Music games. Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Sing It, Karaoke Revolution — even the now-classic Donkey Konga are all part of this stunningly popular genre. Though once they were the stepchild of gaming, earning the derisive descriptor of “casual,” they’ve become so huge that any serious gamer can’t afford to ignore them. And why should we? No matter how nerdy you are, chances are, you’ve secretly dreamed of being a rock star, renowned for your good looks and hot lixx, not the veracity of your Wikipedia edits.
Of the variety of music games, the games that require you to sing are the most challenging for many people, precisely because they require you to use the instrument that you were born with (I’m referring to your voice; please put your pants back on, sir). There’s no question about it — you’ve either got it or you don’t. And if you think that you’ve got it, well, a good karaoke game will let you know pretty quickly if you’re mistaken.
Glee Karaoke Revolution Volume 3 is exactly what you’d expect — and no more. There is music. The words scroll by on a screen. You sing into a microphone. You get a score. Lather, rinse, repeat. Meanwhile, a sound widget analyzes your voice and determines where your pitch is compared to where it’s supposed to be and gives you points according to how closely that you match the melody.
Not to say that there’s no inherent replayability to the game. There are three difficulty levels, which determine how forgiving the game will be when you don’t quite hit that high note. Unlike Guitar Hero-style games, there are no additional notes to sing as you climb the difficulty scale. Rather, the machine just gets more persnickety about how close to on-pitch that you are. And there are also three different play modes, each of which can be played in either solo or duet mode.
The three game modes are very similar and not well explained in the on-screen help (and of course the game manual is no help whatsoever). All have the same interface, song list, and difficulty options. Quickplay is your basic karaoke — sing and get a score. Yearbook is exactly like Quickplay, but it offers the chance to unlock photos for your, well, yearbook. But the tricky part is that just singing well in Yearbook mode isn’t enough — you (or a friend) have to tap the “A” button at the right time to capture the picture. While singing. On pitch, and in rhythm. Yeah, it’s tricky. And, unfortunately, no more fun than just singing without all the distraction.
Shooting Star mode provides an odd little diversion for non-singers, cluttering up the screen with a galaxy’s worth of shining stars that can be zapped with the Wii-mote by up to 4 players. Each star-zapper gets a score at the end of the song, but the singer does not. And the number of stars doesn’t seem to have anything to do with how well the singer does, so honestly, it’s basically “Toy Story Mania” with clips from Glee in the background.
Glee Karaoke Revolution, like most music games, is much more fun to play along with a friend. There is a duet mode that works pretty well, offering both cooperative and competitive play. Additionally, this game, like all karaoke, becomes much more exciting after consuming several recreational beverages. There are also achievement-like “goals” that can be found in the “career” menu, but accomplishing them doesn’t add much to the core game.
What all this adds up to is a standard Karaoke game with a healthy dose of cross-branded marketing, which, quite honestly, leaves me a bit cold. Don’t get me wrong — I love to sing, and any karaoke game is a fun way to spend an hour or three with friends. But I don’t enjoy watching Glee (I can hear your shocked gasps, gentle reader, but I cannot deny the truth), and I really do not give a flying flip about collecting photos of characters in a digital scrapbook. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
The problem isn’t the game itself. Glee Karaoke Revolution is fine, fine. The problem is that I also own one of the Sing It! games, which is infinitely superior. I own the Disney Family Hits version, purchased as a gift for my kids, and it is ten times more enjoyable, even though it consists entirely of songs directed at the average seven-year-old. (Though, perhaps in my case, I enjoy it because it truly reaches me on my own level of emotional maturity.).
What makes Sing It! superior? First, the recordings are original — instead of singing along with a twenty-four year old pretending to be a sixteen year old pretending to be George Michael, you’re actually singing along with the great Disney voices like those of Phil Harris and Jodi Benson. You don’t have to learn a whole new version of the song (like an awful, emo rendition of the Beatles’ classic “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”) to do well in this game. Second, although neither game could be accused of having any serious amount of “depth,” GKR seems even shallower than most music games. The play modes try to provide variety, but in reality, they just offer a distraction from the core mechanic of the game: singing well.
Still, hardcore Glee fans who are familiar with these renditions of popular tunes will probably enjoy singing along with the perky “teens” as they knee-slide their way across the school cafeteria. And many of the cover versions are similar enough to the originals that if you belt out the Freddie Mercury version of “Fat Bottom Girls,” you’ll do just fine.