Def Jam Rapstar
Karaoke Rules Everything Around Me, K.R.E.A.M! This release from Konami and developers 4mm Games and Terminal Reality is the fourth game under the Def Jam banner, but the first to center around music. And although this title is a simple "sing along" game at heart, it has a lot of good qualities that can be built on. WU-TANG!
As I said, this is the fourth title to have the studio's label on it, but the similarities end there. Since 2003, the Def Jam property has been owned by EA and they released three games with it: Def Jam Vedetta (wrestling), Def Jam: Fight For New York, and Def Jam Icon (both 3D fighting). This game has been brought to us by another big publisher, Konami, who has taken a noticeably different direction with this one. Instead of "ghetto-blasting" people Shaolin style on the streets, at gas stations, and in night clubs, you'll be singing, well, rapping along with some of the hottest hip hop hits from many different eras. And although this is a change, it's crazy to think this wasn't the first game idea formulated around the rap label. Especially after picking it up and playing it.
There are three modes for getting on the mic in this game. The first is Party, which is essentially like the quickplay option most commonly found in other music games. Here, you are able to select a track (from the list of 45 that comes on the disk), choose if you want solo, battle (two MCs, same track, highest score) or duet (one takes the rhymes, other has the singing or "pitch" sections). The presentation is much like what you find in other karaoke style games like Sing Star, the music video plays as the lyrics come up two lines at a time, the one your currently singing on top, and the one to follow on the bottom. The vocal telemetry works like this: when it is during a bar (rap section) a gold point with a tail bounces over the lyrics to let you know when they need to be hit. This system sounds a bit basic, and it is, but it makes the lines accessible to a wide range of aspiring lyricists. Most of the tracks are unlocked by default, with just a few held back for progression in the following play section. The second mode is Career, which feels a bit spliced in to be honest. There isn't much change from the Party selection. Each level (of which there are five of) has a number of cuts that you earn "mics", instead of stars, for good performances. You have to attain enough mics among the given tracks to unlock the challenges at the end of each level, like timing, multiplier, and high score, that really get your rep up. And getting high marks at each level gives you audio and visual effects to "switch the style up" with in your recorded videos that lead into the final play mode. Freestyle lets you loose on a track put together by one of the various producers they got in the game (Cool and Dre, Bangladesh, DJ Premier, DJ Khalil, Just Blaze, and Nitti) and add your own lyrics to it. This can be taken to the next level by attaching the Playstation Eye and taping yourself rapping to your own floetry (you can also record yourself rapping to the other tracks as well). If you feel good enough about a particular showing, you have the forum to broadcast it to the world.
The Community selection connects you to the Playstation Network where you have the ability to upload you stuff and show it off to your friends or other hip hop heads. The Featured Performances section has the highest rated and most viewed stuff from around the world so far, as does the Hottest Videos section. Most Recent will give you the latest cuts made by folks, despite how bad they might be. If you get a chance, look up the videos by DJ Marcus featuring Kermit (yes, that Kermit). The last main portion of the game is the Store. As of now, there isn't an overwhelming library, but they're definitely headed in the right direction with a nice song range available as DLC, from "I'm So Hood" to "Rapper's Delight" to "You're a Jerk." And each song/music video is priced at $1.99 through the Playstation Store.
The impressions of the game are overall positive after playing it. This is a really fun, and well done karaoke style game. It was really awesome to see a game be able to decipher if the performer is actually saying the words of the track and not just "humming along" to get a good score. Trust me, I tried to do that on a few of the ones I didn't know, and the lyrics percentages were down. The developers said they had a system in place to monitor this, and it seems they weren't just blowing hot air. There were times I felt I said the right word and it came up negative, but these were few and far between and I may have actually just mistimed it, which would account for the misstep. The other two "grades" are timing and pitch (when applicable). Timing measures when you deliver words in accordance to the flow of the song, and this is also done very well. The pitch category works like the singing measure mechanic in other music games. And while it's not revolutionary, it's not broken either, just gets the job done. The pseudo-negative here is the fact that this is really more of a social kind of title in the way of music games. This would be the reason I keep stressing the word karaoke into the review. I had an okay time playing so that I could do the review, but I could imagine I will have a lot more fun with it when it's something to do at a party I host down the road. Much like Sing Star and Lips, this game was built for social interaction and "wylin out" to some popular cuts in the world of rap. There are virtually no load times because it simply just shows the music video, which is a huge plus if a bunch of people are trying to get at the mic. This is a good starting point for Konami and Co. to move forward with. It will be interesting to see where they take this franchise in the future: either add a deeper single player experience (complete with character rendering and customization, perhaps?) or really go with the strong suit that showed up in this initial effort and sell out on the "party game" idea and offer a larger number of tracks on the sequel(s).
Def Jam Rapstar
Within the karaoke sub genre, it's definitely up there with the rest. This is not as extensive or intricate as other "instrument" based music games, which definitely has a noticeable effect when comparing it to them. But this game isn't trying to be that, it's simply offering great tracks from a wide range of artists like old school acts Wu-Tang Clan, Notorious B.I.G, Tu Pac, and Public Enemy along with newer mainstream artists like Soulja Boy, Yung Joc, and Drake. For people who are not afraid to sing (or rhyme in this case), and are tired of Duffy and Britney Spears, give Rapstar a go.