Review: Lips

Sometimes, pumping a rowdy teenager full of lead via Xbox Live just doesn’t fit the mood of a party. What do you do if you’re looking to host a birthday bash or casual get-together full of the sad, lonely souls who haven’t yet been introduced to the ways of the mighty gamer? You shove a wireless mic in their hands and tell them to sing. Sing like they’ve never sung before. And maybe, just maybe, all of the hopes and dreams encased in their bodies will turn Microsoft’s karaoke title Lips into an enjoyable venture.

Back before Lips came about, the only real damage 360 gamers could do with their voices was through the mouthpiece of Karaoke Revolution’s American Idol edition. That was never a pretty sight, so a new and innovative solution was warranted, or at least one that could compete with the PS3’s SingStar. Thus we were given Lips – karaoke stuffed with 40 songs and two (swanky, and we’ll talk about them later) wireless microphones that flash in time to the music onscreen in bright hues.

Getting into the game is quite simple. Simply connect a wireless mic via the small power button on the bottom, and everything’s set. From there, it’s all about getting your sing on.

Lips’ main menu consists of an alphabetical listing of tracks sorted by album cover. Every song tht is available is unlocked at the onset, eliminating any thrill of singing well to open up new options. The 40 songs that ship with the game run the gamut from Nirvana’s “In Bloom,” to Aly and AJ’s “Potential Breakup Song,” to the quintessential “Stand By Me” from Ben E. King. With that said, there’s a sufficient variety of song choices for participants to choose from, though many are strange and quirky choices that never should have been considered (“Lip Gloss”, “Love in a Trashcan”). Because of this, if your music choices are severely limited to only the hottest of hot that’s been blaring on the radio, you may find yourself struggling to find a good song to complete with correct lyrics and all. Lips suffers from the Rock Band/Guitar Hero syndrome in that its song choices are often packed with great bands, but much of the offerings are obscure or unpopular tracks that no one truly has the desire to sing or play along with.For instance, who would rather sing Nirvana’s “In Bloom” over a myriad of their other, more memorable songs? Apparently a few people, as there are at least three karaoke titles that threw it in their mix.

Each track is coupled with the appropriate music video in gorgeous HD. As for the songs included that were a bit before MTV’s time, animations are included that feel cheap and contrite, but hey – it’s something to watch onscreen.

In SingStar fashion, lyrics will appear on the bottom (or top, depending on multiplayer options) along with pitch bars. It’s your job to match pitch, rhythm, and a myriad of other scoring measures that the song demands. At certain points in the songs, racking up enough points will trigger a Star Power-like option where gesturing with the wireless microphone will employ a bonus. Other players can also join in by pressing buttons on thr 360 controller to “play” in time to each song. If you’re talented enough to command real vibrato, then applying it to verses will add a vibrato bonus. At least, that’s what Lips would like to be true. You could simply shake the microphone while singing any old lyric to simulate this effect. As for singing on pitch, simply make noise until the onscreen indicator syncs with the phrase bars. Mindless tapping of the 360 controller will award party bonuses, and rhythm bonuses only require you to mimic the song in some way. Basically, all of these medals that can be earned mean nothing. Unless you’re relentlessly anal about earning points and medals the correct way, there is no real incentive to try since the scoring system is so flimsy.  Regardless if you try or not, at the end “stars” are awarded and are calculated into an overall rank on Lips. Performances are also graded on a cosmic scale, such as with planets, galaxies, universes, and Big Bangs.

To attempt to spice things up, the singing mode offers three other modes of play that are essentially still the same. One involves putting out a fuse on a bomb by filling up a glass of water per each verse mastered. There is also a “Kiss” game where the objective is to coerce two lovers to kiss, and another throwaway mode that pits two rockers on stage together. All are completely forgettable and only different “skins” to play under or with friends.

Aside from the main “Sing!” mode, there are also other options accessible via the menu. Players can utilize “Jukebox” mode in order to play random tracks or playlists of songs from the game. Or, you could just set a radio in the corner of a room, or better yet, listen to your iPod. “Get Music” allows gamers to input songs from their own devices, perhaps the most innovative aspect of Lips. These songs are most definitely open for play, but as there are no lyrics, videos, or any input to score them properly, you may as well be singing along with your headphones. Because of this, importing music is useless. The only real way new tracks can be thrown into the mix is by way of DLC, which is 160-180 Microsoft Points a pop for one song and a matching video. This, my friends, is highway robbery, as the least that could be offered is a value pack for those who quickly grow tired of what is available on the main game. 160-180 points is a preposterous price for the value of what you’re getting, and is completely unacceptable considering the fact that there is no real progression in Lips to award obtaining more songs.

While the game is quite lacking in its presentation and execution, at least the wireless mics that are included in this $70 bundle are fantastic. Two mics are shipped; one back and one white. Both feel sturdy and weighted, as well as extremely classy. There is no pesky surface to attract fingerprints, and near the bottom of both are small panels provided for bursts of light. The panels flash in time to music onscreen in various colors. They’re simple to sync to the 360, and if another player wants to join they must simply shake a mic to activate a 2-player mode. These mics are the ultimate in convenience, topping even the Rock Band mic. In fact, picking up one of these sexy things will have you thinking twice about ever picking up that shoddy Rock Band peripheral ever again.

Lips has no need for traditional graphics, but the music videos included are crisp and crystal clear. Stock animation provided for music imported from MP3 players is quirky and animated well. No problems in the graphical department, save for the fact that in-game avatars in the “Freestyle” mode move a bit strangely. As for the music, the biggest aspect, soothing elevator-like music is pumped through the menus and will likely linger in players’ heads long after someone who takes an hour to decide finally chooses a song.

Lips offers “My Lips” in order for players to track medals earned, stars from performances, their overall Lips rank, and challenges sent to other players. Challenges are only notices sent to fellow Lips players to attempt to beat your score, so there is really no Xbox Live support. It’s a shame, as there could have been so much online potential. Instead, what is available is wasted in attempting to make Lips the ultimate party game for casuals.

Though it’s clear that there was real effort put into making Lips something more than just a choose-and-sing casual title, there is no evidence that it should be considered anything but. Lips is a party game masquerading as a hardcore karaoke title. However, there aren’t many other options on the market that are more viable alternatives. At the very least, Karaoke Revolution awards players on successes and provides unlockable content. That’s more than can be said for Lips and its slew of overpriced DLC. Lips only serves to prove that the only time some games show any semblance of fun is when there is a room full of moronic drunkards. If you’re planning on a solo career with Lips, know that you shouldn’t quit your day job.

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