Friday, September 17, 2010

Save Tonight for Karaoke Revolution

Sweat pours down your forehead as you furiously belt out the words to yet another hit song. The spectators cheer your every move – all eyes are on you. As you hit that last note, the crowd bursts into applause. You remove your microphone headset and pass it to the next wanna-be diva: Your mom.

Are you like this man?
Because in this fantasy, you still live in your parents’ basement, you loser.

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to credit Konami with fathering the singing game genre with their 2003 PlayStation 2 title, Karaoke Revolution. Also involved in the production was Harmonix, the company that would later blow out countless speakers and wrists with the Guitar Hero series and, of course, Rock Band and its many sequels. In a way, you can thank the makers of Silent Hill, Castlevania and Metal Gear Solid every time you pick up that guitar or those drum sticks and make a fool out of yourself with three of your closest friends.

About a decade ago, there was nothing that could get me to sing anything but the Super Mario Bros. Super Show theme song in front of any living being, not even dogs. But once Karaoke Revolution came out, I become fearless. As long as the PS2 was running, I was dropping those hits like pre-scandal Michael Jackson, only my skin was somewhat paler and I hadn’t been accused of serving wine to small children (yet).

Though future Karaoke Revloution titles came with a handheld microphone, the first one utilizes a headset that plugs into either of the USB ports on PlayStation 2. The microphone fits snugly on your head and rarely needs readjustment, which a big plus when you’re trying flailing around someone’s dorm while mutilating “Wind Beneath My Wings.” The headset is probably the best special controller I’ve ever used, aside from the bad ‘n rad NES Power Glove: It does its job, stays out of your way and is so comfortable you forget you’re wearing it half the time.

Gameplay in Karaoke Revolution is simple and sweet. After choosing a song, the player sings it. All the words to the song you’re performing appear at the bottom of the screen as they are needed, making it easy to sing something you might have only heard once, or even not at all. Above the words are blue bars that represent the pitch you’re supposed to hit on each word. If you sing the tune as it was originally recorded, the pitch arrow turns green, skidding across the blue bar. Sparks start flying off of it and you earn a high score. The more you mess up, the less green the arrow becomes, and the fewer points you’re awarded. High scores unlock secrets, including extra singers to choose from, new backgrounds and more songs.

Speaking of the song selection, unfortunately, every tune in this game is a cover. That said, there are some truly great tracks you’ll want to sing over and over again, like “Billie Jean,” “Wind Beneath My Wings,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” “Like a Virgin,” and “Hey Jealously.” There’s also “Ladies’ Night,” but my therapist told me not to talk about that song anymore.

Yeah, I "borrowed" this shot from IGN. I'm telling you, but I still removed the watermark. I'm so vain, I think this song is about me.
The graphics are below par, but that really doesn’t matter the second you start singing. The characters look like prototype Miis (as in “dumb”) and the backgrounds consist of a stage, a band and a few spectators that react to your performance with either enthusiastic cheers or angry, confidence-dashing boos. When the player sings exceptionally well, his or her character begins to glow, kind of like Angry Mode in Rival Turf! or going Super Saiyan in Dragon Ball Z. When the player sings poorly, however, the crowd lets him or her know with flesh-melting lasers that pour from your headset directly into you exposed ear canal.

There are only two real problems with Karaoke Revolution: The first is that the mike has trouble picking up low notes, making it harder for someone with a deep voice, like Barry White or Dr. Girlfriend from the Venture Bros., to score points. This can be solved by singing an octave up, but that tends to make you strain your voice and sound like a Alvin and the Chipmunks. Secondly, just like in Rock Band, it’s really easy to cheat. If you know the tune, all you have to do is hit the correct pitch. The words you’re saying really don’t matter as long as it sounds right, just like when you’re dealing with you irate wife after forgetting her birthday.

With a group of friends playing along side me, the first time I fired up Karaoke Revolution, it lasted for hours. I sang (screamed?) so hard, my throat was sore for the next day and a half. Later on that week, someone called security on us for nearly taking down the walls with our shrill, shrill voices. But everything, even the misdemeanor charge, was worth it: Just like Dance Dance Revolution before it, Karaoke Revolution was a surprise hit from Konami. Seven years later, games like Rock Band, Super Smash Bros. and several other titles have surpassed it, but in the pre-Wii era, Karaoke Revolution was greatest causal party game ever.

It might be difficult to find now, but if you see it on the cheap, go out and snag a copy of Karaoke Revolution, gather some friends around the PS2, and sing ‘til you can’t sing no more. Don’t go and make things complicated; celebrate good times with Karaoke Revolution before it’s the end of the world as we know it.

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