Version tested: PlayStation 3
Karaoke can turn the bleakest of evenings around. Such as the stag-do we recall which, due to an email-related error, was attended only by the groom, the best man, a homosexual gentleman and a woman. Or that New Year's Eve party where the host nearly kicked out one guest who refused to observe a two minute silence, opting to pay his respects by repeatedly shouting "Is there any more cava?" from the bottom of the garden.
Both evenings could have gone horribly wrong but were saved by the healing, unifying power of karaoke. And drink, obviously. Something magical happens when you combine pop records, shouting, showing off and public humiliation. And drink.
Sony recognised this several years ago and created the SingStar series for PS2. More than 10 million copies have since been shipped around the globe and, we'd wager, more than 10 million evenings have ended in hilarity rather than disaster.
Here comes the first next-gen instalment, simply titled SingStar PS3. The basic format is the same. You sing into microphones (the game works with the old PS2 mics, but wireless ones are on the way) and score points based on pitch and timing. You can watch the original music videos while you sing or, if you've got a PlayStation Eye, yourself. You can sing solo, duet or battle with another player. Up to eight players can play Pass the Mic, a team game involving a series of different challenges.
It's all terrifically lifestyle. You can tell that just by the placeholder names they've chosen for the high scores table (Nathan and Tobias, Dom and Sergio). There's a nice lifestyle intro where some lifestyle people do lifestyle shouting over pop music, and some stylish lifestyle menu screens. The background music's inoffensive, the sort of thing you won't mind waking up to at half-past five in the morning with an ashtray on your face, wondering why your life isn't like Nathan and Tobias's.
So far, so familiar. But SingStar PS3 introduces an important new dynamic designed to overcome a specific limitation of the PS2 games. In the olden days you were stuck with the choice of songs on the disc you purchased, but now you can download tracks from the healthy library in the SingStore.
There's also a new feature called My SingStar which allows you to upload videos and photos, view stuff others have uploaded and build a friends list. Yes, it's MySpace meets YouTube meets Facebook meets pop records and shouting. And public humiliation on a grander scale than ever before.
You could just ignore all the online stuff as SingStar PS3 comes with 30 tracks on the disc. However, the selection isn't stellar. There are tracks here for pop princesses (Toxic by Britney Spears, Beep by the Pussycat Dolls) and manic depressives (Radiohead's No Surprises). Party animals get Hey Ya, Alright and I Don't Feel Like Dancin', and for miserable women in bad relationships there's Macy Gray's I Try. There are plenty of songs for angry young men to shout over including Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis, Weezer's Buddy Holly and the one about the monster coming over the hill.
However, the selection lacks widespread appeal as almost all the songs are from the last 15 years. The exceptions are Twisted Sister's We're Not Gonna Take It and the genius inclusion of Musical Youth's Pass the Dutchie (all together now, "Dang ga dang ga dang mong middley bong, dong biddley biddley biddley biddley biddley biddley bong").
There's no Elvis, no camp classics, no rock anthems, nothing for Grandma. Unless you count Somethin' Stupid, but it's the Robbie and Nicole version and the sight of that sweaty thug's biroed back heaving on top of that perfect porcelain angel might push Grandma over the rainbow bridge.