Lips: Coming Soon to Your Next Party!
Although SingStar has been a fixture in the karaoke game genre ever since the last generation, it was only a matter of time until a true rival appeared. Sure, titles like Karaoke Revolution and Boogie have tried to tap into the karaoke market, but SingStar, with its tried-and-true formula, has remained the dominant force in this niche music genre. Lips is the new karaoke title to challenge the throne of the current karaoke king. Plus, it does a surprisingly good job of inserting some much needed ingenuity into this genre.
One of the biggest ways that Lips differentiates itself from the crowd is with it’s unique microphone peripheral. While at first glance the peripheral may just look like a standard wireless mic that has glowing lights, there is a lot more to it than that. The mic also comes packing an accelerometer that can be used to pull of special bonus-triggering moves or play mic-based mini-games. The microphone works very well at a technical level, and it does a good job picking up your notes no matter which way you hold it. It is also a lot lighter than the rival SingStar mics and a lot easier to move around with. The Lips Microphone definitely outshines other mic peripherals quite a bit, and it is a pity that it is currently incompatible with other music-based titles like Guitar Hero: World Tour.
The singing in this title is fairly conventional and uses a clear note bar to indicate correct pitch. Unlike SingStar, however, the game does not show you missed notes, and instead it only displays notes that you actually sing correctly. You are able to see your current pitch by looking at a scrolling bright light that functions much like the pitch arrow in the Rock Band series. Although this format is not a huge departure from genre conventions, it works well, and the invisible missed notes actually make the Lips format feel a little bit more approachable. There is also a bonus mode that you can initiate in Lips that works similarly to the “star power” mode in band-based games. To initiate this mode, you will have to sing a certain amount of notes correctly to fill up a bonus gage. Once you have done this, the gage will turn yellow, and a little figure will show up showing a pose you can do with your mic. Perform the pose correctly and all the notes will turn yellow, and then you will receive extra points. This approach works very well, and being able to choose when you initiate your bonus section is certainly better than the pre-determined “Star” notes in SingStar.
One aspect of Lips that I enjoyed was the accelerometer-based mini-games. There are two mini-games that use the accelerometer, Kiss and Time Bomb. The Kiss mini-game is actually quite funny to watch and features two would-be lovers running towards each other at different points in the song. Once you fill up your special meter bar, you will have to gently perform that bonus-inducing move so that the two lovers will achieve a kiss of true love. If you perform the move too quickly, however, instead of kissing, the two characters will disconnect abruptly (oftentimes with a slap) and you will have to start making the love connection all over again. The other accelerometer-based mini-game is Time Bomb, which features a lit fuse that will keep burning until you sing a few bars correctly to fill up a glass of water to pour on the fuse by tilting the mic. The fuse reignites every few seconds, however, so you’ll have to keep both your singing and tilting on-point to make sure you can keep the bomb from exploding. The mini-games in this title make Lips feel more like a “game” rather than just a karaoke simulator, and it is refreshing to see this type of variety.
Another very cool aspect of the singing component is the medal system that Lips employs to judge your singing. In addition to a final score, each song will have eight different medals that you can earn for having great pitch or spot-on rhythm. These medals are a great tool to track your progress with different songs, and they identify trouble areas. This aspect of the scoring system adds a lot of replay value, as karaoke enthusiasts will no doubt strive to earn all eight medals for every song.
The song selection in Lips is actually a little bit of a disappointment. There are only forty songs, and most of these aren’t very fresh. Songs like Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, “Makes Me Wonder” by Maroon 5, and “Love Song” by Sara Bareillis have all been in other karaoke games in the past six months, and they really don’t bring anything new or distinctive to the Lips package. But, if you don’t mind the repetitive nature of most of the songs, there are a few gems here like “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King, and “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen. Although the track listing leaves a lot to be desired in the form of original content, it is also very disappointing in terms of quantity. When most band-based music games include at least eighty songs out of the box, the fact that a singing-focused title can only match half of that seems ludicrous.
One of Lips’ most touted features is the music importing feature. This feature allows you to use music from either your HDD or a personal music device (such as iPod or Zune) to import your own songs. While there are no note bars to sing along with, the game still gives you points based on the noises you do make (no matter whether they are correct or not.) This feature is pretty cool, and certainly gives party-focused players a lot to work with. For instance, if you wanted to sing a rare or unreleased song from your personal collection at your next party like “The Star Wars Gangsta Rap” by Bentframe or “The Picard Song” by Dark Materia, you can (although embarrassment may come at your own expense.)
Although Lips is generally a local experience, there is an online “community” aspect of the game where you can challenge online friends to a song battle. However, this is not a head-to-head battle, and this challenge simply means that the other person will receive a notice of the challenge and will have seven days to try and get a higher score. This mode is very disappointing, as I would have really loved to have seen a full online mode in a karaoke title., This is one area where Lips definitely sticks to conventions, and I think it is worse for it.
The visuals in this title are very dynamic and presented in 1080i. Although the HD quality is lost on a lot of the music videos, the menu design is very nice to look at and fully customizable. You can choose different backgrounds and note bar color schemes, and the whole thing is presented very nicely.
Overall, Lips is a very exciting first effort from Microsoft. The innovative microphone peripheral, accelerometer-based mini-games, medal system, and the ability to import your own songs make this title stand out from the crowd. However, this title’s short and conventional track list, as well as its lack of online play really hinders it from being a true SingStar killer. But if history is any indication, we will probably see more Lips titles in the future, and I am excited to see where this franchise will go.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
High-res interface looks and feels great, and the dynamic backgrounds are gorgeous. 4.0 Control
The motion controls do feel a little tacked on, but they work well during singing mini-games. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Although the game’s onboard track list is a little underwhelming with just 40 songs, there are enough crowd pleasers to satisfy most players. 3.8 Play Value
Although playing the mini-games and being able to import your own songs certainly add new dimensions to the classic singing formula, there just aren’t enough songs for this title to have the staying power of reigning karaoke king SingStar. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.