My wife is a karaoke person. She's not a hustler, but when we lived in a small town with nothing to do, we'd hit the same dive bars and Mexican restaurants every week so she could sing while I slowly got soused. We own a karaoke machine and a hundred or so discs, and instead of hiring a regular DJ our wedding reception was one big karaoke party. My wife doesn't play games but she owns almost every Karaoke Revolution and breaks out the Rock Band mic every few weeks. She knows karaoke, she knows karaoke games, and she knows that Sing Party isn't particularly great at either.
It's fine and functional when it comes to the actual singing aspect of karaoke. You plug in a USB microphone, you load up a song, and you sing along. You can sing on pitch, if you want, or you can just wail like a tone deaf cretin (my preferred method). Your voice goes into the mic and comes out through your TV as one of fifty popular songs from the last several decades plays underneath. That playlist isn't huge, but there's a nice range of styles, from recent hits from The Wanted, Rihanna and Taio Cruz, to old favorites from Thelma Houston, the Pet Shop Boys and Deee-Lite. It's light on rock'n'roll (Nickelback doesn't count) and you'll probably hit every song on the list at least once after a few sessions, but hopefully the library will expand through DLC once the Wii U's online store is up.

Sing Party lets you sing without any problems, but it doesn't quite offer the most obvious feature for a Wii U karaoke game. Karaoke bars have a separate monitor for singers to read the lyrics. That way they can face the audience while singing and the audience can still sing along by reading the lyrics off the main TV screen. Almost every karaoke game has forced everyone to look at the same screen, though, removing the performance aspect from karaoke. The Wii U's GamePad makes the traditional karaoke set-up practical in a video game for the first time. This should be the main reason Sing Party exists. For some reason, though, only one of the game's three modes displays the lyrics on both screens.

This makes no sense. That's the number one feature anybody who knows karaoke will expect from a video game that uses two screens. It's the easiest and most pivotal way Sing Party can distinguish itself from SingStar and Lips. It's like if the plastic guns that come with Big Buck Hunter only worked in parts of the game. You wouldn't buy a deer-killing game thinking the gun only worked on a third of the animals that can be shot, and you wouldn't buy a karaoke game for a dual-screen system thinking that it only displays the lyrics like real karaoke a third of the time.

The Team mode is the only one that uses the two screens the way you'd expect. It's a head-to-head challenge where two teams compete in a handful of karaoke events. Each match lasts four, eight or twelve rounds, and at the end the scores for each round are totaled up to find a winner. There are three main events within the Team mode, including a spotlight solo where one member sings a song alone, a choir mode where the entire team sings together and a relay event where you pass the mic from singer to singer after every couple of lines. Teams can pick their own songs, although it's more fun if your opponents pick for you. In addition to the system scoring, other friends can judge which team did better after each song, although this has no impact upon the final results. Team mode is Sing Party at its best – a party-friendly multiplayer mode that feels like real karaoke and adds a competitive element for motivation.

In Sing mode you only compete against your own high scores. You can sing alone, in a duet or simultaneously with a friend, and other players can join in with Wii Remotes that act like maracas. It's a basic algorithmic karaoke mode a la Rock Band, with a pitch line that you try to follow and a scoring system based on how many notes you hit correctly. Beyond pitch, you're also scored on "power" and "flair." Power simply means how loudly you sing, but flair is slightly nebulous. Basically it's how much you change volume or how quickly you slide up and down the scale, like a melismatic Mariah Carey wannabe. Practice mode breaks all three attributes down into on-screen meters, and that's the easiest way to get a handle on what exactly "flair" means.

The lyrics only appear on the TV in Sing mode. The singer stares at the TV while whoever else is around can fiddle with the GamePad. With the GamePad you can adjust the song's mix, boosting or lowering the volumes of the backing track, original vocals or your microphone, and also add reverb to your voice. There's also a "jam" option where you can tap the GamePad screen to add percussion to the mix. You can also use it to easily create a playlist and add songs on the fly. Occasionally our fingers would linger too long as we were cycling through the playlist, though, and pick a song we didn't want, and there's no way to back out.

Sing mode is the core of the game, but oddly enough there are no difficulty levels. Everyone is judged equally. To keep you motivated, there's a rolling awards system similar to ones used in many popular mobile games. There are three goals active at any one time, such as scoring 200,000 points in a song or singing ten songs total. Once you achieve one of those goals, the award will light up and be replaced on the list by a new one. The award system also levels up, but these levels don't impact the game itself. Oddly enough, even though you can register multiple Miis with their own separate high scores, the award system can roll over and level up no matter who is singing. It's like roommates contributing to the same save in an RPG instead of having their own separate games.

Sing Party's third major branch is the Party mode. You know how party stores are the most obnoxious and depressing places on earth? Party mode is that kind of party. There's no scoring, the lyrics only appear on the GamePad, and garishly designed characters commandeer your TV and exhort your friends to sing the chorus, or to dance along to specific moves even though there's no way for the game to track or score your dancing. It's like an ersatz Dance Central where the dancing is simply a suggestion. This party is strictly for the very young.

My wife passed on Sing Party after a few sessions, disappointed that it mostly missed such an obvious opportunity. The single-player mode doesn't do anything that Rock Band or other karaoke games haven't already done, and the rigid competitive structure of Team mode limits the usefulness of its dual-screen display. Meanwhile, Party mode is a distraction. Sing Party is the best karaoke game for the Wii U because it's the only one, but in the wider world of karaoke it's easily overlooked.


This review is based on a retail copy of Sing Party, provided by Nintendo.

Garrett Martin was once a member of Huey Luis and the News, or at least that's what he tells everyone. He edits Paste Magazine's videogame section and reviews games for the Boston Herald and other outlets. You can hear his blather at Twitter (@GRMartin) or at a variety of Atlanta-area bars.

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