Rap is one genre of music that has never really gotten a fair shake in the rhythm/music genre. While games like SingStar have included rhythm sections for songs like “Just a Friend” from Biz Markie, there’s never been a rap-focused karaoke game released, which is quite curious considering the genre’s popularity. However, Rapstar has come along to help fulfill that gaping hole in the music genre (hard to imagine there were any considering the industry’s current saturation), and for the most part, this experiment works well.
For a first-time effort, Rapstar gives a very good impression. The game opens with a nice montage of current and classic rap songs displayed against an urban backdrop. Once the game starts in earnest, you’ll have three modes to choose from: party, career, and freestyle. The party mode is certainly the hallmark mode of the game (as it is with most karaoke games), and the game’s no-frills approach to the party mode (there’s no complex playlist creation system or tutorial to go through) is refreshing. You simply select a song and start rapping with the beat.
However, if you’re like me and have no natural flow (I was abruptly reminded of this when I attempted Ice Cube’s Classic “It Was a Good Day”), then you may want to spend a little time with the game’s career mode. Though there is no formal tutorial (aside from a bare-bones “practice” mode) the game does rank songs in Career by difficulty, and you’ll have to do well on the easy songs before you can move on to the intermediate and difficult tracks. The game’s career mode uses a points accrual progression system, which means that if you continue to just barely pass songs, you’ll have to perform them over and over again until you get it right.
And speaking of getting it right, let’s talk about the vocal input system. The way the vocals are handled in Rapstar is actually quite different from established karaoke franchises, so if you are expecting to just sail on through Rapstar due to your “Pop Star” status on SingStar, think again. The game uses two scoring mechanics to determine performance, rhythm and lyric accuracy. Yes, you read that second one right–lyric accuracy. While games like SingStar and Rock Band simply measure pitch (you can get a 100% on any song just by “OOooh”-ing your way through, as long as your pitch is perfect), Rapstar wants you to know the lyrics and measures how many times you flub a lyric or line. I noticed that this mechanic (at least on the Easy and Medium modes) was a little bit forgiving, as I didn’t notice too much of a dip in my score when I started replacing the occasional lyric I didn’t know with quick-fire “uh”s. However, you do need to make an effort with the lyrics, otherwise your score will plummet to “whack” pretty fast.
The rhythm component of the scoring mechanism is completely unforgiving. The game uses a bouncing ball instead of a note graph to show you the rhythm of each song, and the goal is to say the lyric when the bouncing ball hits the words. However, the bouncing ball isn’t the most effective tool for getting the right flow, as it often moves so fast that it’s hard to keep up with it, and it doesn’t lend itself to being terribly accurate, especially when you have multiple syllables for a certain beat (or a single syllable for multiple beats)! There is quite a learning curve when it comes to predicting beats with the bouncing ball, and I can’t say I ever felt 100% confident following the ball to succeed in the game. Success (for me, at least) came from a working knowledge of most of the songs and some time in practice mode.
Another issue I had with Rapstar was the presentation of the game. Remember that urban backdrop I told you about in the beginning of the game? Well, that backdrop is persistent throughout the game, and when you select a track, it simply pops up in the middle of the screen with the backdrop permeating much of the screen real estate. This visual scheme is a little weird, considering it limits the size of the lyrics (which are already pretty small under the bouncing ball and music video.) Though this wasn’t a highly intrusive problem, it was a weird choice, especially when you find yourself having to move closer and closer to the television to see the lyrics.
However, one area where Rapstar is golden is in the song selection. No matter what era, sub-genre, or regional preference you have, Rapstar has got you covered with tracks by Tupac Shakur, 50 Cent, Outkast, Diddy, Busta Rhymes, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, The Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan and Kanye West. The tracklist is huge and varied, and if you are a longtime fan of rap music, most of these songs are classics. And even if your absolute favorite track hasn’t made the cut in the game, there are weekly track packs released weekly on the Rapstar store, so you have plenty of options.
Rapstar’s greatest strength lies in the fact that it knows what it is: a party game. The game’s quickplay mode is easy to pick up, and the singing and scoring system is straightforward. Fans of rap music should definitely pick this title up, as there is plenty of content here to enjoy (including numerous community features) and the game features a great soundtrack. It’s actually pretty strange that rap music has not had its own game in the over-saturated music genre, but as a first effort Rapstar does a terrific job filling this void, and hopefully we can look forward to more Rapstar titles in the future.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
The presentation, especially the pop-up video presentation and small font leave a lot to be desired. 4.0 Control
Picking up the mic is easy enough, and menus are simple to navigate. 4.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There’s a great mix of old and new-school tracks on the disc, and even more great songs await you on the Rapstar store. 3.5
There isn’t much to the game’s career mode, but this game will certainly be a sure-fire winner at parties.
3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.