SingStar '90s

Don't confuse this with karaoke, or even with being a great singer, but for easy laughs, this is an out-and-out party game.

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Multimedia: SingStar '90s
ESRB rating: Teen
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
US release date: 2008-03-18
Amazon UK affiliate
Developer website
Amazon affiliate

On the surface, SingStar seems like it would be the karaoke-lover's dream game: a microphone, a song list, and familiar follow-the-highlighted-words set up, all there on your home console. When PopMatters offered me the chance to review the latest iteration, I jumped at it. My wife and I being self-confessed devotees of that oft-maligned but internationally treasured Asian export, I couldn't pass up the chance to port those late bar nights to the convenience of my living room and engage in a little competitive caterwauling.

It took all of about 15 minutes to realize that SingStar is not karaoke on a console. In fact, for people who -- despite harboring no grand illusions of American Idol stardom -- are generally considered good karaoke singers, SingStar can be maddeningly frustrating.

For starters, SingStar is structured as a game, and game play requires precision. While the game eschews all of the button manipulation that is the baseline standard of console games -- even the superficially similar Guitar Hero/Rock Band cousins -- to measure and evaluate the voice electronically SingStar by necessity can only test your pitch and frequency and match it to an exacting pre-ordained arrangement. In practice, this means that the game tells you exactly how the song goes, and if you don't measure up, you fail. Contrast this to live karaoke, where the heart and soul of the experience is personal interpretation of a familiar song. While faithful duplication is somewhat encouraged, the really good singers understand that karaoke is an expression of a song as you would sing it.

To put it bluntly, not only will SingStar punish the karaoke singer for every deviation from the original (i.e. style), but it will make you question that sense of competence and the confidence in your abilities so hard-won by performing live in front of friends and strangers.

So why did it take me so long to put SingStar down and commit my thoughts on the game to words, choosing instead to stay up far later than intended as I tried to figure out just what the game wants in its measure of rap ability?

Well, because it's fun, duh. Though, to qualify, it's a limited type of fun by gamer conventions. SingStar is possibly the ultimate iteration of "party game". While a lot of recent talk has been devoted to notions of "casual gaming", SingStar operates on the extreme end of the spectrum. Never once in the month I have been on-and-off playing it have I been tempted to pick up the mic and practice on my own. It's a game that demands a partner, and ideally a group, to fully enjoy -- yes, one that is willing to suffer bad singing, and yes, preferably one that drinks alcohol -- because it's a game almost entirely devoid of goals.

This is SingStar's failure as a game, but also its strength as an activity. From a gaming sense, it's almost a dead-end in terms of conventional lures. There are no levels. There are no mini-games. And despite the pattern established by the aforementioned Guitar Hero, there are no unlockables. Your song choices are fixed, they are always available, and the only aim is score higher and higher points while figuring out the nuances of each song. Even less engaging is the fact that the quality of the singing doesn't have to improve to score better, thus negating skills development as a goal -- all that matters is accuracy. It doesn't take too long to figure out the "cheat" and realize that you can "sing" a song in a flat monotone, without regard to key, and do better than the person singing dynamically next to you, because, again, this technology can't measure style or purity. You can wordlessly hum the tune accurately and score big points, so long as you spend enough time memorizing the patterns. It may not be much different than the golden key pattern of Pac Man so touted in the '80s, but it does take away some of the challenge to improve as a singer. You're not going to SingStar your way into diva-hood.

On the other hand, it makes SingStar a great console game for just messing around with a friend, or for turning on as a group activity at parties (and even if you know the "cheat" method, it still gets harder the drunker you get, upping the hilarity factor regardless). Even with challenges and multiplayer functions, the grading and scoring are the only real competition, meaning it's both easily re-playable, and because quality singing eludes the game's tech, you don't have to be an amazing vocalist to enjoy it and get a good score. All that's required is a sense of humor. I even tested it on family (though in full disclosure, karaoke-loving family), and wound up having to fight off the kids in attendance to get a turn in -- kids who can't even manipulate a PS2 controller yet. Mic hogs.

Of course, if you've played any of the other SingStar games, this is all old news, and I apologize now for retreading worn ground. If you've played one in the past, you've played this one, and the only reason you're even reading the review right now is to figure out what's been added to your playlist. Because the one thing that SingStar most definitely does share with karaoke is that singing the same songs over and over again gets old fast. And the best way to overcome that boredom is… with another injection of songs.

Obviously, SingStar '90s culls its songs from that decade, and like the other games in the series, it perhaps wisely focuses on the pop chart music of the era. Like the Party and Rocks! and '80s editions before it, Sing Star '90s is basically a booster pack to your collection. And again, Sony pulls from its vast vault of masters (not forgetting publishing and duplication rights) the songs that it has on hand that managed to chart well in the 1990s and the music videos that accompanied them. There's a mixture of choices, many from artists you've had the chance to sing with before (having previously hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Come as You Are", now you've got Nirvana's "Lithium"), and a fair number from one-hit wonders (Vanilla Ice's "Ice, Ice Baby", Len's "Steal My Sunshine", and even Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping" -- though only on the American version, where that song was the first and last time that group's name was uttered). It's a fair sampling of pop, rock, R&B, and a little hip-hop, too, keeping in the spirit of past editions (Despite the karaoke-ubiquity of "Baby Got Back", Sir Mix-a-Lot's track proves deceptively hard here).

SingStar '90s, then, is Sony giving a little something for everyone -- or rather, a little something more for everyone. They've got the massive label licensing to dole out 35-or-so more songs at a time and keep this franchise moving, and they know it. They've managed to keep the regional releases from having any song choice overlap, and where songs have appeared on foreign releases, they occasionally appear on later US versions, and vice vera ("What do you mean 'Love Shack' is only on the international edition? They're from Athens, Georgia, not Athens, Greece! -- Oh, it's on Rocks!, okay...") -- though given my personal taste, the international edition edges out the American edition just slightly, but that's subjective. The series has already been a big hit worldwide, and Sony's inclusion of EyeTool technology has tailor-made this a game for the YouTube era. Pop Vol. 2 and Country have already been slated for later in the year. I wouldn't even be surprised in the least if a SingStar Indie didn't hit the shelves in the next year or so, no matter how paradoxical the concept.

And the thing is, ultra-casual party game or not, it will be tempting to purchase it. I'm already getting sick of these same micro-medleys, and nothing is making me any better at "I Wanna Sex You Up". But I don't have SingStar Rocks! yet....


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller

18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr

17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr

16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.