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With karaoke video game, the song just isn't the same

Most music-based rhythm games have replay value.

These games appeal to just about every demographic because everyone listens to and enjoys music.

Two recent releases, “Guitar Hero: World Tour” and “Rock Band 2” have reached the summit of party gaming. No other games combine as much fun and camaraderie as those games, and the games stay fresh with weekly, genre-bending downloadable content — “Rock Band 2” recently offered a No Doubt pack, a Dead Kennedys pack, a country music pack and the entire Foo Fighters’ album “The Colour and the Shape.”

But the exception to the replay-value rule is karaoke games.

Obviously, there is a segment of the gaming population that enjoys the games, because “Karaoke Revolution” games have been solid sellers. I understand why people enjoy karaoke. It gives you and your friends a chance to pretend to be a star, act a little stupid in public in a socially accteptable manner and enjoy a couple adult beverages.

But when it comes to home-based karaoke games, I just don’t get it, particularly when other games offer the ability to sing and play instruments.

Microsoft is the latest company to try out karaoke with their recent release of “Lips.”

The soundtrack for “Lips” is fairly limited. Yes, there is a decent variety of genres included — country, bubble-gum pop music, hip-hop, R&B, alternative rock — but the soundtrack is composed mostly of top 40 radio hits, which is not a bad thing if there are say 80 songs. But “Lips” gives you just 42 tracks. There is just not a whole lot of enjoyment in playing “Take on Me” until you nail it.

One of my friends, however, wasn’t put off by the limited soundtrack, which I suspect just happens to have songs more fitting to her style. Belting out Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” is probably more enjoyable for her than Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast.”

To its credit, Microsoft has released downloadable tracks for “Lips” weekly — there are currently a number of holiday songs available for download on Xbox Live. But try to justify spending $1.99 for a song that you can only sing to versus a song for the same price that you can sing, drum and play guitar to on “Guitar Hero: World Tour,” or “Rock Band 2.”

The game promises you compatibility with your own music through an iPod or other portable device or a portable hard drive or flash drive. The producers didn’t lie. You can put any of your own DRM-free music on the game, but it integrates the songs in sans lyrics on the screen. You really just have to make audible noises throughout the song to score points. I understand you could have licensing issues if you allow people to type in lyrics. But right now, this feature is no more impressive than singing those songs in the shower or in your car.

Perhaps the best feature on “Lips” are the two pretty cool wireless microphones that come with it. That gives me and my friends a chance to play through the game once and then take those wireless mics to the guitar games where the songs hardly ever get old.

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