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SingStar Ultimate Party review

The day the music died.

Ain't no party like a terrible party. And if there's one thing that makes a terrible party worse, it's a host who insists they're having A REALLY GREAT TIME ACTUALLY, and that everyone else is going to have a great time TOO, whether they LIKE IT OR NOT.

This is what visiting the SingStar Ultimate Party Facebook page is like.

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Look at these people. They are having such a great time they find it impossible to open their eyes or close their mouths. That even goes for the woman on the left, who knows she was only invited to comply with European regulations regarding the inclusion of ethnic minorities in lifestyle photography.

Meanwhile, the beardy hipster is so happy he is only partially distracted by the artisanal baba ghanoush stall he's just spotted behind the photographer. The only person not having a great time is the guy in the middle, who has in fact opened his mouth to insert the gun they've had to crop out of the shot.

The theme continues throughout the rest of the page. It's full of pictures of white people being happy against white backgrounds, accompanied by life-affirming slogans - "Unleash your inner SingStar diva!" "Everyone's got what it takes!" "SingStar is now downloadable in Canada!"

Unfortunately for Sony, the intended effect is diminished by the reams of complaints beneath each post. For instance, the top comment on "Everyone's got what it takes!" is: "I'd be happy if my PS3 SingStar would work at all, but it now crashes on startup and takes my console with it." Similarly, "Unleash your inner SingStar diva!" is met with responses ranging from "Yeah... No" to "F**k you."

There are hundreds of these comments yet barely any replies. It's like Sony is hiding in the kitchen at its own party, tweeting about how this is the best birthday EVER, in between swigging neat Malibu and crying.

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Oh God.

The bad news is the complaints are justified. For ten years the SingStar series has offered a slick, enjoyable and hilarious social gaming experience. But with SingStar Ultimate Party, the impossible has been achieved: Sony has made karaoke no fun.

The signs are there from the moment the game boots up. After all, nothing says, "Let's get this party started!" like the message "Network conditions may cause vocal delay." WOOP WOOP! The Venga Bus is coming!

The menu screen is presented in SingStar's usual sleek style, but Sony has taken the minimalism one step further by binning a load of the game modes. So no more Pass the Mic and, ironically considering the game's title, no Party mode. There's not even a Duet option. True, you can sing entire songs together simultaneously, but half the fun of the old SingStar games was taking it in turns to show off before bringing it home together at the chorus.

Some of the more basic options are missing too. It's no longer possible to enter player names, select difficulty levels or sing shorter versions of the songs. On top of that, there's no Move support. It's unlikely anyone over the age of six will cry about this, but still. It would have been nice to get one more use out of those things before giving them to the dog to chew.

The stripped down approach applies to both the free SingStar app and the disc version. The latter costs 20 and for that you get 30 songs. It's not a great tracklist, with too much emphasis on recent chart-toppers and not enough family favourites or classic crowd-pleasers.

There are a few highlights (Lionel Richie's Hello, Pharrell's Happy, that Carly Rae Jepsen track that was the jolliest song in the world until Taylor Swift discovered saxophones.) But then there's, you know, Olly Murs. They've even included the rubbish Demi Lovato recording of Let it Go instead of the Idina Menzel one, which is like opting for Paul Young's version of Love Will Tear Us Apart.

Probably not what Ian Curtis would have wanted.

As always, there's the option to buy more tracks in the SingStore. The press release describes the selection on offer as "robust", in the same jolly, optimistic tone you might hear Wetherspoons describing its clientele as "eclectic". The reality is there are less than 500 songs to choose from, most of them are rubbish, and there doesn't seem to have been an update since January.

Great news though, SingStar fans! You can transfer all the songs you bought for the PS3 version to your PS4, as explained on the official SingStar website! Except not really.

What Sony fails to mention there, too busy shoving yet more cheese and pineapple onto cocktail sticks and pretending it hasn't just been sick in the kettle, is that you can't transfer ALL the songs you bought. In fact, when I tried to update my own library, there were only two songs available to me - Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart and Down Under by Men at Work.

Of course, these are arguably the only two karaoke tracks anyone could ever need. With the possible exception of Toto's Africa. But it's irritating that I can't access the rest of my PS3 catalogue, particularly as the amount of money I spent on drunken SingStore purchases is basically the reason I didn't own my own home until I was 35.

For anything resembling an explanation, it's back to the terrible Facebook page. A trawl through the endless complaints and occasional responses reveals players can only transfer tracks that appear in both the PS3 and PS4 SingStores.

It's something to do with "licensing issues", apparently. "We're working with our partners in the music industry to add more and more PS3 SingStore songs to the PS4 SingStore over time," says Sony, shuffling its feet like a 14-year-old explaining his big brother was supposed to bring the girls and vodka.

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'Great Seb, love the bunting. Now move the White Company diffuser to the left and turn the books round so people can't see they're all biographies of Goebbels and Myra Hindley.'

At least you can use the old microphones with the new SingStar, both wired and wireless. If you binned them years ago, along with all those guitars, drum kits, cameras, quiz buzzers and skateboards, you can download a free app that turns smartphones into mics.

It's not the same, though; there's something about holding a proper mic that feels right and, when combined with vast quantities of alcohol, has the psychological effect of making the player believe they are indeed Beyonce. Or at least Alexandra Burke. Squawking into an iPhone (or as Sony's promo shots would have it, an Xperia - hilarious) just makes you feel like an Apprentice candidate. Or in other words, a twat.

But really, it doesn't matter, because whatever mic you choose, you won't be able to hear what comes out of it. For some inexplicable reason, Sony has turned the player volume in SingStar Ultimate Party down to almost nothing.

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So does your rock, pop etc.

I tried different mics, I tried changing the settings, I tried turning it up to 11. In the end, the only thing that worked was cupping a hand around the top of the mic to create a sort of echo chamber, then shouting into it.

This is not recommended. For starters, everyone who attempts it sound like Tricky during his dark period. Not ideal for a quick burst of Let it Go (although still preferable to Demi Lovato.) Worst of all, it reveals that they weren't kidding with that opening message about vocal delay.

There's a small but noticeable amount of lag between the player's singing and the sound coming out of the TV, which creates a weird reverb effect within the room. Why this problem has popped up now, after ten years of lag-free SingStar games, is a mystery. "Network conditions" isn't a good excuse, and doesn't make much sense considering I detected the same problem using both smartphone and wired mics.

Being able to hear player vocals over the backing track in sync with the music is pretty essential to a fun karaoke experience. SingStar Ultimate Party fails on this count and is therefore fundamentally broken. Then of course there's the reduced number of game modes, lack of options and failure to give players access to all the content they've previously paid for. Not to mention Olly Murs. Throwing in a feature that makes it slightly easier to put videos on Twitter can't make up for all that.

It's a shame that such a much-loved series has come to this, but here we are. So to conclude, SingStar Ultimate Party gets one point for nice menu screens and one point for Carly Rae Jepsen. As for you, Sony, it's time to ring the French polishers.

2 / 10

SingStar Ultimate Party review Ellie Gibson The day the music died. 2014-11-13T08:00:00+00:00 2 10

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