There isn’t much here to celebrate…
Game: Singstar Celebration
Developer: London Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4 (Review code provided)
On PlayStation 2, the Singstar karaoke series was a big seller, with annual revisions adding new songs and genre-specific playlists, to satisfy a broad range of musical tastes. Making use of their proprietary USB microphones and the PlayStation Eye camera, this was social gaming and content sharing long before that became a ubiquitous thing. The PlayStation 3 versions never quite captured the same successes experienced before, but added some interesting new modes like Guitar and Dance support, and even greater sharing options – whilst also allowing longtime series fans to still use their PS2 discs through a clever disc-swap system. When a PlayStation 4 version finally launched a few years ago therefore, hopes were high that the London Studio development team would build upon the solid foundations laid before.
That is probably why it was such a disappointment when that iteration launched as a severely scaled-down version. The biggest issue was the removal of the ever-popular Pass The Mic Party mode. This mode allowed two teams of up to four members to face off across seven rounds of different karaoke modes, such as Battles, Duets, Medleys and group singing. This was pretty much the go-to mode for all gamers who played Singstar with friends or at parties. Without this mode, the title lost a great deal of its appeal. Yes, this was patched in later, but the damage had already been done. So now, three years have passed and Singstar Celebration is looking to re-launch the series, and eliminate the errors of the past. Lets see just how it stacks up.
First things first, the base game features thirty new songs (although some of these were already available for download on the Singstore PSN shop). The genre variety sadly is lacking, with the vast majority of the thirty songs being modern pop hits. There are two or three classic songs, and perhaps two rock tracks, but the rest is very much contemporary – limiting the appeal of the on-disc music. The most popular Singstar track-lists have always made use of some modern songs, but mixed with a hefty number of timeless classics. Of course modern tracks will appeal to a young audience, but how fun a song will be to sing in karaoke for years to come has to be taken into account for a successful singing game. You don’t have to be a fan of every song included in a Singstar game, but in the past even songs I disliked listening to, felt fun to sing with friends. Of course many players have a large back catalogue of purchased Singstore tracks built up over the years, but you can’t bet the success of a new release on the hopes that people have plenty of songs to sing already, when you could use the free-to-play version to sing those instead.
Track-list aside, whilst the Pass The Mic mode has been re-implemented from the get-go for Singstar Celebration, it still isn’t quite what it used to be. Firstly, there is only now one difficulty for all songs, across all modes. So this not only affects party modes, but also regular singing. Every song appears to be set to easy by default, with no option to make it harder to match the pitch and score points. Previously this was very useful for providing a higher challenge for adept players, but also for adding a handicap in party modes, where perhaps one competitor was far better than the other – being able to set independent difficulties for different players helped to level the playing field, and therefore make this a lot more fun for everyone taking part, regardless of their singing talent.
Secondly, you can now select any song you want to sing in each round of the party mode. This is good in a sense, as it means you can avoid having to sing the same songs over and over again, but the old system worked much better in a party setting. In older titles, each team had a limit amount of “shuffle” tokens – in essence a pass card for songs. Random songs would be chosen for each round, and the two teams could strategically use their shuffle tokens to skip songs they were not good at, or that they thought the other team would be particularly good at. These were limited, so sometimes you would just be stuck with a horrible song you couldn’t sing. Of course that could be frustrating, but in a party setting, this added a lot more fun and excitement – as well as adding an extra layer of strategy to the game. Without it, there is definitely a void left behind, where the mode falls a lot more flat.
There are a couple of new additions in terms of social modes – with Challenges now available, where you can set a high score on a chosen song, then save your score online and challenge others to beat it. This works like a game of Horse in Basketball, where each player takes turns to try and beat the last score over and over, until someone fails to increase the score. This is a nice addition, but the removal of difficulty levels again effects this, as most seasoned players won’t feel very challenged by the basic difficulty setting available, and their scores will be pretty high across the board already. You can still make use of any PlayStation-compatible cameras to capture photo and video clips as you sing, which is definitely a hoot when watching back a song performed with friends, and the quality captured by the newer PS4 cameras is dramatically better than what Singstar fans were used to back in the PS2 or PS3 days.
As first introduced a few years ago, you can still now choose to use the Singstar Microphone App on Smartphone to sing – instead of needing to buy USB or Wireless microphones. You could also hook up the PS4 camera, and use the microphone on that to capture your singing. Neither of these options are quite as accurate or responsive as using proper official Singstar microphones. There is a pronounced latency delay with both of the alternate input methods, so I would implore all serious Singstar players to still use their old physical ones – which also add to the fun, as holding your phone to your mouth upside down just doesn’t have quite the same appeal as playing with a proper microphone.
In any gaming series, fans would expect to get more options and improvements in later version – that just makes sense. So it is easy to see why Singstar fans have been very vocally disappointed with the PlayStation 4 instalments that have been released. Longtime features and favourite modes have been altered and removed, to the detriment of the overall experience, whilst very little has been added to try and improve things. It is always fun to get a new disc of Singstar tracks to try out, but the selection in Celebration features very few classics or songs that feel like they lend themselves well to karaoke – in fact, there are very few tracks I could imagine wanting to sing more than once. Sony London Studio needs to not only pick and choose future tracks more carefully, but they need to listen to their fans in the Singstar Community. These are people who have largely been buying and playing Singstar titles for more than a decade, and therefore know what works. Don’t remove options that detract from the title, but do look to add new features which actually make a positive difference.