I am a karaoke fiend. Whenever I happen to have the night free when karaoke is happening at the local watering hole, I am dialing and texting my friends to see who I can drag along to witness me make a fool of myself. For those nights I am unsuccessful at bringing my friends, I turn to karaoke videogames at home. Lips: Number One Hits is Microsoft’s second entry into the genre on Xbox 360. While being a solid karaoke-only game overall, though, it still lags just a couple steps behind Sony’s stellar SingStar series on PS3.
An advantage Number One Hits has over SingStar is it ships with 40 songs on disc compared to the 30 on an average SingStar disc. Microsoft is also hopping on the anti-used game market bandwagon with a code to download one of three five song track packs for free with every new copy of the game for a total of 45 tracks. The soundtrack is spread out across many genres, and while not every song will be a hit for everyone, I was pleased to see some of my karaoke favorites included like “Karma Chameleon,” “U Can’t Touch This,” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” to name a few. Users can also swap discs with the original Lips for access to its 40 songs, and while I appreciate the option I would have preferred the ability to import the Lips soundtrack into Number One Hits for a small fee just like the compatibility between Rock Band and Rock Band 2.
There was not a whole lot developer iNiS could do to change up the core karaoke gameplay in Number One Hits, as the engine is nearly identical to Lips with lyrics scrolling across the screen and each song’s music video playing in the background. The wireless mics work well and accurately fill the pitch meters, and does a great job at recognizing and rewarding bonuses for vibrato, technique and pitch. The Star Stream meter is back, and tilting the mic activates it for better bonuses and multipliers. If you and a friend are rotating between singing, then the gamer on the couch can still be involved by pressing buttons to activate sound effects throughout each performance. The mini-games from before return too, so if you could not get enough of the co-operative Time Bomb game or the competitive Vocal Fighters mini-game, then prepare to experience them again in all their glory.
The only major new feature in Number One Hits is Avatar support. The Lips microphones have motion control features, and during songs your avatar will sporadically appear performing a motion with the microphone. Simply mimic the motion within a limited time window, and your avatar will quickly fade off of the screen in recognition. I first dismissed this as a stupid and needless feature, but it grew on me because of how damn goofy and cute my avatar looks strutting his stuff. This is also the first disc based Xbox 360 title to support unlockable Avatar awards. It is not a lot to throw a party over, but it is marginally gratifying to earn some new Avatar clothing and not have to pay for it.
Number One Hits is not a feature extensive game other than offering most of the expected modes of play like Duets and versus modes. I was hoping for a somewhat meaningful career mode like in the American Idol series, but instead will have to settle with the returning ranking system where the more medals earned with each song adds to your grand total and gradually increases your overall karaoke rank. Freestyle mode returns and allows players to plug in their MP3 device of choice and sing songs from their own personal library. As before importing songs from an MP3 device is a cool feature in theory, but only if you remember all the lyrics of each and every song in your personal collection because they do not display on screen.
As mentioned above, there are a few areas where Lips lags behind Sony’s karaoke product. SingStar debuted some innovative use of camera support by recording performances and uploading them online. I was hoping iNiS would have been inspired to include a similar feature in Number One Hits, but it looks like I will have to keep my fingers cross for its inclusion in the next Lips title. Additionally, the number of tracks available for download off Xbox Live Marketplace is inferior in comparison to the SingStore. Lips has just under 150 songs for download as of this writing, which is roughly a third of the DLC available on the SingStore. Also baffling to me is why Microsoft treated this sequel as add-on criteria for gamerscore with only 250 gamerscore unique to Number One Hits. I can understand if it was a 10-20 song track pack disc like the AC/DC Live Rock Band disc, but to classify this full priced retail game as such is confusing.
Number One Hits has a few things going for it and is worth picking up if you own the original Lips, but ultimately falls short at being the must have karaoke game. If you have a PS3, then definitely go with SingStar instead. If you are absolutely dying to get your karaoke fix on 360 however and do not mind missing out on a few Lips-exclusive features, then sticking with only singing in the Rock Band games should tide you over just fine.
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360