Konami's Karaoke Revolution finally has stateside competition in SingStar Rocks!, a new PlayStation 2 karaoke game developed by Sony's London studio. SingStar is a prolific series in Europe--entries are available with subtitles like Party, Anthems, '80s, and more--but Rocks! marks the first time the franchise has appeared in the US. It contains a reasonably satisfying song lineup and is geared more toward the multiplayer party scenario than dedicated, career-based single-player singing. For your money, you also get a pair of pretty good microphones and a USB adapter that lets them interface with the PS2. The game is a little short on game modes and other frills, and diehard karaoke fans will likely find that the game lacks staying power, but SingStar Rocks! serves nicely as a casual singing-based game for those less discriminating songsters.
Rocks! features a pretty good list of songs, though the 'rock' theme isn't as well represented as it could be.
Music-based games live and die by their track lists, and Rocks!' is decent enough. The game sticks to its rock theme with some recent songs--Fall Out Boy's "Dance, Dance," The Killers' "Somebody Told Me," and Bloc Party's "Banquet"--while also throwing in a wide range of classics, from Blur's "Song 2" and the Scorpions' "Wind of Change" all the way back to the Stones' "Paint It, Black" and, of course, "Sweet Home Alabama." But some puzzling choices round out the list, including Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Gwen Stefani, and...DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince? Accomplished artists, all of them, but their inclusion here doesn't make a lot of sense. It feels like whoever assembled the game's lineup couldn't fully commit to the rock theme--perhaps rightly so, since not everyone in your drunken crowd will want to sing that style of music--but the attempt to add variety seems halfhearted with such a spare and strange group of artists.
There's no pretense of a career mode or any other obstacle blocking you from any of the songs in SingStar Rocks! As soon as you fire up the game and navigate through its minimal, stylish menus, you can access all 30 songs and start singing them. Mechanically, the game works just like any karaoke machine you've seen in some seedy bar: The lyrics are displayed at the bottom of the screen with an indicator showing which line you're supposed to be singing. Above that, you get a series of horizontal bars that approximate the relative pitch you should sing the current line at, and these are filled in as you sing (with bars appearing above or below the lines to show where you're flat or sharp). Finally, a small performance meter constantly gauges how well you're doing. It's all elementary as karaoke goes, and it won't take even novices long to get a feel for it. As with Karaoke Revolution, SingStar only measures your pitch, so you're free to hum the words or sing an octave lower if you just want the highest score. But what fun is that?
In the single-player mode, you simply pick a full- or short-length version of any song, then sing it and receive a numerical score rating your performance. The point values here seem to be arbitrary, though, so a letter or percentage ranking would have been a more meaningful gauge of how well you've done. Things get a little more interesting on the multiplayer side. The duet mode lets two players sing at the same time to generate a combined score, and this mode is good for easing shyer players into the action. Battle conversely pits you against each other by making you sing different parts of the song.