- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Here’s a look at some out-of-this-world software:

Karaoke Revolution Presents American Idol from Konami (for PlayStation 2, Rated: E+10, $39.99 or bundled with a USB microphone, $54.99).

The best karaoke video game just got more competitive and brutal thanks to an infusion from America’s favorite masochistic music show.

The ability to sing well has not been bestowed on most humans, but that has not stopped contestants on Fox Network’s popular program from trying, nor should it stop anyone with a PlayStation 2.

The action is easy to understand but difficult to master as the player uses a USB-connected microphone simply to sing songs. He must match pitch, rhythm and length of notes to a lead vocal line, and he gets help through a stream of tubular meters tied to lyrics that float across the bottom of the screen.

A customizable on-screen avatar mimics singing along and moves to the music. Points are earned for proficiency while an on-screen audience reacts to the player’s success and failure.

Players can choose from 40 mainstream songs, including Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like a Wolf,” Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” Pat Benatar’s hernia-inducer “Heartbreaker,” Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” and “She Bangs,” made infamous by former Idol contestant William Hung.

When in the “Idol”-contest mode, just as in the show, a player auditions, earns an invite to Hollywood and can try to become a star by singing eight to 18 songs.

His performance now is under the careful scrutiny of digitized versions of the program’s judges: Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell and some woman named Laura. (Paula Abdul did not participate.)

Although it may be amusing to listen to Mr. Cowell bust on a singer during the television show, his staged remarks in the game will bruise egos easily.

To compound the misery in heated competition, family members and friends (up to seven others can join in) love to agree readily with Mr. Cowell’s assessments. I know it’s just a computer image, but my heart sank when my marginal delivery of “Build Me Up Buttercup” gave the nasty Brit a chance to pummel me.

The intuitive judges will react as a tune plays and comment on execution of the performance, clothing choices and how someone else previously executed the same song.

As rounds progress, the judging gets way more critical. Ryan Seacrest’s voice pops in to render the final verdict on a contestant voted in or out by the virtual audience.

A player’s success also unlocks video footage from the actual show and includes auditions and final winning performances.

Additionally, the game is not just “Idol”-centric but loaded with multiple karaoke modes such as medley rounds, high-score matches and simple follow-the-lyrics fun. One even allows for duets in which one singer can harmonize with another.

The coolest or creepiest visual feature of the game is carried over from the previous releases and uses Sony’s Eye Toy camera (sold separately, $29.99).

The singer takes still photographs of himself with the peripheral and builds an animated three-dimensional head to connect to a body in the game. Through a very easy-to-use interface, I turned my 7-year-old son into a twentysomething “American Idol” contestant in minutes. He then could select costumes, hairstyles and accessories to place on the digital being who danced and mouth moved along with the songs.

Karaoke Revolution Presents American Idol is not only an excellent party game, but it gives closet performers a chance to shine.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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