Music games are big business; from Guitar Hero to Singstar, there have been bucket loads and they’re all big sellers. Up until now though, rap has been a substantially underrepresented genre of music in the gaming world, with developers aiming their titles mostly at pop and rock fans. Def Jam Rapstaris set to change this trend however, being the first video game to aim its musical offerings on the whippersnappers spittin’ bars on the street. In such a competitive market though, how does Def Jam Rapstar keep up with the big league of music titles?
Just like all other karaoke games, Rapstar is all about having fun alone or with friends by singing along with a host of your favourite tracks. The game boasts an impressive set list that spans rap history – from current chart hits to classics that are guaranteed to get the room moving. Seeing as rap is a broad genre, the game isn’t inclusive to one type or another, throwing in tracks from Beastie Boys, Dizzee Rascal, 2pac and Wu Tang Clan, making this game as accessible as possible to the majority. The game excludes swearing and doesn’t offer you a chance to turn it on, which is a minor setback, but you can choose to fill in the blanks when they appear on the screen with whatever you fancy. This is only a minor issue in most songs, but certain tracks that are full of expletives can be a bit dull to play when every other word is blanked out.
There are a few game modes available, including both a career and a party mode that lets you get straight into the action. Career mode lacks in both depth and character, more or less being the same as party mode only with the songs locked before you can sing along with them. To unlock new songs you try to ace the songs readily available to you; your performance unlocking you microphones that in turn unlock new tracks. There are 5 different stages, each with a new set of songs to work your way through, but the difficulty is pretty forgiving and even the most non-gaming players won’t have any trouble working through them. Party mode lets you get straight into things, letting you play any song bar a few that are unlocked via progress in career mode. Both modes are playable either solo or with a friend in either a battle, where you play for the highest score, or a duet, where you complete the song together. In all honesty, there isn’t much fun in playing this alone, and you’ll most likely whack this out over the festive season rapidly approaching us and/or at social gatherings – this game is far more enjoyable when you’re with friends and soaking up the party atmosphere. There’s also a freestyle mode, which provides you with a backing track and no lyrics, letting you spit bars at your leisure, which is fun to play around with, and could actually prove pretty useful for serious gamers to work on their talent.
With all games that require you to sing, vocal recognition is a key part. Like most other titles you can mumble along for the most part and still score well, but lyrical accuracy is actually important in Rapstar. Unlike games such as SingStar that measure just pitch, Rapstar keeps a close eye on how well you’re keeping up with the lyrics that are being thrown at you. The better you do at nailing these lyrics, the bigger bonus you get giving you the best score possible. This completely changes the dynamics of the karaoke game, simply umming and arrrhing your way through a track isn’t always possible, and you’ll soon notice your score plummeting down. It’s not easy though, and getting the rhythm right is woefully painful sometimes, especially if you’re completing a song you aren’t familiar with. It’s especially hard when you’re following a little bouncing ball jump around the screen – it often moves too fast to keep up with, throwing you off and making you lose yourself in the process. It may have helped if the words displayed on the screen were bigger, squinting at the screen to try and read the small printed lyrics will slow you down and in the process make you lose points. The origin of this problem is the size of the videos you’ll be watching. It supplies all the original videos for the tracks you’ll be playing along with, but they’re displayed on a pretty small and squashed block in the middle of the screen, which is annoying more than anything.
One of the most interesting features of Rapstar is the ability to interact with the game if you have an Xbox camera or Kinect plugged in. When you perform a track you can watch the video back and pick a 30 second clip which you can then edit and upload to the internet. You can change loads of things on these clips like adding daft effects like speech bubbles, or even give your video a sepia tone. Uploaded videos head to the Def Jam Rapstar community where they can be watched and rated by Def Jam players across the globe. The community is a bit like Facebook: send friend requests, like other players videos and cause beef by challenging other players to battles to see who the best rapper is.
Def Jam doesn’t bring much new to the karaoke game, but if you’ve been waiting for a rap-based game title then Rapstar certainly ticks most of the correct boxes. It won’t be for everyone, and if you don’t have at least a passing interest in rap or charty hip-hop stuff then there are other karaoke games out there that you’ll prefer. Def Jam is fun and packed with content, and with a buzzing online community and unlimited possibilities for downloadable tracks, there’s always something going on to keep you coming back for more.
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