Saturday, 21 August 2010

We Sing Encore

If you’re the sort of person, like this writer, for whom karaoke is an exercise in extreme humiliation when in a public environment, but a quietly transcendent activity in more private confines, then the rise of karaoke videogaming – not to mention plush Japanese-style booths like those found in Lucky Voice – will have come as a godsend. We Sing Encore, the follow-up to last year’s successful We Sing, is the latest console-based interpretation of this most alcohol-dependent of pursuits; it may not have the most radical of approaches, but the job in hand is executed well nonetheless.

The basic premise doesn’t quite require the levels of explanation as demonstrated by our recent Demon’s Souls review, but for the sake of word count we’ll quickly recap: songs are sung along to, points are earned, winners crowned, with losers made to down punishing shots of Tequila. This won’t be the last time that alcohol is mentioned; it takes a lot, after all, to forget just how bad at singing we are. Fortunately We Sing Encore even includes singing lessons, more on which later.

The game’s interface is cheap and cheerful, especially when compared to the artful minimalism of SingStar or the colour and dazzle of Lips; lyrics appear at the bottom of the screen, while the pitch bar occupies the middle. There’s also something called a ‘sung pitch bar’ that highlights how much lower or higher your vocals need to be whenever you stray from the correct pitch. It’s a reasonably serviceable system, albeit one which lacks personality. All the features that you’d expect are present – the ability to play shortened versions of each track, or a true karaoke mode in which the demands of matching the correct vocal are removed – but they’re present because that’s what karaoke videogames are supposed to offer. There’s no overriding philosophy to We Sing apart from singing – this is of course perfectly fine, but a bit of the invention of the other famous karaoke games wouldn’t have gone amiss either. In all fairness there are quite a few multiplayer options (our favourite being the game in which the winner is the first to 5000 points), but nothing to enable Nordic Games to stand alongside the likes of iNiS and London Studio.

Thankfully the most important factor to determine We Sing Encore’s success – the actual singing – works. We know this because our attempts at singing Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’, or indeed most of the tracks that weren’t ‘Three Lions ‘98’, were regularly rated as ‘awful’. Another point of interest is that We Sing Encore, like its predecessor, supports four microphones simultaneously, a feature that comes into its own with friends. And, er, alcohol.

There are two features in We Sing Encore worth highlighting. One is the system of awards that are available to the player. Unlocked for everything from singing every song and reaching high scores to picking the developer’s favourite background, these achievements help give structure to a solo mode that, in a party-orientated karaoke game, sticks out like that ginger one from Girls Aloud. Then there are the aforementioned singing lessons. They grow in complexity, from holding one note at the beginning to spanning a large variety of notes in one breath; how useful they are is debatable, but they are interesting in showing a glimpse of how sight-based singing may be taught, as well as hinting at just how fun (or otherwise) Rock Band 3’s forthcoming Pro mode really will be.

Because We Sing Encore doesn’t have the luxury of downloadable content to bolster the on-disc track selection (or even, given the Wii’s limited memory capabilities, an option to transfer over songs from the first game), it’s feasible to see the game’s appeal diminish quicker than similar music titles. The 40 included tracks veer wildly from the familiar staples (Gloria Gaynor, Lou Bega, Soft Cell, Elton John and The Proclaimers) to a depressing amount of more recent mind-numbingly awful pop (N-Dubz, Pixie Lott, The Saturdays and Florence + The Machine soundtracking the party from hell). That said, there are also some excellent (relatively) contemporary selections (Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Robyn) and two out-and-out slices of genius (S Club 7’s ‘Don’t Stop Movin’ and The Supremes’ ‘Baby Love’), so it all balances out.

Nordic Games are undoubtedly exploiting a huge gap in the Wii’s catalogue with the We Sing series, without making the most of the host hardware. Whilst their sole focus on Nintendo’s console may hinge partly on shirking from the direct competition that would greet them on both Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, there’s also little doubt that they have gone about their task with a keen understanding of the Wii demographic. And no, we don’t know why they didn’t just call it Wii Sing either.

This review was written for, and published by, D+PAD Magazine.

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