Karaoke Revolution In Depth

I rarely play a game that makes me feel like I should do a full-on review of it, but today’s an exception. Click through to get my thoughts on Konami’s latest music game series, Karaoke Revolution.

Konami’s long-running Bemani line has recently shown some signs of aging. DDR is on indefinite hold; multiple series have been canceled after short runs (Para Para Paradise, Dance Maniax, Keyboard Mania) and long runs (Beatmania). Some long running series haven’t had the justice of a home release in many months (IIDX, GF, DM). Only one series really continues to crank on, unhindered by licensing snafus or diminishing player bases, and that’s Pop’n Music.
Just when things were looking incredibly bleak for Bemani, a new title was announced – oddly enough, in the US and Japan at about the same time. Despite having nothing in common game play or song list wise, they were conceptually the same and shared the same name – Karaoke Revolution. And yes, the US version does have a Bemani logo on the back.
The American version, released this past Tuesday, was programmed by Harmonix, whose previous claim to fame was the somewhat captivating Frequency/Amplitude series. The game, until January, is only available as a bundle with a Logitech-branded headset, for around $60. The game will be available on its own in January, probably for $40.
The Songlist
I’ve covered the songlist previously on ExtraStage, so check this article for specifics. It’s around 35 songs total, ranging from two minutes long to over five minutes. The genres run all over the place, with modern rock, alternative pop, golden oldies, 80’s standards, and
Most of the songs are available initially, with all of four songs being unlockable – Smooth Criminal, Ladies Night, Science Genius Girl, and One Week.
The Gameplay
There are a number of game modes:

  • Superstar – play through one song on each venue to become a “superstar”.
  • Arcade – do a set of 3, 4, or 5 songs.
  • Karaoke – ungraded, lyrics-only Karaoke. For when you don’t want to feel the pressure of grading.
  • Versus Arcade – 2 to 8 players compete in 3, 4, or 5 song sets and are graded by standard scoring.
  • Karaoke Competition – 3 to 8 players compete and vote for each other after each round.

After picking your mode and a character, the really critical difficulty choice is for judging style. This sets how accurately the game wants you to be – and if you’re as toneless as those of us playing today were, you’re going to want to stick on Easy and maybe creep up to Medium at some point.
Here’s how the game works: There’s a bar at the bottom with a very standard “bar” near the left side. Notes scroll in from right to left, with the appropriate word or sound under it. The position of the bar indicates where in the vocal range you should sing the note; length indicates the duration of the note; changes in direction indicate pitch shifts. When it hits the bar, well, sing it. If you’re off on the pitch, the arrow to the left of the bar will show where you are and which way you need to move your pitch. Depending on how close you are in tone, sparks will come off and be used to fill your gauge. At the end of a phrase, depending on how full your bar is, you get points and crowd comments and potential bonus effects if you’re doing well.
If you do well enough, you start glowing and what not; at the end of the song, if you have enough points, you can get a Gold or Platinum rating. If you’re sucking, the audience can boo you off the stage.
You don’t have to be in the same octave, by the way – you can go higher or lower, so long as you’re on the right note.
What Works
The tone detection – it’s really, really spot on. I haven’t had any issues with the game saying I’m wildly off when I should be on, or audio from other sources interfering. It just works.
The songs – the large majority of these songs are recognizable. They are full length, which is a welcome change from DDR’s 1:30 law. This can be a little bit negative at times, as you will get REALLY tired during the longer songs, but for the most part it’s a good thing.
The graphics – the characters are well modeled, the crowds are fully animated even if they are similar characters over and over again, the lighting effects are good, and the special effects are nifty. And the frame rate is constant, of course.
Expansion disc support – answering prayers of Bemani fans everywhere, the game has support for swapping in another disk full of songs. Who knows when one will ship, but you can request songs now.
The little touches – the character’s mouth actually matches your audio level on the microphone, which is really cool when you see it. You can adjust audio levels on the fly to drop out the example vocals, or turn up your own, or kill the music and do it a cappella style. There’s a DDRMAX2 ad hidden in one of the venues, which is a cute touch. There are some unlockable videos, and lots of extra outfits for the characters. All the lyrics are in the back of the manual.
What Doesn’t Work
The bundled headset – I realize it was essential to bundle a headset with the game, but the design of this one is really not well done. Unless you’re pre-pubescent and haven’t had your skull get to full size, the headset will not fit you properly. The microphone will not be positioned properly in front of your mouth. The game will pick up your pitches just fine, but it won’t pipe through as much as it seems it should. Also, in the earpiece, you hear yourself. Wouldn’t it make more sense to hear, I don’t know, the music?
Some user interface decisions – reminiscent of IIDX 3rd Style, there’s no indication of how much more you have in the song. The song list is not pleasurable to navigate, and you’ll easily overshoot things because you can’t tell how far it will move. There’s no measure bars during instrumental portions, which make you wonder if anything is still happening.
No actual word detection – if you get caught up reading the words on songs like One Week or It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, you can still get a good score by making any sound on the syllables. The game isn’t smart enough to actually judge what you’re saying. This does have the nice bonus side effect that you can make up lyrics – you, too, can be Weird Al Yankovich.
No Bemani songs – while this doesn’t personally bother me, some people will be frustrated by the lack of any songs from other Bemani games. Maybe on an add-on disk.
As you can probably tell, my only serious gripe is with the headset – it just doesn’t feel like it’s on right. Outside of that, the game is great, and the potential for add-on discs keeps me really excited for the future.
On my standard 1 to 100 scale, I give Karaoke Revolution an 85, and recommend everyone pick it up – although maybe wait until January so you can pick your own headset once it’s available outside the bundle.