Let's get this out of the way now. Yes, Lips is a shameless rip-off of Sony's massively-successful SingStar franchise.
From intent to mechanics, the mission brief for the iNiS team was never "make an original, inspiring music title for the Xbox 360". It was "do SingStar, but on the Xbox 360". And that's exactly how we're going to assess the game.
So, does it "do" SingStar on the 360? Or even outdo SingStar on the 360? Let's find out.
Slick – Oh boy is this game slick. Where SingStar is a cold, sterile affair, Lips is bursting with flair, from jazzy menu screens to OTT song ratings and a ridiculous levelling-up system.
iNiS – Which leads me to my next love. The iNiS touch. If Microsoft were looking for their karaoke game to be packed full of cute custom videos and game modes – including bringing two love birds together through song and defusing a bomb with your voice – that bring home the smiles, then they got what they were looking for.
Library Expansion – My 360 is linked to my PC via Media Centre, and Lips is able to instantly recognise songs shared via the service and import them into the game. Adding thousands of songs – all of them favourites of mine – to the game is a promising touch.
Hardware – The one area Lips really trounces SingStar. The game's motion-sensitive, wireless mics are well-made, can be shook to simulate instruments when you're not singing and, once synched to your 360, are easy to manage. Perhaps the neatest features are the fact their bases glow in time with the music, and idle mics need only be picked up and shaken to turn a solo song into a duet.
It Doesn't Work – You know how SingStar (and Rock Band, and GH: World Tour) works? With the words displayed across the screen ahead of time? Yeah, Lips does that too. Except, instead of showing 10-15 words, it shows 3-4. Which means if you don't already know the words (and timing) to a song, you're totally fucked.
It Doesn't Work – Importing thousands of my own songs was both easy and promising. Pity, then, they're largely useless. You don't get lyrics, you don't get a music video, Lips won't even use/download the song's album art. It just plays the song, and asks you to sing along, scoring you on how you match the "sound" of the song. Making things worse, it can't tell the difference between music and lyrics, meaning some game modes farcically require you to make the "waah waah" noises of a guitar to stay in the game.
It…You Get The Idea – The game's scoring system is either lenient or broken. It's hard to tell which, but going off the success iNiS have had with the rest of the mechanics, I'm assuming it's the latter. Gentle humming can see you through most songs, while for high notes, the game seems almost random in deciding whether you're hitting them or not.
Look, Lips, you tried. You're charming, you look nice, your initial song selection is surprisingly great and your wireless mics are fantastic. Your heart was in the right place. But you just can't work as a karaoke game when your mechanics are as broken as they are. See, karaoke games are for parties. There are all types of folks at parties. And if you need to know every word and every piece of timing for a song, it's useless, because the average person doesn't know that.
Maybe next time – if the market affords you a next time – spend more time copying what SingStar did right (the nuts and bolts of scoring a karaoke session…ie, the important stuff) instead of what it did wrong (its cold presentation, which really, doesn't matter), because as it stands, it's hard to recommend Lips in the state it's in, whether someone has access to a Sony console/SingStar franchise or not.
Lips was developed by iNiS and published by Microsoft Games Studios, released in North America on Nov. 18 for Xbox 360. Retails for $69.99. Played all songs in both single and multiplayer, either in co-op or vs mode.
Confused by our reviews? Read our review FAQ.