SiNG Party review: ain't no SingStar

Given the countless singing games that have come out over the years, from Karaoke Revolution to SingStar to Rock Band, it's surprising that Wii U launch game SiNG Party can miss the mark so much. Developed by DJ Hero's FreeStyle Games and published by Nintendo, SiNG Party does its best of making a karaoke experience that takes advantage of the GamePad--but fails to make a singing engine worth playing.

SiNG Party is, at the very least, a decent value. Included with the standard $60 price tag is a USB microphone that plugs into the front of the Wii U console, and a track list of 50 songs. The variety represented by the game is baffling, ranging from modern favorites like Call Me Maybe to classic tunes like Go Your Own Way. The rather eclectic mix means there will be tons of duds in this collection--but it also guarantees you'll find something that suits your taste.

While the song selection should be commended, playing the game isn't all that much fun. The singing engine isn't particularly great. In fact, it feels like a step backwards from other games, as it offers no feedback on rap and spoken word segments. Songs that have particularly long instrumental breaks are especially tedious to sit through. Whereas Rock Band solved that problem by having singers clap along with the mic, and Lips had its silly gyroscopic microphone, SiNG Party makes no attempt at engaging the player during these segments.

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The presentation is also lacking. Whereas the decades-old SingStar games offer official music videos to accompany the track, Party offers bland, generic scrolling wallpapers. It feels cheap, especially as SingStar is now available as an entirely customizable free-to-play experience on the PlayStation Network. Rock Band at least offers avatar tools and a story mode that gives you a sense of progression; SiNG Party's medal system is a poor attempt at giving the experience a sense of cohesion.

Of course, few play karaoke games alone. The titular "Party" mode of the game is clearly where FreeStyle Games focused the most. Unfortunately, I can't determine if this mode was a good idea executed poorly, or just a bad idea altogether. In the Party mode, one player takes the GamePad and microphone and performs in front of the television, facing the audience. The GamePad not only displays lyrics, but directions on how to engage your audience. While well-meaning, there's something terribly awkward about a game telling you to tell others to clap along. The forced directives make this feel less like a Party, and more like an exercise video. And the game's total lack of feedback on the singer's or audience's participation makes following these instructions rather moot.

If there is one thing to like about the Party mode, it is very attractive. The audience gets to see dynamic text appear on the screen, highlighting parts of the song where they should sing along. It looks very fresh--although it's still not an adequate replacement for having music videos.

Casual Wii U owners looking for a karaoke experience will still get a lot of mileage out of SiNG Party--if only because there's no alternative on the platform. It gets the job done, and likely will for as long as Nintendo releases DLC for the game. However, singing enthusiasts have much better options on other platforms, and won't need an invitation to this otherwise disappointing party.

This SiNG Party review was based on a retail Wii U version of the game provided by the publisher. The game will be available on November 18th. Online functionality could not be tested, as Nintendo Network was unavailable before publishing.