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SiNG Party - Wii U Review

Game Info
SiNG Party

Wii U | Nintendo / FreeStyleGames | 1-5 Players (local multiplayer/co-operative play) | Out Now (North America) | Miiverse Support
Controller Compatibility: Wii U GamePad; Wii U Microphone; Wii Remote
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9th January 2013; By KnucklesSonic8

How some respond to the thought of singing publicly is similar to when a person awakes in a dark room, only to suddenly feel the blinding light as the curtains are pulled back. Yet, FreeStyleGames feels they have a solution to warm otherwise reluctant persons up to the idea about carrying a tune in a group environment. Minimizing catalysts for self-effacing behaviour, the idea behind SiNG Party's concentrated appeal is that we can forget, if only for a moment, about our terrible singing voices and have fun performing in front of friends and family. But if you've ever been told you have a hidden vocal talent and want to put such belief to the test, SiNG Party probably isn't for you. If you're looking to use karaoke as a way to break barriers of timidity, then SiNG Party...still might not be for you. So then who, or what, is SiNG Party for? The uncertainty revolving around its end state of being and what is seen in its physical design exposes SiNG Party to be an over-polished, experimental bust. With existing efforts to learn from, it stumbles by making amateur mistakes and ends up as a rather uncouth blend of karaoke-meets-party that doesn't do a good job of catering to either style.

    Developed by the ladies and gents responsible for critically-acclaimed DJ Hero, SiNG Party is the Wii U's answer to the sub-genre of karaoke games in the realm of music/rhythm games. Stripped down to its intrinsic roots, it's an attempt to broaden the field and demonstrate inclusion by roping in everyone in the room, even those not singing. When you think about it, as odd as it may be to see them enter this space, the core tactic is one that Nintendo has long explored and prevailed at doing in some of their Wii efforts, so it's not a huge surprise to see them want to take ownership of publishing this game in association with FreeStyleGames. In recent years, SingStar has been the dominating leader in this field, but the presence of existing competition has evidently failed to scare them off, as there's a belief that what they've done reinvigorates the genre using unique ideas. We'll find out soon enough if that's a true statement or not.

While at first sight it may not seem like it has the exact numbers to match, the game's library consists of 50 songs in total, gathering together compositions hailing from different music genres and producing a vocal range that's worth commending on its own. As a few examples, Baby by Justin Bieber is comparatively more monotone in the note registers and thus presents an easier framework for those younger in years. Then you have songs like New York, New York that test your vocal limits and stamina.

    While other music games tend to be inundated with trendy, Pop singles, that isn't necessarily the case here. You'll find a decent-enough representation of Rock music (i.e., with multiple variations), and as should be expected there also exists a series of classics that touch on decades far gone, dating back to the 60's. You'll be pleased to find a few surprises here and there, like Alone by Heart, which helps make up for the fact that many of the songs present have been used in other music games. Each song has its own designated setting or set of visual props that are used regardless of which mode you're participating in. These include robots, geometric meteors, light shows, cityscapes, speakers, centrifugal rooms, grassy fields, and things such as these. Nothing ever borders on the front of being psychedelic or attractive in the elements that are used to create these little scenes, but they're not lifeless either.

Before you actually get to playing anything, players will take notice of a bright interface that alters on the GamePad screen depending on how the controller is held. You can choose to scroll through song lists via horizontal or vertical means, but the automatic detection of which position you have the GamePad held in is very unreliable and ends up mistaking one state as being the other. (A note to anyone who ends up picking up the game: Lean the GamePad to the right or downwards as a more consistent, manual way to trigger the switch in orientation.)

    Setting up gameplay will have you assigning a player's Mii to the Mic icon on the GamePad, with icons of your personalized characters taking a rather fuzzy, slightly squished appearance. There are sub-options available to tailor gameplay to the nature of your gathering when more than one player is participating, and these include Harmony Duets (when two Microphones are present), a pass-and-play Duet Mode, and Team Mode (accessible via the Main Menu) for group play.

    The main attraction here is Party Mode, as it is here that the game takes on its full, socially-catered context. In the case of a single player taking the lead, he or she will have the Microphone in one hand with the GamePad in the other. Everyone else in the room will have their attention split between both the performer and the TV screen, which will display bursts of lyrics for everyone to sing along to (or shout, as the case may be), in addition to prompts that won't be tracked by a physical controller. What follows is an unfocused series of dictated instructions that invite everyone in the room to clap when asked or mimic the on-screen character's dance moves for the particular song (one of which looks like a Chris Brown lookalike), all while the performer continues singing.

    On occasion, the GamePad will instruct the singer to behave as though they were the life or host of the get-together, telling everyone to get hyped up for the experience. It is hoped that all this positive feedback will bolster the spirits of even the most timid of folks, while also functioning as a considerable stimulus for the audience to cheer you on and just have a good time. But all this ends up feeling very much like a slightly unfocused demo of sorts, with neither the use of the GamePad nor the on-screen directions being inventive, necessary, or all that creative. Largely why this doesn't work is because it's such weak puppetry, with routines and sets of instructions that aren't engaging and lack valuable incentive.

It's not so much that the idea is bad in itself but that the execution leaves a lot to be desired, with a significant likelihood of players in the room raising an eyebrow, losing interest in continuing the charade after two or three songs, or sitting out completely. If desired, you can liven things up by letting players use their Wii Remotes as a musical instrument they can shake or clap with by pressing the A Button. And, in Sing Mode (which I'll be describing next), the stylus can be used on the GamePad to produce drum sounds. But this is truthfully an extremely lame attempt at interaction that I can only fathom kids actually taking a mild liking to.

    So then, on the note of Sing Mode, this is the area of the game where performance quality is actually tracked and taken into consideration for score purposes. During play, the GamePad won't display lyrics and instructions as in Party Mode, but will instead double as both a playlist creator and a mixing board. A five-star rating system is used in connection with points accumulated for successful responses to prompts, while related attributes of Pitch, Power and Flair are evaluated with the qualifiers of "Perfect" and "Excellent" (or none at all in the case of an unsatisfactory showing). The method of evaluation used here is accessible, but I'm not quite sure how they interpret and evaluate your rank for Flair. It's not like you have (much) opportunity to add your own personality to the song and make it yours -- you're not going to be executing freestyles or start beat-boxing during breaks in lyrical segments and choruses. But at least there is a level of consistency in the other areas -- if you're very reserved in your singing and don't give it your all, your Power rating will suffer. I just can't say the same about how the game performs on a technical front.

First off, casual players who don't care much for the evaluation aspect might be happy about not having to say the exact line for every last lyric. You can even hum your way through a greater portion of the song and still having points counted. The same goes for when you're running out of breath and you start to gasp one last note -- it'll still register, and with an identical power level as previously when you were singing normally. But for those who have more serious intentions, you'll find the feedback that the game spits back at you isn't perfectly satisfying and actually fosters off-sync vocalization.

    Much of this can be attributed to the system's inconsistency in recognizing the variations in your pitch accurately and as they happen. There are regularly delays in the feedback, especially in the case of sharp or very subtle dips in pitch, where it'll either respond a little too late or your brief change won't get picked up at all and will be shown as a straight line on the screen. Even when it's not in the case of a very small tweak, there are times when the on-screen feedback would be grayed out, as if not even singing into the Mic or somehow having interference that obstructed its ability to evaluate your performance (even while it just determined that you were still singing just fine). In order to perform well, you essentially have to manipulate the system by starting notes earlier than what actually takes place in the song.

To make it easier for the game to read your responses (in theory, anyway), there's a circle in the scoring zone that rises or lowers automatically in accordance with notes that are to come. And yet, if you were to deepen your voice during a string that requires a normal pitch, the game will often still track it as though it were executed properly. There was one time while I was singing How You Remind Me when the game incorrectly identified my voice as being higher in pitch during a block of identical lyrics, but it was actually no different from how I had been singing directly before. Even with emphatic enunciation, the recognition still experiences hiccups. As an example, I'm Yours by Jason Mraz is, on paper, a decent pick, but the quick lyrical composition at certain segments isn't conducive to the system actually being able to pick up on all those fine little details, and there are at least two other songs that experience the same problem.

    As a means of verifying the quality of the recognition as not being conditional on the song choice, I did two tests on Glad You Came. The first time I had food in my mouth, and on the second go I performed as normal. Interestingly enough, even with my voice being muffled, I ended up scoring around the same number of points as when I was actually trying. No matter how you read it, the recognition versus the feedback displayed on the screen is too spotty, and while, as I said, it is capable of being influenced to still achieve high-scores, the fact that you even do this doesn't reflect positively on the system as a whole. 

Sing Mode makes use of a level-up system to add a bit of purpose and progression, with three missions being specified at a given time. Some of these are a tad concerning -- play three songs with the letter "D" in the title? -- but the inclusion is still appreciated. Related to this last point, SiNG Party's Miiverse integration involves an automatic posting of updates on things you've done, with no options for posting a message of your own from the game itself. It shouldn't be too surprising that you're unable to capture your screen and attach it to your manual Miiverse posts, but it's still something to be aware of. Also, though nothing's been said at this point, downloadable content is planned for this game in the foreseeable future. Hopefully the songs will be priced fairly and will include a nice selection, but I can't comment any further on what isn't available at this present time.

    Whether you care about accuracy in your performance or just want to let loose and have a good show of everyone's sub-par singing ability (or, to the same token, to wow everyone with yours), SiNG Party isn't very successful and seems to rely on it being the only karaoke-style game on the Wii U as an excuse for not performing adequately in certain areas. There are some decent ideas here, but they come across as very shallow examples of interactivity. What is more, as the game adopts a more serious mode, it stumbles further and doesn't satisfy. I don't doubt those who decide to splurge anyway will break this out during holidays and at house parties, and still manage to have some fun with. But I don't see why one should pay upwards of $40 to do what will ultimately only last a few minutes and can be facilitated through other means, less involving as they may be.

16/30 - Below Average

Gameplay 4/10 - Party Mode is a weak execution of a not-so-bad idea, questionable controller use, tracking in Sing Mode isn't technically sound
Presentation 6/10 - Bright visual elements, a nice range of songs for multiple ages and confidence levels, recognition of GamePad not always up to par
Enjoyment 3/5 - Interaction is incredibly shallow, limited fun, not very successful at achieving its goals, spotty system presents performance problems
Extra Content 3/5 - Some surprising song picks, mixed effectiveness of level-up system, team play options, Miiverse incorporation could've been better

Equivalent to a score of 53% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

SiNG Party
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