It's fine and functional when it comes to the actual singing aspect of karaoke. You plug in a USB microphone, you load up a song, and you sing along. You can sing on pitch, if you want, or you can just wail like a tone deaf cretin (my preferred method). Your voice goes into the mic and comes out through your TV as one of fifty popular songs from the last several decades plays underneath. That playlist isn't huge, but there's a nice range of styles, from recent hits from The Wanted, Rihanna and Taio Cruz, to old favorites from Thelma Houston, the Pet Shop Boys and Deee-Lite. It's light on rock'n'roll (Nickelback doesn't count) and you'll probably hit every song on the list at least once after a few sessions, but hopefully the library will expand through DLC once the Wii U's online store is up.
Sing Party lets you sing without any problems, but it doesn't quite offer the most obvious feature for a Wii U karaoke game. Karaoke bars have a separate monitor for singers to read the lyrics. That way they can face the audience while singing and the audience can still sing along by reading the lyrics off the main TV screen. Almost every karaoke game has forced everyone to look at the same screen, though, removing the performance aspect from karaoke. The Wii U's GamePad makes the traditional karaoke set-up practical in a video game for the first time. This should be the main reason Sing Party exists. For some reason, though, only one of the game's three modes displays the lyrics on both screens.
The Team mode is the only one that uses the two screens the way you'd expect. It's a head-to-head challenge where two teams compete in a handful of karaoke events. Each match lasts four, eight or twelve rounds, and at the end the scores for each round are totaled up to find a winner. There are three main events within the Team mode, including a spotlight solo where one member sings a song alone, a choir mode where the entire team sings together and a relay event where you pass the mic from singer to singer after every couple of lines. Teams can pick their own songs, although it's more fun if your opponents pick for you. In addition to the system scoring, other friends can judge which team did better after each song, although this has no impact upon the final results. Team mode is Sing Party at its best – a party-friendly multiplayer mode that feels like real karaoke and adds a competitive element for motivation.
In Sing mode you only compete against your own high scores. You can sing alone, in a duet or simultaneously with a friend, and other players can join in with Wii Remotes that act like maracas. It's a basic algorithmic karaoke mode a la Rock Band, with a pitch line that you try to follow and a scoring system based on how many notes you hit correctly. Beyond pitch, you're also scored on "power" and "flair." Power simply means how loudly you sing, but flair is slightly nebulous. Basically it's how much you change volume or how quickly you slide up and down the scale, like a melismatic Mariah Carey wannabe. Practice mode breaks all three attributes down into on-screen meters, and that's the easiest way to get a handle on what exactly "flair" means.
Sing mode is the core of the game, but oddly enough there are no difficulty levels. Everyone is judged equally. To keep you motivated, there's a rolling awards system similar to ones used in many popular mobile games. There are three goals active at any one time, such as scoring 200,000 points in a song or singing ten songs total. Once you achieve one of those goals, the award will light up and be replaced on the list by a new one. The award system also levels up, but these levels don't impact the game itself. Oddly enough, even though you can register multiple Miis with their own separate high scores, the award system can roll over and level up no matter who is singing. It's like roommates contributing to the same save in an RPG instead of having their own separate games.
My wife passed on Sing Party after a few sessions, disappointed that it mostly missed such an obvious opportunity. The single-player mode doesn't do anything that Rock Band or other karaoke games haven't already done, and the rigid competitive structure of Team mode limits the usefulness of its dual-screen display. Meanwhile, Party mode is a distraction. Sing Party is the best karaoke game for the Wii U because it's the only one, but in the wider world of karaoke it's easily overlooked.
This review is based on a retail copy of Sing Party, provided by Nintendo.
Garrett Martin was once a member of Huey Luis and the News, or at least that's what he tells everyone. He edits Paste Magazine's videogame section and reviews games for the Boston Herald and other outlets. You can hear his blather at Twitter (@GRMartin) or at a variety of Atlanta-area bars.
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