Karaoke Revolution

November 9, 2004

Considering the popularity of Konami’s Karaoke Revolution series on the PS2, it was only a matter of time before the franchise made its debut on other systems. Roughly one year after the release of the original game on the PS2, Karaoke Revolution is now available for Xbox users across the country. This is cause for a reasonable amount of celebration for Xbox users, of course, because the series is still the best implementation of karaoke on any console. However, this Revolution is arriving as little more than a direct port of PS2’s first volume, and many of the improvements and additions made to the series over the past year (in two sequels) are conspicuously absent from this version. Konami can’t really be faulted for sticking with a winning formula, but some of the omissions just don’t make any sense, and it makes this debut package on the Xbox less desirable as a result.

For those unfamiliar with the series, here are the basics: Like traditional karaoke programs, Karaoke Revolution offers sing-along fun for up to eight players. However, where Karaoke Revolution breaks away from the pack is the fact that the game is built around a central gameplay mode in which a singer’s pitch is monitored and scored by the game itself. All songs included with the game have been broken down into a string of measures – think verse partitions – that scroll across the bottom of the screen with the lyrics. A pitch bar scrolls along with the words and vocal input from the player is matched against this bar as the song plays out. An arrow on the left side of the screen goes up and down with the voice pitch of the player, and matching one’s often flat or sharp inclinations against the preset requirements of each song is necessary to avoid failing the task. Players are represented onscreen by an animated avatar of sorts (everything from a Cyndi Lauper wannabe to a guy in a teddy bear costume) and a virtual audience cheers (or jeers) along in a variety of locations. Sing badly and it’s a one-way ticket to getting kicked off the stage, but a successful rendition of the song in question results in some nice particle effects and admiration from the crowd. Additional gameplay modes exist – most notably a straight karaoke mode and a mode in which the players judge each other’s performances – but the main meat of is the standard game mode. The game ships with a nice handheld microphone from Logitech, so all the materials necessary for a good time are right at hand.

This basic gameplay model has remained consistent across all of the PS2 sequels, while offering additional songs with each new iteration. The Xbox version includes the complete song list from the PS2’s first volume, and this isn’t very surprising. A complete collection of all the songs in the first two volumes would have been nice (especially considering the fact that the expansion pack business model made popular in Japan seems destined to remain on those shores), but that’s just wishful thinking. Konami clearly wants to extend the franchise across another platform, and the publisher can’t really be blamed for not laying out all of its songs at the outset. To its credit, developer Harmonix has included some new song content in the form of ten Motown hits that have not been available in any PS2 version. Also, the title boasts Live support for downloading new content, and if this feature materializes it will be a huge incentive for Revolution fans. Otherwise, there’s really no reason for fans of the original game to pick up this version, especially since some of the franchise’s more gameplay oriented improvements have not been implemented here. The ability to choose between short and long versions of each song was introduced with Volume 2 on the PS2, and there is no good reason it should not have been included for this Xbox version. Also, the medley mode from Volume 2 seems like a no-brainer for inclusion, as does the duet mode from Volume 3. Again, Konami clearly intends to follow a similar life cycle for this series on the Xbox as it did on the PS2, but why should the series intentionally be dumbed back down to its roots just because it’s shifting platforms? It would have been a far better move to bring a full-featured version to the Xbox now, coinciding with the release of Volume 3 on the PS2, and then proceed with new content on both platforms from there. Again, it may not be surprising that this is not the case, but it still hurts when a company makes a decision that is purely financial over the best interests of gamers.

A visual overhaul might have gone a long way toward assuaging this pain, but that apparently wasn’t in the cards, either. Revolution for the Xbox comes packed with the same characters and venues from the original PS2 game and not much more. A few unlockable costumes seem to have made the trip from the sequels to this version, but nothing else has been improved over the PS2 version. The visuals are nearly identical, which is very surprising considering their simplistic nature to begin with. The only saving grace is the audio, which has improved tenfold. For starters, the exclusive Motown hits are rendered by the original artists, which breaks with a long-standing tradition of the series. The cover artists have always been more than acceptable, but hearing this many songs sung by the original artists is a real eye-opener. Here’s hoping Harmonix can pull off more fully licensed songs in the future. Also, the addition of Dolby Digital support improves the title considerably. Vocals from the microphone are now clearly distributed from the center channel and are much easier to hear, while the music and audience noise have been distributed appropriately across the surrounds. The impact this makes is incredible and stands as the single most convincing argument for moving the series to the Xbox (until the Live support takes shape, that is).

In fairness, Karaoke Revolution on the Xbox is still a great gameA

Score: 5/5

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