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Game Review

I'm personally not a fan of American Idol. I know, I know, some of you are thinking, "What's wrong with this guy?" I'm used to it. My 15-year-old daughter wonders about my sanity, too. It just doesn't make any sense to her. When I walk into the kitchen and ask why she keeps hitting redial and voting over and over for that skinny, geeky looking warbler with the odd haircut, she'll invariably look at me as if I just crawled out of a trunk in the attic where I must've been hibernating for half her life. She sees anyone over 30 as a cultural geezer anyway—"Honey, them kids is sangin' on that there teleevision again!"

In spite of my perceived cultural feebleness, however, I do actually like the video game Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol. It's a nice blend of Konami's interactive Karaoke Revolution series with all the best parts of America's favorite talent reality show. (And you don't have to listen to that kid with the odd haircut.) But don't expect to veg out on the couch with a bowl of jalapeño chips and a diet Coke. With this Idol you've got to do all the heavy vocalizing yourself.

Pick Your Mic, Mode ... and Clothes
First, you clear your throat and choose from 40 readily recognizable hits that fans will remember from the TV version of American Idol. The music list, spanning the last four decades, includes such songs as The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" and even current hits, including Taylor Hicks' "Do I Make You Proud?" (If you're like me, and you hadn't heard, Hicks was last year's Idol champ.) The lyric content remains comparatively tame, but I'll note here that the game does include the likes of Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf," Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker," Billy Joel's "Piano Man" and, yes, William Hung's "She Bangs."

Likewise, a few of the performer's outfits are more rock 'n' roll than Sunday school. You can change them up or cover them up when you're choosing your characters, but if you don't—or won't—you can get an eyeful of accentuated curves, bare bellies and some cleavage.

Those content issues understood, after practicing through a few tunes and finding your favorites, you pick up the mic and get down to business. You can begin with a quick sing-along or jump into a party. The Mic Party mode pits you and up to seven other players in a points battle. You can play Arcade (a head-to-head sing-off), Medley (an alternating duel between quick-flying song clips) or KR Challenge (a mix of modes and songs that determines and crowns the next king of pop). And if you feel like going crazy, slap in two mics and sing through a series of duet challenges.

You Have Been Judged
Of course, most people will want to sink their vocal chops into the American Idol mode. You start by creating a character. The game kicks you off with 15 avatars to choose from and allows you to reshape (and accessorize) them in a variety of ways. In fact, if you have the optional EyeToy camera you can stick your own face on your guy and let him really look good as he wows the crowds every night. And after you've put on your face, had your hair coiffed and your chinos pressed, it's time to audition.

You sing your chosen songs aided by scrolling lyrics, a phrase meter and a pitch arrow—unique game mechanics that help you keep your songs in tune and up to tempo. It's all really very easy and you pick up the technique in a snap. If you keep your songs pleasing to the ear, the crowd meter lets you know that your fans are digging it and your character dances about glowing with the audience's praise. But good or bad, when the song ends it's time to steel yourself and face the judges.

There they are, Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell and ... Laura? Well, Paula Abdul didn't make it for some reason and a generic pretty woman sits in her place. But Randy and Simon are ready to give you their trademark quips. If you can't hold a tune in a bucket, Randy will shake his head and say things like, "Yo dawg, you know what? ... that was really, really bad." And you can rest assured that Simon will step up with his brand of acerbic—but never vulgar—abuse ("That was the vocal equivalent of three days in bed with the flu").

But if you're good, they say some nice things and you get your golden ticket to the competition. (By the way, if you don't consider yourself a modern day Sinatra you can set the judging to easy mode and they give you a bit more slack.) With each success, not only do you draw closer to victory, you also unlock secret American Idol content—new songs, characters and outfits, along with video clips of past Idol notables such as Clay Aiken singing the same song you just nailed.

American Idol and Me
Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol has the stuff to be a fun family-night activity. It doesn't take all night to play and, as a side benefit, it can be an eye-opener, too. (Just skip a couple of the songs and do your job in wardrobe before taking the stage so it's not the wrong kind of eye-opener.) My daughter forgot all about my cultural geezerhood as my wife and I bowled her over with a kickin' duet of "Proud Mary." Now, the music can sometimes seem a bit squeaky for those challenged in the higher octaves, but let's face it, that can generate a few laughing backslaps, too.

Has this game made me a fan of TV's American Idol—as I'm sure its already ridiculously rich licensors anticipated? Well, you won't find me manning the redial button anytime soon. But the next time some new skinny kid with an even odder haircut sings "Love Will Keep Us Together," you can bet I'll be leaning over to whisper to my daughter, "You sing that way better."

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PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 2




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Bob Hoose

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