Version tested: PlayStation 3
SingStar Guitar's intro video gives you an idea of how Sony intends it to be played. The camera arcs around a pair of blue and red virtual fretboards as the instantly recognisable chiming riff from The Cult's She Sells Sanctuary kicks in. As we swoop past floating notes and giant volume dials a short, soundless video clip appears, showing a slightly nerdy-looking chap playing his Generic Third-Party Guitar Controller (TM) while a woman his girlfriend, perhaps cosies up to him, crooning into her wireless SingStar microphone. They're your archetypal SingStar couple, and the perfect audience for this guitar-based spin-off.
Zoom out from the telly into my living room and you have a prime example of How It's Not Meant To Be Played (coming soon on BBC3). I'm sitting down on my settee, hunched over my coffee table, clutching the Warriors Of Rock guitar I just bought from Toys 'R' Us for the purposes of this review and leaning forward into a scuffed Rock Band mic propped up inside a coffee cup that's resting on a collection of books and magazines I've piled up so I can actually see the screen. I really should have picked up that mic stand from Maplin while I was out.
So yes, the single and the friendless need not apply unless they have the appropriate accoutrements. SingStar Guitar is essentially aimed at people who like to play videogame karaoke but don't want to leave their partners out. To whom the obvious recommendation would be to buy Rock Band or Guitar Hero, but for the purposes of this review, let's pretend for a minute they don't exist. After all, that's essentially what Sony's done here.
Your 20 quid gets you 30 tracks, and while musical tastes are obviously entirely subjective, it's impossible to say that it's not a varied and interesting tracklist. You've got undeniable classics like The Buzzcocks' Ever Fallen In Love... alongside modern crackers like Elbow's Grounds For Divorce, while the female singer-songwriter in your life is catered for by the likes of Ladyhawke and KT Tunstall. (No prizes for guessing which songs from those two chanteuses are included, particularly if I add that one of them isn't Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.)
It's slightly problematic that many of the best tunes have already appeared on either Rock Band or Guitar Hero or at least it would be if those games weren't figments of my imagination. Regardless, I had a lot of fun yelling and strumming along to The Pixies' Debaser, while Vampire Weekend's A-Punk is only slightly less fun than it is in Just Dance 2. I'm slightly disappointed that there are no Kings of Leon tracks, but that's only because I had a great gag about pigeon poo lined up.
The interface for the guitar is almost certainly as you'd expect from a SingStar game which is to say that the fretboard is sterile and entirely featureless, but at least you're not going to be distracted by any visual fuss. You can scroll through the menus with your guitar controller and select whether you want to sing solo, play solo, or give yourself dual roles.
The more chord-heavy songs are better if you want to play and sing there's a reason frontmen usually stick to rhythm guitar and leave the solos to someone else, after all. The likes of Maximo Park's Apply Some Pressure on Hard might, for example, lead you to skin one of your knuckles on the edge of your coffee table because you're so intently focused on the fiendish note chart on screen that you fail to notice your playing hand is dangerously close to that sharp corner you meant to do something about ages ago but never got around to fixing. I'm speaking hypothetically here, you understand.
One advantage that SingStar Guitar has over the entirely fictional Guitar Hero and Rock Band games is the ability to use the PlayStation Eye camera to record your performance especially useful if you want to embarrass yourself out of doing that stupid thing with your tongue when you're concentrating. You can relive several three-second 'golden moments' (brief snatches of footage ripped seemingly at random from your performance), watch a longer video highlight of your fretwork, or view the whole thing again. After you've finished singing, meanwhile, you can play back your own audio to hear how well or badly you did while adding various vocal effects to your performance. All this, of course, will be familiar to SingStar veterans.
If the 30 tracks on the disc aren't quite enough, at present there are 12 more on the SingStore under the Gameplay Types category. If you already own the song, you pay 40p extra to add guitar compatibility but there's no way to just buy the guitar track without the vocals, meaning it'll set you back £1.39 per song if you want both.
The note charts aren't quite up to the Harmonix standard, but in general they're remarkably solid. I'm on the cusp between Medium and Hard on Imaginary Rock Band and I managed quite well with most of the Hard songs on here, so it's probably a touch easier than seasoned music game players are used to and there's no Expert mode, either.
As ever with SingStar, scoring is generous and the input timing is reasonably forgiving, but that's not to say the tougher tracks aren't a challenge, if hardly Through the Fire and Flames. When you miss a note the guitar track temporarily cuts out until you hit the next one, and to these ears that's a big improvement on the loud clunks when you fumble a section on No Such Thing As Guitar Hero. Periodically you'll see sequences of notes highlighted in gold. These so-called Golden Riffs give you a substantial point bonus if you nail every note, though there's no equivalent of Star Power mode whatever that may be.
Dropping the pretence, there's no denying that SingStar Guitar is something of a niche release, especially given the dwindling sales figures in the music-game market. Karaoke lovers might feel it soils the purity of the empty-orchestra experience while those who want to play pretend guitar would likely prefer Rock Band or Guitar Hero. But as that bespectacled chap and his missus from the intro would suggest, there probably is an audience for this out there, no matter how small it may be. In which case, it's hard to say it doesn't serve a purpose. The singing is great, as you would reasonably have expected, and the guitar stuff is perfectly fine, as you might not.
Overall, it's a typically polished add-on from SCE London Studio, with a decent track list and a healthy selection of DLC already available. There's not an awful lot to criticise, so while this review may only be of worth to around 12 Eurogamer readers, those 12 will probably have a whale of a time singing and strumming and slicing up eyeballs ah ha ha ho.
7 / 10