Last year I reviewed Now That’s What I Call Sing and found it to be a serviceable, if uninspired karaoke game. Not much has changed with its sequel, so let’s get down to why Now That’s What I Call Sing 2 (Why wasn’t it called Now Singing Duet?) retains its neat twists on the karaoke game genre, tweaks a few of its faults, but still feels just as soulless as last time round.
The long-running musical compilation series ‘’Now That’s What I Call Music’’ has collected the biggest hits of any given six-month period and shipped them as a double tape/CD/MP3 for so long that everyone included in the setlist for this Karaoke game wasn’t even born when it gained prominence. Anyway, there have been some great tracklists over the years, full of now iconic hits from the likes of Wham!, Nirvana, Oasis, Kajagoogoo, 2 Unlimited, Limp Bizkit, Mr. Blobby, and Rednex. None of these make the cut for Now That’s What I Call Sing 2 though.
The majority of the tunes available to belt out are from the last year, and much like the first game’s track list, I had next to no bloody clue who most of the artists were until I heard their songs and realised I’d heard the majority of them in various terrible adverts in the past year (one I only knew of because Simon Miller used it as knowingly shitty background music for his excellent Millbob and Jiminy Jim Jim skits on Videogamer).
The ‘’standout’’ modern tracks are of a better quality than before, with Twenty One Pilots ‘Stressed Out’ being the most palatable of the lot personally. Elsewhere, I’m not particularly offended by Jess Glyne or Carly Rae Jepsen, and surprisingly I’m not quite ready to immolate myself for hearing LMFAO’s ‘Sexy and I Know It’ again. The rest of the recent stuff is fairly vapid and throwaway but somehow less tolerable.
Last year I was afflicted with the curse of having to hear Sam Smith wail like he’d trapped his dingus in a Flymo, and this year I have been subjected to famed Ubisoft conference nuke Jason Derulo and the ever ridiculous Justin ‘He’s not shit anymore, honest’ Bieber’s bleating. I received no reward for this bravery.
This playlist, much like 2015’s version, clearly isn’t meant for the majority of people in their 30s who’ve existed on a diet of Hip-Hop, Heavy Rock, Classical Scores, and Electro ever since they reached their teens. No, this is a party game for ironic fun and/or young adults who like to have a sing-song before heading out into town. For that purpose, NTWICS absolutely nails it, throwing in the odd easy sell like the aforementioned LMFAO, whilst chucking in a bit of surprise Wiz Khalifa (collaborating with the safer Charlie Puth).
The issue here is it’s still heavily balanced in favour of very modern songs. As with it predecessor, if you whip this out at Christmas, chances are your Uncle is only going to know one or two songs, and Nan won’t know what any of it is but will remark that that Charlie Puth boy is quite handsome. Being that this game is based off a music series that captures the greatest popular hits of our time, it feels very much like it caters to a surprisingly small demographic if it wishes to compete in a market that is as fiercely contested in the holiday season as the DVD sales for sporting calamity clip compilations and autobiographies by celebs that you’d suspect would have trouble regaling you with a story about their breakfast let alone anything exciting. It makes the game stand out, sure, but not for the right reasons.
Perhaps just as important as a good, varied track list is a good karaoke engine to play them on. Here is where you can see a distinct attempt to separate NTWICS from its peers with a bevvy of modes designed to keep things fresh beyond a few goes at each song. The standard singing the song, duet and pass the mic options are there, and there’s now online scores to pep the competitive edge up; but the more extreme modes are a musical sadist’s dreamland, giving you the option to belt out the songs for an obscenely difficult to achieve amount of points and another that leaves you without any vocal backup or visual cues.
These would be excellent features for a family gathering if, and I despise having to repeat this point, the tracklist was just a little more varied. Mercifully, this year’s edition has DLC tracks from the off, so you can always find some extra variety. The way the game is presented and otherwise played is far less inspired. It would be gracious to say that NTWICS2 still owes Sony’s Singstar a huge debt. It would be more realistic to say the design choices are simply a lazy rehash of the Singstar set up.
From the sparse menus to the points bars used for scoring your vocals – and even the final totaliser sound effect – the design of this NTWICS series is eerily identical to Sony’s own brand of warbling entertainment. There’s flattery, then there’s just plain copying.
But surely the actual karaoke part is responsive and fun? Right? Well, yes, better than last year in fact, and even the freshly-integrated Mic Phone App for the game does a decent job (phone quality notwithstanding), the game is as punishingly accurate as the better karaoke games out there tend to be. I’m a fan of Rock Band’s more forgiving tonal system, but that’s because when I try to sing properly I tend to upset the balance of the universe with my awfulness.
Here, as with Singstar, the joy is supposed to be in the competitive nature of nailing notes perfectly, and there’s no denying that it works. It may seem a little dry for those just interested in having a laugh with it, though in fairness, there’s a little softening of this difficulty curve compared to last year.
Personal musical tastes aside, there’s little to actually complain about with NTWICS. It’s a solid karaoke title, it looks clean, and it works, but the general lack of ambition in design terms and the lack of variety in the track list are killers. The way I see it, most of the budget was spent on securing the songs, and then the majority of the other parts were shipped from rival titles. Even the newer ideas have a ‘’Friday Evening, home time’’ feel to them in that somebody was asked to throw in something, anything to prevent accusations of this being a very direct, if inferior, clone of Singstar. The smaller tweaks made to the overall package, coupled with the addition of DLC store, do enough to make this an improvement on 2015’s effort, but a little more invention would go a long way next year.