Posted by Mat Growcott
A neighbour's nightmare
If there’s one problem with Rock Band, it’s that most of its content is DLC. Sure, it’s great to be able to pick and choose what you want to play, but purchasing individually means that you’re unlikely to try new things. SingOn tries to solve this problem by going with a subscription model, allowing instant anytime access to its impressive catalogue of a couple of thousand songs. What it gains in innovation, though, it drops in features. Like your dad’s extended acoustic version of American Pie, by the time that it’s finished, you’ll have had more than enough.
There’s a definite demographic in mind for the digital download. You know that annoying couple that keeps trying to organise “activities” for their friends? They invite everybody that they know to cheese evenings, or to watch and discuss old films. SingOn is designed for them. The idea is that instead of dragging out your old 90s karaoke VHS, you can just pay a little bit of money and obtain easy access to some of greatest hits of all time. In that regard, it’s a definite success.
From Shakira and Lady Gaga through to The Beatles, Queen, and Frank Sinatra, the package has a fantastic catalogue of songs on offer. If you have to entertain both your hip-hop loving grandma and your jazz fan niece, neither one will be disappointed. Music will play with practically no delay, so you can queue dozens of songs and let them roll through without having to deal with loading screens or menus. This can even be done on the fly with a companion app, so that you won’t even need a controller. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it allows you to focus on other things without having to worry that someone mashing buttons might accidentally uncover the cache of “personal” videos stored on your XMB.
The karaoke screens themselves are simple as well. There’s no music video or flashy crowds: the lyrics appear on screen and their relative position gives some indication of pitch. It’s not the best system in the world, and you’ll need more than a vague knowledge of whatever it is that you’re singing to sound anything but awful, but that’s karaoke. It’s supposed to sound awful. It gives people a reason to drink.
It’s around this point that you’ll notice that there’s something off with the songs. SingOn is mostly – perhaps entirely – made up of covers. Some of them, like All Along the Watchtower and Make You Feel My Love, are covers of covers (sorry, Bob). They’re not bad – way above the quality of some of that early Rock Band stuff – but it’s still noticeable nonetheless.
At the bottom of the screen is a timer telling you how much longer you’ll need to endure yet another person singing Up Where We Belong, and at the top you’re given your score in both stars and points. Earn enough points and you’ll be given another star. It’s a system that’s been utilised for as long as there have been music games. This particular attempt gets it very wrong, though, as it’s all worthless. There’s no comparison, no way of seeing previous scores, and definitely nothing like leaderboards. You don’t unlock anything for singing well; there might as well be no reward system at all. If you wanted to compete with somebody else, perhaps it’d make sense, but considering it’s a game built for parties, two people blasting the same song repeatedly is the very last thing that you’ll want to occur.
As such, SingOn is just very, very underwhelming as a game. There are no challenges, no difficulty levels, no alternate modes, or anything like that. You won’t be able to unlock any Trophies or playback your performances. All of this might go against its simple to play ideal, but it’d also extend its appeal and the amount of time that you might spend with it.
For that reason, it becomes difficult to recommend SingOn. Although it seems like good value, you’d be better off building up a Rock Band or SingStar collection. The advantages of the service’s clever but incredibly lightweight system are lost when you discover that calling it a singing game is stretching it. For a cost, it’ll turn your console into a karaoke machine, complete with songs that you could probably grab on YouTube. No more, no less.
Still, the prices are actually quite fair – so long as you plan your time. £2.99 nets your three hours of unlimited access, which is absolutely more than you’ll need. As soon as you play your first song, the time starts ticking down, and, whether the app is on or not, three hours later you’ll need to top up. £5.99 gets you two days, while £47.99 grabs you an entire year.
You have to think of it in context to realize why these prices make sense. As a key bit of a party, £2.99 is ideal and much cheaper than renting a karaoke machine or buying DLC for one of the more established music games. For less than a service station sausage roll, you’ll be able to get access to thousands of songs for the better part of an evening. At the end of those three hours, you’ll have nothing but memories to show for your purchase. And if the singing has been particularly bad, you’ll wish that you didn’t even have those.
Alas, arguably the biggest problem with this package is that it just isn’t great at a technical level. The amount of delay between your voice and it appearing in the game will vary by TV to TV, but you’d usually be able to test and fix this in the settings. Whether it’s part of the content delivery system – the download is only 80MB, meaning that there’s some form of streaming involved here – or just lazy design, it means that what you’re being scored for on screen isn’t what you’re actually doing, and there’s no way to fix it.
On top of that, the amount of echo that’s placed onto your voice means that things quickly become a mess, especially on songs with quite prominent vocals. There are a few additional effects on offer to lessen the impact of this, but since they either auto-tune your voice or make you sound like you’re going through a vocoder, they’re not especially helpful in real terms.
SingOn is a great idea, and it’ll hopefully blossom into something worth checking out in time – but it’s not there yet. Technical issues coupled with a barebones – and sometimes broken – gaming experience make it difficult to recommend. The cover songs are of a good quality, but if you’re serious about holding a karaoke party, the countless music titles already available on the market may provide a better option. As such, this is an affordable service that’s yet to really prove that it has an audience.