By Lou Kesten
Thanks to the current wave of musical games, you can have your guests singing all night long. For “American Idol” wannabes, there are karaoke games such as Sony’s “SingStar.” For those of us who can’t carry a tune, there are instrumental games such as “Rock Band 2” and “Guitar Hero World Tour.” These familiar titles remain your best bets for a lively party, but there are some new contenders.
“Lips” (Microsoft, for the Xbox 360, $69.99): “SingStar” has found a niche of karaoke-loving PlayStation owners, with hundreds of songs available for downloading. “Lips” has a long way to go to catch up, but it’s a worthy alternative for Xbox owners.
It’s easy to play: Just pick up a mic, pick a song and start warbling. You’re judged on timing and pitch, and you aren’t penalized much if you miss a note. Hard-core gamers may object to the complete lack of challenge, but karaoke’s more about having fun than trying to rack up high scores.
The 40-song set list is nicely diverse, from country crooners such as Johnny Cash to pop stars such as Beyonc and Rihanna. “Lips” comes with two solid, elegant microphones, so two singers can challenge each other or perform duets cooperatively. Three stars out of four.
“Ultimate Band” (Disney, for the Wii, $49.99): Less successful are two latecomers to the guitar game craze that began in 2005 with “Guitar Hero.” Both try to eliminate the need to buy fake plastic instruments; instead, you use the Wii controller to simulate holding a guitar or beating on drums.
In “Ultimate Band,” you choose notes with the Nunchuk controller and strum with the Wiimote. It never feels close to playing a guitar, although drumming feels a little more realistic. The song selection ranges across most of rock history, from The Who’s “My Generation” to Katy Perry’s “Hot n Cold,” but all the tracks are cover versions. One-and-a-half stars.
“PopStar Guitar” (XS, for the Wii, $59.99): This game comes with a doohickey that connects to the Wiimote, giving it four large, colored buttons (like the five on a “Guitar Hero” guitar). You choose notes by pressing the buttons and strum by flicking the Nunchuk controller. It works fairly well.
Otherwise, “PopStar” is a bland take on the now-familiar guitar-game formula. The track list consists entirely of current teen-pop faves such as The All-American Rejects and the Jonas Brothers, and about half the songs use the original recordings. But the notes you’re asked to play often don’t match the notes you hear; the timing is all off. That’s a killer deficiency in a rhythm game. One star.