Ah, the inevitable World Cup tie-in title. Sing along with the national anthems of each nation, hitting all the right notes to demonstrate your patriotic fervour! Test your vocal skills on tricky numbers like "La Marseillaise", "Das Lied der Deutschen" and "God Save the Queen", then finish with a flair by wrapping your vocal cords around the unlikely South Korean syllables of "Aegukga"!
Yes, I confess - I had to go to Wikipedia for help with that. I also confess that sadly, that's not actually what SingStar Anthems is about - a missed opportunity, if you ask me. Who could really have resisted a rousing chorus of Czech national pride with "Kde domov můj?" after a trip to the pub and the curry house? Not I, that's for sure.
Okay, sorry. I've shut Wikipedia. It won't raise its head again before the end of this review. I promise.
SingStar Anthems, the latest vaguely themed batch of tracks for the ridiculously popular SingStar, features not national anthems, but gay anthems. We're not sure why Sony didn't just go ahead and call it SingStar Gay Anthems. Given that their offices in Soho are all of about two minutes walk from the heart of London's gay village around Old Compton Street, they can't have not noticed that practically every track on this compilation is a firm favourite in the area's cheesier bars and clubs. Less La Marseillaise, more La Macarena - and if my religious education in a Catholic school in Ireland is anything to go by, the question of God saving queens is an unsuitable topic for a videogames website. Or, indeed, for anywhere else on the planet.
So what have we got here, then? As ever, Sony has put together a compilation which spans a wide range of decades - you'll find everything from Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and The Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men" (thankfully, the version the ginger one from the Spice Girls did is nowhere to be found) through to more modern tracks like the Scissor Sisters' "Laura" and Steps' "Deeper Shade of Blue" - the inclusion of which made certain members of Eurogamer's staff, whom we shall refrain from naming as Ellie and Johnny, very excited indeed.
In total, you're getting 20 extra tracks for your twenty quid - and of the various add-on packs to SingStar we've seen so far, this might well represent the single best investment in these terms. Not, I hasten to add, in terms of outright quality - I may have appalling taste in music at the best of times, but even I baulk at describing Take That and Lulu's "Relight My Fire" using the word "quality" - but this is a package of karaoke tracks, not a Best Music In the World Ever compilation, and as such it's an almost inspired selection.
Karaoke has never been about singing the best music in the world - it's been about songs that are singable (I know that's not a word), fun and most importantly, well recognised. Singstar would fall at the first hurdle if someone at your party stared at the song listing and insisted that they didn't know any of the tracks - and there's not a human being alive in the western world who can honestly make that claim of SingStar Anthems' listing.
"Young Hearts Run Free"? "I Will Survive"? "I Feel Love"? "Kids In America"? "I Wanna Dance With Somebody?" "Radio Ga Ga"? They may not represent the musical pinnacle of the grand edifice of our heritage - in fact, they barely represent the musical pinnacle of a small tent built in the back garden of our heritage - but they're all great fun to sing, universally recognisable and, well, anthemic. Okay, there are a few duff tracks in there - if you can find a single person, be they gay, straight, male or female, who actually wants to sing Charlotte Church's abysmal "Crazy Chick" or Girls Aloud's inexplicably included "Biology" (perhaps it's there simply to draw further attention to the hilarity of associating Girls Aloud with relatively tricky school subjects?), then you're a better man than I.
Karaoke Ga Ga
What more is there to say, really? Other than a small side note to the effect that some men might find that there's a lot more in here for the ladies than for the gents, unless you're prepared to butcher Gloria Gaynor with your butch tenor tones - well, there's not a lot more to say, frankly. If you can't look at the track listing and imagine having a ludicrous amount of camp fun after a few drinks, then you shouldn't buy this game. SingStar updates are really about nothing more than the new tracks; they rarely feature any actual changes to the gameplay modes or technology, and SingStar Anthems is no exception to this rule.
While that was to be expected, it's still a little disappointing. We do love SingStar, but the lazy approach to updates - while perfectly justified - does still leave us wondering if the team are ever going to think of new things to do with the game. Aside from game modes, the basic technology that makes SingStar tick is showing its age as well. While we appreciate that the aging PS2 probably isn't capable of a great deal more in terms of voice recognition, it would be nice to see Sony squeezing a little more out of it - perhaps trying to work out if people came in at exactly the right point, or if they're singing broadly the right lyrics?
So while SingStar Anthems is unquestionably a high point for the series in terms of the selection of songs, it's also a further demonstration of the fact that the SingStar concept has gone as far as it can go - or rather, as far as Sony is willing to take it - on the PS2 platform. The PS3 promises much more from its version of SingStar, and it's hard not to play Anthems - and then go through the lengthy process of booting another version of the game when someone wants a shot at Ace Of Spades - without thinking about the improvements that will be possible down the line.
All of which is a rather negative way to end a review of what's actually a really fun, entertaining and cheerful package. For the blokes, perhaps you'll need a couple more drinks to drop your macho inhibitions before tackling this one than you did with SingStar Rocks - but despite that, for 20 quid, this is one of the finest pieces of party gaming you'll ever invest in. It's just a shame that at present, Sony's ambition for the SingStar series doesn't seem to match its talent at compiling excellent track listings.