Title :Karaoke Revolution
Platforms :Sony PlayStation 2
Publisher :Konami
ESRB Rating :Everyone
Game Rating :8.5
Review by :Ken Gagne

While games like Bust a Groove and Parappa the Rapper were significant, it was Konami's Bemani series of games that defined the rhythm genre — possibly the most recent, original video game genre to be founded. Dance Dance Revolution has spawned many incarnations, but all have exchanged the traditional hand-eye coordination for eye-foot. They are still video games in the traditional sense, and have been no Bemani games which required any modicum of authentic musical talent. 

Finally, the company that has left dancing gamers gasping for breath is finding a way to put those diaphragms to better use with the PlayStation 2 game, Karaoke Revolution. 

As the title suggests, a voice input device is necessary for players to sing along with their favorite tunes as they become virtual stars. Karaoke Revolution comes with a Logitech headset; the game will not be available alone until January. 

Several avatars, each with assorted wardrobes, are available to represent gamers in arcade mode, which features progressively more difficult songs, and career mode, in which they advance from singing at a late-night party to public performances at the subway, the county fair, and the big stage. The avatars automatically perform for the crowd as the words to the song scroll across the bottom of the screen, accompanied by the corresponding pitches. 

It's the hands-free responsibility of budding musicians to match those pitches. Wanna-be singers need not know how to read music, as the game employs note tubes, indicating how long to hold each note. An arrow represents the pitch the player is currently singing — a visual representation of how sharp or flat they are. The game automatically detects differences in octaves, allowing performance of the many high-pitched songs in a more reasonable range, without the need for invasive surgery. 

The game includes nearly three dozen songs, encompassing a variety of modern and classic tunes, from Avril Lavigne's "Complicated" to "Wind Beneath My Wings", "When a Man Loves a Woman", and "Billie Jean". Despite the variety of songs, a game of such broad interest will perforce omit many genres and artists. The inbuilt capacity for expansion discs could repair this installment's notable omission of Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Buffett, Elvis Presley and the Beatles, Kenny Rogers and Garth Brooks, and Gloria Gaynor and the Village People. 

The game rates players based on pitch and timing, but not lyrics. Singing the wrong words or sounds, or singing during rests, incurs no penalty — a handy technique for singers interested in mastering the technique, if not the spirit, of the game. The better a gamer performs, the more consecutive combos, and the easier the difficulty setting, the more points he earns and the more enthusiastically the virtual crowd responds. 

The music, of course, is only as good as the singer, and it can be humbling to determine that it's the pitch, and not the game's pitch detection, which is off. A vocal track (not the original artist, but a suitable substitute) can be enabled for people who need a hand, or who match pitch better aurally than visually. 

Each song, stage, and singer has its own performance style, with appropriate lip-syncing and flashing lights in time with the music. But the choreography of the performers is lackluster, even during the instrumental solos. The crowd's reactions are even less imaginative, with identical clothing and movement from a sufficient majority to suggest a "1984" setting. 

With no one to mock you, root you on, or cheer for you, Karaoke Revolution does not sustain interest in the solo gamer. Introduce it at a party, though, and the fun factor increases significantly as three to eight players take turns in three to five rounds of singing. Judging can be automated, like in the one-player mode, or by one's peer contestants. Either way, the presence of a live audience makes it more obvious that this isn't just a video game: it's karaoke! The originality of this title finally gives gamers something to sing about.

This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Tech News, 09-Dec-03