Sony knows that if ever anything was going to sell the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Move to the more casual gamer, that “anything” would somehow involve the SingStar brand. Love it or hate it, the game has brought friends and families together since its inaugural appearance back in 2004 for the PlayStation 2, and even though competing franchises are still emerging at every possible opportunity, Sony are hoping that these new iterations will extend the brand’s life even further.
And so, we have SingStar Dance, a game that – if we’re to get right down to it – is essentially the same old SingStar product, with the addition of a dancer in the bottom corner of the screen. The goal – obviously – is to hit the notes as you accurately can, whilst carrying out the dance moves that the dancer on screen is showing you. You can also separate the two actions, and play as either the vocalist or the dancer alone, or get another player in to act as your backup dancer whilst you croon the night away. The options and combinations are all there and that’s a good thing, since I find it incredibly unlikely that one player will ever be able to be dancing and singing at the same time with any degree of success. There are a couple of reasons for this, with the first one being the difficulty of the moves that you’re asked to do, and how long you’re asked to do them for. You’ll just be getting the hang of the moves for the first part of The Black-Eyed Peas’ “Shut Up”, when the moves change. This is expected of course, since you can’t just do the same move for the entire track, after all. The problem is that there’s no indicator on screen as to what the next required move is going to be. You’re expected to instinctively know from the get-go that the track you’re playing wants you to go “folded arms, hands over mouth, Kid ‘n’ Play hand to heels to the left, Kid ‘n’ Play hand to heels to the right, arms in the air” in order for you to score highly. With no preview of what’s to come, you’re left flailing helplessly in the transitions each and every time, and you’re pretty much instantly punished in terms of your score.
The game expects you to learn the moves from start to finish, and whilst younger players will probably be over the moon to get the chance to play each track over and over and over again until they do learn them, it’ll be lost on most of the older players who see SingStar as a party game – me being one of them. With a party game, you want to be able to drop in to the action and be able to at least be close to being competitive. Failing that, you at least want to be having a good time and a laugh. What you don’t want, is to be left feeling ultimately confused and frustrated by a constantly changing set of rules – and that, unfortunately, is where SingStar Dance gets it wrong. It has to be said that there are three levels of dance to accompany each song, but even the lowest level still has its overly-challenging moments.
As far as picking up the moves that you do know how to do, the Move Motion Controller does a relatively good job. There are times when waving it about in a random fashion will get you a high rating and give your score a decent boost, but on the whole, it seems to do things well and is certainly more technically proficient than the likes of the multi-million selling Just Dance. I’m going to be entirely honest and say that I really can’t tell if the PlayStation Eye is doing anything in terms of visually picking up your body’s movements, or whether it’s just tracking the glowing ball as normal – and that probably suggests that it isn’t. It does, however, take pictures and millisecond-long video clips of you whilst you play, which will suit more extroverted players down to the ground.
As far as SingStar Dance’s tracklisting goes, there’s a fair mix to be had. Thirty tracks appear on-disc, with the likes of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”, Reel 2 Real’s “I Like To Move It” and Kool And The Gang’s “Celebration” all making an appearance, alongside tub-thumpers such as Salt N Pepa’s “Push It”, Jason Nevins’ remix of Run DMC’s “It’s Like That” and Sir Mixalot’s seminal “Baby Got Back.” Hell, even “Hangin’ Tough” by New Kids on The Block pops its head in, and you kind of have to respect that. On top of the initial thirty, you’ll be able to play any tracks you’ve downloaded from the SingStore previously, although obviously only in vocals mode. I hear that Dance-compatible downloadable tracks may well be en route, but what and when is to be confirmed.
As a £20 package for the PlayStation Move owner who is also a fan of the series, SingStar Dance is not a wholly terrible investment. The game will blatantly help to shift PlayStation Move units this Christmas – generally to the more casual player – even though it shows a distinct lack of thought on the part of the developers as to how those casual players who are roped in to dance are supposed to approach it without feeling a sense of complete helplessness during gameplay. When you sing, you have the words and a simplified stave show on the screen in advance, so you know more or less what’s coming up. When you dance, you’ve got nothing other than a feeling that you’re stood in front of your TV set, trying to copy the dancers from The X-Factor move-for-move as the show goes out live on a Saturday night.
More could have been done to make this SingStar version’s main selling point feel more like a genuinely good idea, rather than a lazily bolted-on attempt to steal a march on what is shaping up to be the jewel in Kinect’s crown, Dance Central, and to pinch some of the thunder of the aforementioned Just Dance and its sequel. As has been the case with pretty much all of SingStar’s eight hundred and ninety four sequels, re-imaginings and themed editions, this feels somewhat lightweight.
Review contributed by: Ken Barnes