Long before they were cranking out tasty riffs in Guitar Hero or revolutionizing paid console downloads with Rock Band, developer Harmonix was inviting gamers into the karaoke bar with the Karaoke Revolution series. This series has always held a special place in my heart: my first taste of music gaming was belting out Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” because the original male singer sheepishly backed out of his rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (and believe me, I killed it). Sadly the series peaked in 2005 with Harmonix’s last installment (KR Party) and never really recovered once gamers moved on to the greener pastures of other karaoke games.
Although the series has languished through years of crappy franchise tie-ins, stagnating gameplay design and stiff competition, publisher Konami scored a major coup in late 2010: the exclusive rights to produce KR-branded karaoke games for the television show Glee. Glee is a musical phenomenon with many of its songs regularly breaking sales records (including some set as far back as the Beatles!) so this arrangement seemed like a match made in heaven: Glee fans would be able to belt out their favorite covers from the show with the tried-and-true KR formula, while KR gamers would get a huge boost in song quality from the hits of the show.
The series got good marks with its Wii incarnations but it wasn’t until last fall that the series crept into “must-own” territory for me: KR Glee was finally moving into the modern age with Karaoke Revolution Glee: Volume 3 for the Xbox 360. This was the KR game I had been waiting for: high quality Glee songs with full hi-def video from the show and new songs available via paid downloadable content, all in time for the holiday season. So was it worth the wait? Frankly: no. Although Konami and developer Hijinx Stuidios provide a serviceable karaoke experience, KRG3 simply fails to live up to its potential and drags the series even further behind its modern competition, offering little incentive for fans of the show and even less for music game junkies.
I’ll start off with the high point of the game: the graphical presentation. KRG3’s menus are clean and colorful, easy to navigate and have a high school yearbook theme featuring all of the characters you know and love from the TV show. The karaoke interface is the same as it’s always been with a few new Glee-based flourishes and HD footage from the show. Sometimes these elements can get a little busy but they never obscure the note staff, allowing the player to sing their lungs out without missing a beat (with one notable exception listed below). While it’s still obvious that this is a Wii game upscaled and ported to the 360 the overall presentation is great and a perfect representation of the show.
The sound output of KRG3 has a few warts but is excellent overall. The menu music is serviceable but bland and loops constantly with no variation (extremely annoying if you have to get up and fix snacks/drinks/etc.). All of the songs sound fantastic pumped out through my 5.1 surround sound setup but the various gameplay sound effects can get rather annoying and detract from the overall experience. I always chuckle when a family member is singing a slow, somber ballad and the trademark exclamation of “GLEE!” complete with finger-L logo pops out at the end of a phrase. After a song is completed you will get occasional “phone calls” from different characters using sound clips from the show; unfortunately there is little variety in the clips used so you’ll get used to Will Schuester and Rachel Berry’s voice repeating the same tired lines over and over. There’s really nothing else to the sound of KRG3, but with the songs sounding so great there doesn’t need to be.
Gameplay is the aspect of KRG3 that really shows how behind-the-times the Karaoke Revolution engine is. The singing mechanics are the same as they’ve always been: lyrics/pitch bars scroll from right-to-left across the screen and the player must sing into the microphone on time to score points. Singing the actual lyrics and/or octave is unimportant since the game only registers pitch and timing, allowing karaoke hopefuls to sing at a welcoming pace in their own octave. Points are scored by successfully completing musical phrases consecutively. There are also occasional “percussion” sections where you have to hit/blow into the mic for points. The few new wrinkles that KRG3 adds into the formula are pretty pointless and actually detract from the singing experience. The GLEEK OUT! and MAKE SOME NOISE! indicators vary slightly but basically boil down to one thing: yell into the mike as fast and loud as possible. GO! gives you 1000 points every second or so while MSN! has you fill up a “noise meter” to score extra points. While they are essential for high scores to get on the online leaderboard, most of the time I just ignored them and waited to sing the actual song.
Apart from your standard solo/duet/competition karaoke mode, KRG3 adds two new modes that attempt to add some replay value but ultimately prove pointless. Yearbook mode has you filling up a camera’s battery meter with consecutive music phrases and taking pictures at predetermined phrases with the A button; you can then view these pictures from the main menu. There are only three pictures per song and although a few are great they ultimately amount to little more than filler (how great would it have been to have behind-the-scenes pictures instead of the same stills we’ve seen dozens of times before?). The other new mode is called Shooting Star and attempts to get non-singing players into the mix. Up to four extra players compete by controlling an onscreen cursor to shoot jumping stars while the singer completes the song; whoever shoots the most stars by the end of the song “wins”. This is by far my least favorite mode in the game because the stupid stars are gigantic and jump up OVER the musical staff, making it hard or impossible for the singer to sing the damn song. Other than a statistics screen on the main menu there is literally nothing else to do in KRG3.
Luckily the song selection in KRG3 is stellar and will cater to all types of singers. There are 35 songs from Season 2 of the show, representing everything from pop to rock to gospel and featuring a number of songs that aren’t represented on any other karaoke game. The selection also features a higher percentage of duet-able songs than any other karaoke game I’ve played which is much appreciated in a household of multiple karaoke junkies. The only fault in the song library is that a couple of the songs are the shortened versions used in the show instead of the full versions released as MP3 downloads; this is inexplicable given that other songs on the disc were upgraded to the full version and feature newly edited video to properly sync up the show clips. My guess is that Hijinx only had access to the shortened versions but it’s an unfortunate omission nonetheless. As a Glee fan I also would’ve like to see more “mashup” songs but their omission is understandable (twice the royalties for one singable song). Overall the song library is high quality, diverse and will please fans of the show.
KRG3 has only two online components: a high-score leaderboard and a downloadable song store. The leaderboards track each individual song score and are pathetically sparse at the time of this writing (several of my horrible joke renditions of songs are in the top 100). The song store was the main draw of the Xbox 360 version but ultimately proved to be the biggest disappointment of the entire package. Theoretically it would allow Konami/Hijinx Games to upload new Glee songs in a timely manner, possibly even close to the song’s debut on the actual show. What it turned out to be instead was a way for Konami to bilk 360 owners for content already available on the Wii with 18 songs from KRG volumes 1 & 2. Although these songs are great to sing they are getting a little stale in 2011/12 and don’t even work with the game’s new modes (only in standard karaoke mode). Originally planning to launch around the game’s release, this DLC didn’t come out until March and even featured songs with the wrong title (Lean On Me was originally titled Hate On Me, which showed Hate On Me for purchase twice…seriously Konami!). Given the low leaderboard counts and Konami’s apathetic promotion of the Xbox 360 version these songs are probably the only DLC Glee fans will ever get for KRG3.
Karaoke Revolution Glee: Volume 3 should’ve been a slam dunk on the Xbox 360, but unfortunately it turned out to be a hot mess. Stale gameplay, obtrusive flourishes and terrible DLC support has pulled the Karaoke Revolution series even further behind its competitors and make the game feel like a throwaway marketing gimmick instead of the ultimate Glee musical experience. Glee fans might get a kick out of the overall presentation and song selection but everyone else will just be bored, the greatest blunder of any music game.