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Karaoke Revolution

Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Blitz Games
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 16
Genre: Party/ Rhythm/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Karaoke Revolution is a new start for an old franchise, coming a bit late behind a rush in recent years of great music games. The most obvious comparison on Xbox 360 is last year's release of Lips, which differs from Karaoke Revolution in several very significant ways. The appearance of the two games could not be more different. Karaoke Revolution betrays its roots as a product of the Harmonix shop - although this specific version hails from a different developer - with a focus on avatars and simulated performance. Where Lips put artists' videos front-and-center, the original videos for each song in Karaoke Revolution can literally be found behind the stage or projected on a screen in the arena where your character is performing. You can even, in Karaoke Revolution, use the Xbox LIVE Vision Camera to insert yourself on the virtual big screen. I'm a brave living-room karaoke singer, but I'm not sure I'm brave enough to have my real-life performances splashed up on even the most virtual of screens...

The sound quality and balance between your vocals and the music in the game is decent, although the included microphone leaves a bit to be desired in terms of its threshold, with a tendency to noticeably clip when you belt out particularly strong passages. The fix for this is to dial down the gain on the mic until you can shout and keep things out of the red, but the out-of-the-box sound quality for Karaoke Revolution didn't match up with what we found in Lips. The ability to run a pure karaoke session (with just backing music tracks) remains present here, and is part of the staple appeal for this franchise among its fans. Including created character models, or avatars, is a nice feature that feeds into numerous unlockable customizations, whether to your character or venue of choice. We're probably not the only ones that prefer to just jump in and sing, but the shelf life of Karaoke Revolution is greatly improved for solo singers by the offering of fairly extensive unlockables.


Gameplay:

This Career feature is hardly a mandatory piece of Karaoke Revolution, however. It's possible to jump in and quickly get down to business, using one of the preloaded characters and venues. With 50 songs unlocked and ready for you immediately, the choice of what tune to sing may be your most immediate and difficult decision. Are you a traditionalist, a Baby Boomer, with your eye on golden oldies from the Jackson 5, Rod Stewart, and Pat Benatar? Or are you a Gen Xer, with your eye on '80s classics from the likes of Talking Heads, Tears for Fears, and Modern English. Tweens and everyone else can sing their hearts out to more recent smash hits from Amy Winehouse, Akon, Kate Perry, Pink, and Kelly Clarkson. Mixed in with this obvious goodness are some Spanish-language hits from Miranda!, Luis Fonsi, Lola, and RBD, a nod to a growing demographic that probably likes singing tunes from a different part of the radio dial. As you get past the joy of singing along to familiar tunes, you can dig deeper into competitive or duet modes, match up through Xbox LIVE, or work solo through the Career Mode to unlock new venues and earn achievements.

There are plenty of achievements to earn through your singing skills, and Karaoke Revolution rewards for consistently staying on pitch and in time with phrases during each song. You'll unlock new venues and have the option to design a venue that really lights your fire, as you progress. Fans of the original videos may be a bit disappointed to find them so buried in most of the venues, but some are better than others, and it is possible to design a setting where you get more video goodness. The characters you create are often quite entertaining, and will keep on dancing convincingly even when your singing skills need a tune-up. Karaoke Revolution provides feedback as you execute phrases, and lets you rack up points for singing whole phrases well; earn enough and you can dial in a bonus that translates to major points at the end of each song. We liked how obvious and vivid the feedback systems are here, really letting you know when you aren't nailing a song. You'll need to score well to earn higher placement for your character, but the focus is still just on singing. Don't think there is a real music-performer sim game working here, although that would be a fun idea. In the end, better singing earns more points and more points unlocks more of the game.


Difficulty:

Measuring the difficulty of a karaoke game is a tough task in itself... You can say that the pure karaoke experience in Karaoke Revolution isn't really in consideration, since it just provides you with a no-pressure way to sing along, but the scoring in other modes certainly applies some pressure. Before each song begins, you'll have the chance to adjust settings that dictate how "on" you'll need to be during the track to score maximum points. You'll rack up those points by singing on pitch and executing phrases with some precision and consistency during the song. The indicator for on-pitch singing is really nice, compared to the simpler win/fail measurement seen in Lips. Here, you'll see a little widget floating along behind your current action-line, the line at which you need to be singing lyrics as they scroll from right to left. If you are flat or sharp, the little widget adjusts accordingly to show that you're too low or high... non-musicians won't understand the distinction intellectually, but will naturally start to raise or drop their pitch in an effort to "fix" that widget. Once you're on pitch, scoring improves along with the reception you'll find from judges and the crowd. Poor crowd reactions will ultimately result in you getting the boot, but all this feedback helps keep you honest and improving. Learning lyrics in Karaoke Revolution is actually less important than getting pitch right, and making sure to sing/hum/whistle at the right points in each song. Filling the in-game meter through good singing gives you a boost and ultimately a bonus - earn enough of these and you'll end up with achievements and new unlockable attractions, like venues and accessories. The tangible reward in Karaoke Revolution is a great feature that makes repeat performances more than just an attempt to score bigger numbers or rank higher on a leaderboard. Once you've opened up all venues and maxed achievements, you'll likely just end up in the game's Karaoke Mode anyway, where the lyrics are made up and the points don't matter...

Game Mechanics:

Owners of Lips have the benefit of better mics that can be used with Karaoke Revolution, compared to the packed-in corded, USB mic that we tested. There's nothing really wrong with the USB mic, and it was even refreshing to not have to fiddle with the mic for pairing or worry about batteries. The main problem with a corded mic turns out to be, no surprise, the cord. Eager Tweens and bumbling toddlers tend to get hung up on long lines snaking through your living room, and the resultant Xbox-pulled-off-shelf moment will leave you a bit frustrated. Playing with a friend on his or her corded mic can only result in the kind of awkward, tangled-line experience that one finds on a crowded fishing pier. The controls beyond holding the mic and singing mainly revolve around customizing characters and venues, all done through the standard controller. We can't say that all the customization felt incredibly intuitive - think about the Xbox LIVE avatar customization, rather than something as flexible as Nintendo's Mii customization possibilities. The outcome is obviously more realistic than a Mii, but we'll lay down $5 that says we can make a Mii that looks more like you than any avatar Karaoke Revolution is capable of producing. At least you can play dress up with lots of fun rock accessories, mic stands, and BIG hair.

The vote between Lips and Karaoke Revolution falls for us in favor of Lips. We're not die-hard fans of the Karaoke Revolution franchise, so this "highly anticipated return" of the series is just a new introduction for us. Between the two games, we greatly prefer the song selection of Karaoke Revolution, so there's that. Most of the career progression here is somewhat present in Lips through a series of rankings and achievements, but folks that like to sing along with avatars in simulated auditoriums won't find any satisfaction in Lips. It's like a competition between folks that like to sing along with artist's videos and folks that like to imagine themselves cast in a video, so you'll have to decide on which side of that equation you fall. We can't fault Karaoke Revolution on any technical points, other than the logistically inferior microphone setup. The deciding factor and biggest "caveat emptor" may fall on the side of the music library, in terms of how much investment in previous Karaoke Revolution installments for Xbox you've made, and how attractive the song library amassed for Lips is now. Singers looking for the purest karaoke experience will still find it in Karaoke Revolution, but we just don't see the new custom features and slight reskinning of the game as outweighing more impressive music titles in the market now for this platform.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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