Despite the success of “Karaoke Revolution,” now in its third edition, all volumes of the popular singing series have sorely neglected hip hop fans. Enter “Get On Da Mic” from Eidos, the first-ever rapping game, which joins the “Def Jam” fighting series and the forthcoming “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” as the latest in a continuing crop of games targeted at the “urban” market. While the appeal of “Get On Da Mic” may be more limited, it’s the first and only choice right now for gamers who want to rap on their PS2.
The graphics are decent, though they are not at all the focus of the game. Character models are varied but not overly impressive. The environments are well designed and have some clever special effects, especially at the higher levels, but don’t do much to serve the game. The only real deficit in the graphics department is that the characters are not cued to the music or lyrics, so their body motions and lip movements are the same for every song, which can lead to some interesting juxtapositions of what you hear and what you see.
Sounds is stellar, with all the tracks coming in at CD-quality. The game includes plenty of options to tweak the lead vocals and microphone volume as well. Sound effects are limited and not at all annoying; they are there, but don’t ever really get in the way. This is one area where the game excels, which, as a singing game, it should.
The developers have done a decent job trying to flesh out both single and multi-player modes, though at it’s heart, this really is a party game and is best enjoyed with a group of friends, the more the better. Among the game options for more than one player are “Competition,” a straight-up hot-seat style contest, “Co-Op,” which, as you would expect, lets you work together with a friend rather than compete, “Party,” an unscored open mode, and the best of the bunch, “Freestyle,” in which two players battle back and forth with their own rhymes while onlookers rate the performances.
Single player modes are more limited and include the usual “Practice,” “Exhibition,” “Freestyle,” and “Career.” The career mode is not nearly as deep as it could have been. You progress from singing to yourself in the mirror all the way up to a world tour, but there’s no real difference in the environments. You can use money you earn on the way up to buy gear, threads, car, and crib, but, aside from the outfits you can purchase, none of your spoils actually show up in the game or have any impact at all on gameplay. There are several unlockable characters, as well.
No matter which mode you choose, the basic game remains the same. Choose a song from an impressive and varied list of forty, ranging from such old school classics as Sugarhill Gang’s “Rappers Delight” to newer songs like Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice.” None of the songs are the original versions, but the sound-alike rappers sound surprisingly close to the originals in most cases. On top of the song list, there are 40 additional “beats” for the freestyle modes. With no lyrics, you’re free to make up your own rhymes to go along with the pre-recorded tracks.
Gameplay is where things start to fall apart. Whereas the “Karaoke Revolution” game measures both timing and pitch, “Get On Da Mike” only cares that you get the rhythm correct—in theory. Ideally, you’ll rap the lyrics in time with the gray bar on the screen as it passes over the words. The only problem is, the lyrics are often not synched up with the position of the bar onscreen, so it’s hard to tell exactly when to hit the beat. On top of that, there are two lines of text at any time. When you’re reading the second line, you don’t get to see the next until you finish it, which makes songs where you don’t know all the words quite difficult. This is one case where the designers should have taken a cue from Konami’s series and stuck with one line of moving text across the bottom of the screen.
Problems with the design won’t stop you from doing well, however, as whatever mechanism is used to detect the beats is incredibly forgiving. I was able to make it through several songs I had never heard before with outrageously high scores and even “Rock Da Mic” (a special mode you can achieve after hitting many words on cue in a row) a few times. There are three difficulty settings, but “Hard” didn’t really act any differently than “Easy,” other than to occasionally decide I had missed words at random. For rappers looking to improve or rookies looking to learn, this is the biggest failing of the game. It’s hard to correct yourself or get any better when the game won’t tell you what you’re doing wrong.
That being said, “Get On Da Mic” serves as a limited karaoke machine quite well. If you’re just looking to mess around with friends or are too shy to try your hand at hip hop karaoke in public, this game could be for you. For anyone who’s not a die-hard hip hop fan though, you’d do better with an old-fashioned karaoke machine, which provides just as much functionality and many more songs.
Two final nice touches are worth mentioning. The game comes pre-packaged with a microphone, which works far better than the sub-par headset that comes with “Karaoke Revolution.” Trying to rap on a headset is just wrong, anyway. Lastly, if you have an EyeToy camera, you can also hook it up with the PS2 version of the game and watch yourself as you rap away on the television. It doesn’t affect the game at all, but at least you can see yourself busting rhymes (or, in my case, looking like a damn fool.)