Playstation 2 was to play Guitar Hero and SingStar. My wife and I, and many of our friends, are big karaoke fans, so the idea of being able to sing badly and lously at home for "free" appealed to us greatly. That we would be able to make it competitive as well, since the game scores you based on your timing and pitch, was just the icing on a delicious tone-deaf cake.

Since buying that SingStar package, we've picked up each expansion disc (with the notable exception of SingStar Country, a title I somehow forgot to mention to my wife) and enjoyed the depth of the catalogs, especially on the '80s and '90s, which are loaded with hits from top to bottom. The only title to disappoint in any way has been SingStar Pop.

The problem seems to be the idea of pop music. What is pop music? Well, it's short for popular music, a seriously nebulous idea for a genre, which is why you had Ashley Simpson sharing disc space with The Clash. Worse yet, it was guilty of trying to be too current, the dominant timeframe of pop music, which meant unless you're playing with a gaggle of high schoolers or hipsters, there are going to be several songs that people in the room just don't know, killing the buzz. For example, seeing the name Ryan Cabrera meant an instant skip to the next song, making the surprise of the random song option a bit less interesting.

Well, here comes the second volume of SingStar Pop, and the sins are even more dramatic. Let's take a look at the track list:

  • 3 Doors Down - "When I'm Gone"
  • Ashlee Simpson - "Boyfriend"
  • Avril Lavigne - "My Happy Ending"
  • Boys Like Girls - "The Great Escape"
  • Cartel - "Lose It"
  • Colbie Caillat - "Bubbly"
  • Dixie Chicks - "Not Ready To Make Nice"
  • Duran Duran - "Ordinary World"
  • Evanescence - "Bring Me To Life"
  • Fall Out Boy - "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs"
  • Fergie - "Big Girls Don't Cry"
  • Gwen Stefani feat. Akon - "The Sweet Escape"
  • Jennifer Lopez - "Jenny From the Block"
  • Lifehouse - "First Time"
  • Lily Allen - "Littlest Things"
  • Lloyd - "Get it Shawty"
  • Maroon 5 - "Makes Me Wonder"
  • Matchbox Twenty - "How Far We've Come"
  • Michelle Branch - "Breathe"
  • Nelly Furtado - "Promiscuous"
  • Norah Jones - "Don't Know Why"
  • Pink - "Who Knew"
  • Peter Bjorn and John - "Young Folks"
  • Plain White T's - "Hey There Delilah"
  • Rihanna - "Umbrella"
  • Santana feat. Chad Kroeger - "Into The Night"
  • Steriogram - "Walkie Talkie Man"
  • Sum 41 - "Fat Lip"
  • The Hives - "Tick Tick Boom"
  • The Outfield - "Your Love"
Right off the bat, there are at least 13 songs I didn't recognize by name, a band I'd never even heard of (Steriogram) and crap like Ashlee Simpson and Avril Lavigne. I like to think I keep up on music, listening to Virgin Radio out of the UK and reading music mags like Q, but here, I was at a loss when it came to several of the tracks. There are some big names and big songs, and once again a wide range of music, with everything from country pop (The Dixie Chicks) to R&B (Lloyd) to garage rock (The Hives), with some old-school pop in the mix, like Duran Duran and The Outfield. But you don't go to a Karaoke place to sing the ballads you can hear on your local pop station. You go to sing the high-energy songs everyone knows, your "Sweet Caroline" and "I Like Big Butts," along with bizarre stuff like the theme song to "The Facts of Life." If someone I was karaoking with pulled up "Don't Know Why," I would beat them with their own microphone Roger Daltrey-style, out of fear of being sung into a coma.

The other problem here is the relative difficulty of singing these songs (at least the ones you can sing, which leaves out rap-rock like "Fat Lip".) Whether it's the speed of songs like "Promiscuous" or the key of the female-dominated tracks, including "Breathe," "Littlest Things" and "Bring Me to Life" (or even the falsetto of the classic "Your Love,") it's hard to score well on this list. Sure, you don't have to sound great to play the game, and sometimes sounding bad is half the fun, but try singing the home stretch of Pink's "Who Knew" or the opening lyrics of Gwen Stefani's "The Sweet Escape" and see if it doesn't feel like homework. That said, there are some winners here, including the now-played out, but simple crowd pleaser "Hey There Delilah," the sing-a-long crack that is "Umbrella" and rather solid pop like Boys Like Girls' "The Great Escape."

The game remains the same as the past, with the same modes (solo, party and freestyle) and same options, including the ability to use an EyeToy Camera to record your performance and special effects to adjust your voice. (The games are so interchangable, the instruction manual actually uses a screenshot from another version.) This shows a bit of laziness, as even megasuccesses like "Guitar Hero" keep changing and improving, but the simplicity of "SingStar" probably helps its appeal to casual gamers. You just pick a mode and sing. The game is infinitely more entertaining when playing in party mode with friends, as games like "Keep it Up" where you have to maintain a certain score, and "Pass the Mic," which lets you sing a song as a team in relay format, lend an added touch of chaos to the joy of karaoke. (Unfortunately, there's not enough duets to satisfy players who like to sing together, and with so many lesser-known songs, the medley options, which jumps through clips of songs for added surprise, less enjoyable, as you hit songs that leave you babbling.) The inclusion of top-score charts and the ability to replay performances are nice touches, but they've never added much, as that level of competitiveness doesn't often feel fun. It's better to just leave a game behind you and move on to the next.

There aren't really any controls, per se, as you sing into the microphone to play. You need a standard Playstation controller to navigate the menus, which remain the same as in previous releases, with their clean white layouts and well-designed icons. The only annoyance is the positioning of the end game button on the menus that follow songs, as they yank you back to the first screen instead of allowing you to choose another song, an option positioned on the other side of the screen.

The game is very clean in it's design, and looks decent, with the original videos for the songs provided in OK quality behind the accuracy charts, but no one will be impressed with the look of the graphics. Use your EyeToy camera to replace the video behind the charts with you, and it looks even worse, as the crap quality of the camera requires professional spotlights to get anything close to good video.

For a game that's about singing, the audio doesn't sound all that great, simply because you can't turn off the original singer, which is mixed into the music. You can turn your own voice up (which often results in a tinny squealing level of quality) but it's never going to sound great. That's a real shame, because to have to wait until the song to hear your terrible singing hurts the flow of your good time. The songs themselves sound great, a benefit of the use of only original track in the SingStar series.

And in the End...
With the arrival of SingStar on the Playstation 3, where you can download individual songs and share your performances online, the Playstation 2 version feels very antiquated, but if you're not willing to make the large layout of cash required to upgrade to that console, these expansion discs are the only way you're going to get new songs to sing. Unfortunately, this latest one falls far short of the good time offered by previous releases, even if the game remains exactly the same. Your interest in the tracks will ultimately determine if you need to pick this one up, as there are no universal must-haves included.