We love The X Factor. We love Sharon, we love Simon, we love Louis, we even love Kate Thornton, with her strange outfits and her inability to begin a single sentence without leaning her head to one side like she's had a stroke. And we love the contestants - especially, at the moment, Andy the binman and Nicholas the new Craig David. We do wish the Conway Sisters would stop looking like they've all just found a dog egg in their shoes though.
We also love PS2 karaoke games, both the flashy Singstar ones and the cheapo Konami version, which may not have the proper videos or pop stars but does feature a Huey Lewis and the News song and uses a headset that lets you pretend you really are a part of the Rhythm Nation.
So we had high hopes for The X Factor Sing, a karaoke game which comes with a Logitech microphone (Sony won't let anyone else make a game which uses the Singstar mics, the tightwads) and the promise that Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh themselves will rate your vocal talents.
Sharon Osbourne is nowhere to be seen, you'll notice, presumably because either a) she was too busy being a normal Mum, stocking up on buy-one-get-one-free packs of Cheestrings and slapping her own arse down Asda or b), because developer Black Bean couldn't afford her. We'll leave you to judge which one's more likely.
But no matter, we thought, Simon and Louis will do, and chances are we've got another joyous evening of console karaoke to look forward to. We were wrong.
Missing in action
The problem with The X Factor Sing isn't just that Sharon's missing - it's that there are so many things missing that the game just ends up feeling like a cynical cash-in, a stripped down version of Singstar that's been rushed out in a bid to capitalise on the show's popularity while it still lasts. While we can't say we were surprised to discover this, we were disappointed.
There's the song selection, for starters. It's just so... naff. Much like many of the artists who perform the songs, in fact: Ronan Keating, Melanie C, Samantha Mumba, The Lighthouse Family - is this really what The Kids are listening to these days?
Admittedly, the ideal karaoke game would solely feature tunes by The Streets, Kings of Leon, NWA, Steps and either of the Bedingfields (they're from Lewisham, don't disrespect), but it's been said before that EG's taste in music is a little eclectic and that's probably a tall order. Still, you'd have hoped for at least one tune released in the last 12 months - and sorry, Show Me the Way to Amarillo doesn't count.
There are a few decent tunes on here that will please mums and dads and people who still think it's brilliantly ironic to like things from the 70s and 80s, such as Kim Wilde's Kids in America, Hot Chocolate's You Sexy Thing, and The Nolans' I'm In the Mood for Dancing (they had more chirpiness in their little fingers than the Conways have in their freakish giant heads, frankly).
But there are few too classics to be found, and far too many Magic FM favourites circa 2003. Mumba, for goodness' sake! And there are absolutely no rock tunes, not even of the Busted or Darkness variety, which means the single heterosexual man who turns up to your party saying there's no way he's going to sing karaoke will remain sitting on the sofa following his eleventh can of lager after all.
Still, at least X Factor Sing does have the proper artists performing the songs, unlike Karaoke Stage. But unlike Singstar, it doesn't have the music videos to accompany them, and unlike Karaoke Stage, it doesn't offer anything even vaguely interesting to take their place. Instead you just get a red background on which white things occasionally swirl around, the song lyrics, a phrase guide and a pointer so you can be sure to keep up. And it never changes, regardless of which song you're singing.
But what about the game's ultra selling point, the comments from Louis and Simon at the end of your performance? Sadly, there's a failure to deliver here too. First off, you don't even get a video clip, just a photo of whoever is judging you, and there are only two photos of each judge at that. You do hear them speak, but rarely more than a sentence, and usually a short one: "I'd have to say yes." "You're really good." "And for me, it's a yes," and so on.
Naturally we only got comments of that type, having a voice like Charlotte Church's before she discovered poppers and Lambert and Butler, but even if you do perform badly, the judges don't lay into you like they do to the contestants on the show. Simon said our phrasing was "a bit cabaret" at one point, but that was about it. And besides, he doesn't know what he's talking about. No one else brings as much passion and intensity to Life Is A Rollercoaster.
Even the gameplay options are lacking. There are two basic modes - Audition, for solo players, and Live Challenge, for two teams of up to eight people. There are no duets, since you only get one mic, and no Singstar-style career mode, which seems like a bit of a missed opportunity. It would have been fun to try and work your way up from first audition to live final, seeing how you compared with other contestants along the way and finally accomplishing the ultimate goal of being the next Steve Brookstein. You know, kids like that sort of thing, ahem.
There is a selection of mini-games, but only one of these is vaguely testing - A Capella Challenge, where the backing music and vocals will frequently disappear and leave you to fend for yourself. Karaoke Sprint is like the main game except you only sing for 15 seconds, which seems utterly pointless. Phrase Challenge tasks you to "Concentrate on getting your phrases just right and hitting the bonuses" - err, how does that differ from the main game then? Were we supposed to be concentrating on booning the whole thing before?
Other mini-games include Sing for Banana, which is exactly like the main game except the bars of music are replaced with bananas and the pointer is replaced with a monkey. Serenade is exactly like Sing for Banana except the bananas and monkey are replaced with love hearts and a cupid. Fat Cat - yes, you guessed it, only with fish and a cat. It's just lazy and, fundamentally, lame.
So is there anything good to be said for The X Factor Sing? Well, it does a decent enough job of gauging when you're in tune and how good your phrasing is ("cabaret" indeed).
Then there are the Extras; if you sing well enough you're rewarded with full length videos of last year's X Factor performances. If you have a burning desire to see Rowetta, G4 et al sing their hearts out once again, this will probably make you happy, but be warned that your singing has to be of quite a high standard to unlock them - little kiddies will find it tough. Also, be warned that there's no autosave feature - just one more lazy omission, it seems - so don't switch the console off without saving your profile.
All in all, The X Factor Sing is a game that will disappoint both karaoke fans and those who love the TV show. There's just not enough here - a poor song selection, a lack of gameplay options and downright shoddy presentation all combine to create a game that's just not worth the asking price. It's a no.