There are always two contrary opinions upon the launch of a new addition of SingStar, and the eighth release, Pop Hits, will bring them both to life again.
Cynics will say that SingStar isn't even a real game, and another disk of songs deserves even less attention than a basic PC expansion pack. They will berate the fact that the formula of SingStar has stayed mostly unchanged, and point fingers at the selection of tunes on offer.
Fans of the game will praise the way it has reinvented the console and attracted a whole new fan base to the PlayStation 2. They will tell you that the additional disks that have come out are, if you have already invested in the microphones, a brilliant and affordable update that breathes new life into your console every few months.
The reality is that both groups are right. Of course, as updates to the package, new disks of songs are an excellent idea. After numerous wine-addled sessions, singing the same tunes over and over is eventually tiresome, but the urge to sing on never dies. Subdividing these disks by rough approximations of musical genres is also a great idea, giving the consumer some way of selecting the kind of night they will have. Yet there is some truth to the view that each new disk doesn't warrant the same acclaim as the last. If a new first-person shooter sequel didn't change anything of the original beyond the levels, it would face a critical mauling, so many may feel SingStar should face the same process if it aspires to being a real game.
The other factor that makes any judgment of SingStar controversial is the old adage beloved of peddlers of floral sofas; 'there's no accounting for taste.' I might genuinely believe metal anthem Ace of Spades by Motorhead is one of the best inclusions yet to the SingStar library. You, on the other hand, may feel it's just noisy rubbish, preferring instead to stretch your vocal chords to Busted's contribution in the form of the saccharine teeny-punk hit Year 3000.
'It just so happens that in the comfort of your own home with a microphone in hand and Sony's fantastic interface to help you out, your tastes can vary wildly, as you'll love to sing some songs you hate to hear, and visa versa.'
However, that old adage was created a long time before karaoke, and doesn't quite apply to SingStar. Take I don't feel like Dancing by the Scissor Sisters for example, which is one of the most popular and highly praised inclusions on Pop Hits. I'm not a massive fan when I hear it in the real world, but on SingStar? Now that's different. It just so happens that in the comfort of your own home with a microphone in hand and Sony's fantastic interface to help you out, your tastes can vary wildly, as you'll love to sing some songs you hate to hear, and visa versa.
Taken in that context, the assortment of songs on offer is well chosen, by a developer who clearly does a fair bit of singing as part of the process of selection. Though Pop Hits' title suggests a similar feel to SingStar Popworld, the tunes on offer, while no less popular, are a little less brash.
Artists from the Gorillas through to U2 feature, though they are joined by the more cheesy rhythms of The Sugar Babes, Lemar, Britney Spears and P!nk. Whatever you think of the way they sound, they are certainly great fun to sing along to, excluding some notable exceptions that can only be a matter of personal taste.
For those who have already learned every syllable of Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby on SingStar Eighties, and for others who can cruise through Star Sailor's We Built This City facing away from the screen gesticulating to their friends like a rock god, the format here will be utterly familiar. For anyone on the planet who hasn't played a version yet, or at least watched nervously as a pack of friends tussle for the microphone, spilling wine and stepping in ashtrays as they go, it really is the ultimate post-pub game.
Three difficulty settings allow for everyone from the tone deaf to those more comfortable on a real stage to join in. The fantastic pitch bar, that acts as Karaoke's infamous bouncing ball and indicates how close you are to the right note, is a fantastic tool. As you prepare yourself for each new line of verse, it materialises as a grey bar running left to right that moves up and down indicating variations in note. When you sing in time, the bar fills with a colour that represents your voice. Sing a note too high, and the colour wildly escapes above the original grey bar. Sing too low, and the colour dips down below the bar.
It simultaneously allows most girls to blast out like they never have before, and lets most boys cheat by imagining that somehow they are playing a driving game where the tone of their voice steers a small car (the note they are singing) through a tight course (the notes they should be singing).
How SingStar attracts those with an aversion to Karaoke is by turning your voice into a point-scoring machine. You'd surprised by how the quieter members of your social circle become howling divas once the ice is broken and the carrot on a stick that is points is dangled in front of their competitive noses. No longer is the quality of your voice an opinion; now it is a fact quantifiable through points.
Aside the less appealing solo mode, and the rather redundant freestyle mode, which serves as a practice, the best inclusions are the multiplayer elements. Battle sees you and a friend simultaneously singing identical parts to see who has the better voice, while the duet mode divides the chosen song in two, letting you work together for a combined score. Pass the mike mode is the most chaotic, throwing a selection of vocal challenges and stand-offs at different members of two teams, allowing up to eight players to compete. Thankfully disk swapping returns, letting you switch between SingStar disks without rebooting your console. A masterful inclusion, as drunken gamers don't generally have the patience or co-ordination for the reset button.
Well designed, accessible and hilarious, never has a game caused so many neighbourly complaints or united so many gamers and non-gamers on one noisy level playing field. Pop Hits marks SingStar's continued success on the PlayStation 2, and rumour has it that sober people enjoy it immensely too.