If there's one series of games that might not have too much to gain from the leap to the next generation, it is SingStar. The hugely popular run of karaoke releases from Sony introduced a whole new wave of players to the PlayStation, and a few gamers to the idea of getting a microphone in your hand and belting one out for the hell of it.
The reason SingStar doesn't have too much to gain from a move to the PlayStation 3 is because it never really relied that heavily on the PlayStation 2 itself. Instead, its success depended on the eventual drop in price of workable microphones and the ease with which game discs hold music and video. There's also Sony's foresight all those years ago when they put USB ports on the front of the console to consider, and the electronics giant's informed selection of tunes and genres as they brought out version after version. Add to that the fact that regardless of games machines, there will always be plenty of music to choose from, and it's easy to see that there could have been popular SingStar compilations for another half-century.
Yet while you can accuse Sony of many things, you could never really argue that they are happy to give up on innovation just because something is a success. Whether for better or for worse, in recent months alone we've seen them commit to brave new directions when they could have easily stuck with what was popular. From EyeToy's reinvention as PlayStation Eye to the radical new makeover LocoRoco had for its PS3 debut, recently it is almost as if Sony can't help but rework even their most unique of triumphs.
So what have they done to the well-established formula of SingStar then? Of course they have taken inspiration from the one market they haven't managed to corner. They may not have beaten Apple when it comes to iTunes, but they can certainly use the same kind of approach when it comes to establishing a lead over the paltry amount of competition SingStar faces.
If you haven't guessed or heard by now, SingStar has its own shopping service, known simply as SingStore. While it's conceivable that Sony has shot itself in the foot with regard to selling any future iterations of the game, the sensible money would be on SingStore becoming a runaway success.
Of course the real issue is not the inevitable increase in the number of tracks available, but the price, which is set at a very reasonable 99p. That comes in at a little more than iTune's standard 79p, but you do get the video, and the built in gaming mechanic. A rather cynical view of the reality though, is that regardless of price the SingStore is bound to have no problem selling tunes. It is a fact that SingStar is regularly enjoyed with a bottle of booze or two. Confidence, loud song and wine have always been great partners, and the lure of SingStore on an inebriated audience is obvious. Alcohol rarely makes people tighten the purse strings, and it's all too easy to imagine a few purchases on SingStore that disappear from memory, only to crop up on your bank statement. For now there are only 44 songs available but Sony is promising regular store additions beginning December 17.
Let's not be totally cynical, as there are plenty of other new online additions to the SingStar recipe that don't directly mean big bucks for Sony. In mimicking the likes of Facebook and MySpace, SingStar joins the current craze for social networking. You know the drill; share photos, send messages, make friends, try not to make your profile sound pretentious, or worse still, boring. All of that is of course in place, but with an inevitable emphasis on the highs and lows of your SingStar career. From uploading videos of you hitting the high notes to downloading pictures of your friends getting down with the dance moves, there's a wealth of possibility here, though as most people pick up a SingStar mic to sing, it is questionable as to whether the community side of SingStar on the PlayStation 3 will ever pick up any real pace, especially when it is eclipsed by the shadow of the aforementioned Facebook.
The final new feature is that the microphones are set to be wireless, though PS2 microphones will work too. To SingStar virgins, that might seem a small deal, but consider the following two factors. Firstly, we all know Singstar isn't just about stretching the vocal chords. You might not get any points for it, but we all like to act up to the imaginary crowd of thousands every SingStar fan performs to. Whether you're banging your head with your foot up on an amp (chair), or clutching at your chest as you let rip with an emotional power ballad, wireless is best. Quite simply, it gives you the freedom to get in character. Secondly, the end of wires spells the end of glasses of wine brought to the floor and ashtrays hooked up in the air. Any SingStar pro knows how unruly the previous microphones' wires could be, and most of us really wouldn't mind the deposit on our rented flat back, so the less stains on the carpet the better. The new wireless mics won't be included when the game launches though, instead being released at some point in 2008.
Finally, there's the songs that come on disc, and if anything, they're the biggest disappointment. They're not particularly bad; just rather uninspired, though all Sony could really do was provide a popular mixture of reliable mainstays, or risk deterring the masses from picking up the game. There are essentially lots of fashionable but respectable modern stuff, from sleazy pop to guitar based indie. Razorlight, Gorillaz, Gwen Stefani, Blur and The Pussycat Dolls are typical of the compilation, and are joined by a few oldies like Musical Youth, and Primal Scream and The Stone Roses bring a touch of class.
Other than that we're on familiar territory. The scoring and the tone bar return, and almost anyone will be able to get into this post-pub essential. This is so far from Call of Duty 4 and Assassin's Creed it's like reviewing another medium, but it's still on the PlayStation 3, so get round your mates, put a limit on your credit card, turn up the volume and get ready to party like RTSs and FPSs never existed. Apparently you can play games on the PlayStation 3, but it certainly looks like a top of the range karaoke machine from where I'm standing, on centre stage in my living room stadium.