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PS2 Review: SingStar Pop

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The SingStar karaoke series is to European PS2 owners what games like Madden might be in North America, but on a slight smaller scale. The franchise has done very well in Europe, with seven different versions already out across the continent and localized versions available in countries like Sweden. However, the real question is: can it catch fire on this side of the Atlantic Ocean as well?

Developed by Sony London and published by Sony’s European branch, SingStar Pop is the latest addition to the franchise and the last SingStar coming out for the PS2. Combining two European releases – 2005’s SingStar Popworld with some of the songs from the upcoming SingStar Pop HitsSingStar Pop aims to deliver a top-notch karaoke experience, but falls just a bit short.

SingStar Pop contains 30 different songs to sing from, each with one of three difficulty levels. The songs range from the amazingly awesome (including a-ha's "Take On Me" and the Gorillaz's "Feel Good, Inc."), to the middle of the road songs (including songs from My Chemical Romance, Daniel Powter and U2), to the disgustingly bad (the Unholy Trinity of Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne and Ashlee Simpson). The 30 songs on SingStar Pop cover just about every corner of the pop universe, which gives it wide appeal, but makes it a slightly weaker line-up than what we got with SingStar Rocks.

At least SingStar Pop includes all of the proper music videos for the songs, which SingStar Rocks did not. The videos are all clear and look broadcast-quality, though you probably won’t be paying much attention to them. Each song and video also has a short and full version, but the short version cuts out at inconvenient points sometimes.

While the songs sound great, you can’t just hear your voice over the music. While you can use the controller’s buttons to adjust the microphone volume, the original track remains in the background as back-up vocals. This takes a bit away from the true karaoke experience, but it’s nothing big enough to kill the experience.

Looking for options? SingStar Pop doesn’t have a whole lot of them in the options menu. And there’s no way to turn the videos off unless you have an EyeToy plugged in to record your moves. I wish there was a way to turn a handful of the annoying ones off without having to use this option.

SingStar Pop makes use of a microphone that is connected to the console by a USB adapter, which is bundled in with two microphones with the $50 version. When you select a song, you’ll be taken to a screen that shows the video, lyrics across the bottom of the screen, and an on-screen pitch guide, which will help you to determine if you’re too low, too high, or just right. This is an incredibly useful feature that makes SingStar Pop a game that everyone can play, regardless of skill level. The pitch software is pretty good and is able to adjust to higher or lower singing pitches, meaning that you don’t need to sing like Bono to get past “Vertigo”.

But there are issues with the gameplay as well. The game’s pitch measuring software can be picky, and you’ll often find yourself holding out notes for a long time or bitching that it didn’t pick up the right pitch. The game also uses pitch as the only scoring mechanism, meaning that you don’t even need to know the words; in fact, I beat several songs just by singing along with the right pitch. The game’s built-in Rap Meter, which pops up on songs with rap melodies like “Feel Good, Inc.”, is awful at picking up the correct words. The fact that I knew De La Soul’s rap parts in the song didn’t seem to matter, because the came kept giving me a score of “Awful,” even when I was spot on. This was perhaps the most frustrating part of the entire SingStar experience.

Obviously, with a game like SingStar Pop, there’s built in replay value, as it will be something you can take to you with parties for a good time. It will also take time and practice in order to get good at this game. The game includes several multiplayer modes, though, including Battle and Duet modes and Pass the Mic, which allows up to 8 players to play while taking turns. Unlike Guitar Hero II, though there won’t be any downloadable content for SingStar Pop, which is perhaps good in that you won’t be nickeled and dimed to death, but once you get through the songs you’re interested in singing, that’s it.

As the latest entry in the SingStar franchise, SingStar Pop is better than SingStar Rocks, but there’s still room for improvement. The pitch-detecting software could use a bit of tweaking, whatever they use for the Rap Meter needs to be completely re-built, and we need to be able to turn the lyrics off so that we can just have the music. Besides that, though, SingStar Pop does a good job of creating a fun karaoke experience using popular songs, one that you’ll be able to just pick up and play. If you can’t get enough of pop music and you love singing along with your favorite tunes, you might want to give SingStar Pop a shot.

SingStar Pop is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Alcohol Reference, Mild Lyrics, Mild Violence and Suggestive Themes.

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