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We Sing: UK Hits | Review

Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk

We take pride in our review scale here at 7outof10. We may be named – tongue in cheek – after the quaint notion that seven is considered the new average in some quarters, but that doesn’t stop us using the whole ten point scale where necessary. With that comes the understanding that five is thoroughly average; showing neither the spark to elevate the game at hand into the upper half of the scale, or offending us enough to drop the poor soul towards numbers that even a two-year-old would be happy wrestling with.

It’s often very hard to find such a game. Usually there is something about a title that tries to be at the very least, for better or for worse, different. Those efforts alone are usually enough to warrant a reaction and cause the score-needle to shift on its dial at least a fraction.

After many years of trying, however, I believe I have found such a game.

There is nothing at all intrinsically wrong with We Sing: UK Hits. As a karaoke game it ticks all the right boxes and is fundamentally solid, capable of standing up to the most tone deaf, X-Factor wannabes. Offering a wide range of British pop classics, a selection of game modes, and support for up to four microphones, Nordic Games laid some sensible foundations. For me, the issue is that they never pushed on from that.

The presentation is the first aspect to suffer, lacking anything that could be considered a distinguishing mark. Menus are backed by images of Big Ben replete with his clanging tones, quintessentially British red telephone boxes, and silhouettes of the London Eye, all emphasising the point that this is a UK edition of the now established franchise, but compared to Sing Star and Dance Central no personality leaps out. Everything is functional but little more.

Put a mic in your hand and that feeling doesn’t change greatly. As with all good karaoke games, the appropriate music video is played in the background whilst the lyrics flash up and lead you through the song. Pitch bars highlight as you hit the notes, giving helpful clues as where to aim your larynx, and come the end you’ll be presented with a score for your efforts.

Again, it all works, but an absence of a couple of notable features seen in other franchises again make you feel as though much more could have been packed into the product if only they had wanted to put in the effort. Most problematic for me and my dubious ear is the lack of what pitch is I’m currently singing in. Displaying where I should be on the scale is next to useless if I don’t know if I’m being asked to sing higher or lower. Although, to balance the argument, this had lead to some extremely amusing moments as singers have gone up and down the scale searching for the much sought after note.

As always when others get involved with party games, the odd niggle you thought was abundantly clear is forgotten almost entirely and you spend as much time laughing at others as you do holding the mic yourself. A healthy mix of pass the mic, score chasing, duets and a few additional modes are all contained within and provide a reasonable variety to proceedings, though it will be UK Hits biggest selling point that will keep the party going.

The 40 songs that come packed on the disc covers all decades since the 60s and equally as many music styles. From the modern day with Tinie Tempah and Jessie J the carousel will spin and present you with David Bowie or The Animals. Rap, pop, cheese, indie and everything in between is catered for, including an enjoyable nugget of 90s with Radiohead, Pulp, Blur and Happy Mondays. Once again, overall, musical choice is definitely something that you cannot knock Nordic Games for. They even have everyone’s secrete guilty pleasure: Mr Rick Astley.

And it will be the songs that people will pick up We Sing for. A browse of the back of the box and if enough of the bullet-pointed tracks pique their interest then that’s the decision made. To many it won’t matter that there are no online leaderboards, no downloadable content or that what they are about to play is the personification of a game that does just enough but no more.

We Sing: UK Hits is inoffensive. As a product is does exactly what it set out to do and, depending on your taste in music, possibly achieves even a little more than that. As an experience, though, it’s a little soulless. But is it bad? No. Is it great? No. I think we know where this is heading.

5 /10

We Dance | Review

Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk

Some may have thought that the rise of motion controllers – be it the wagglestick of the Wii or the laser tracking of Kinect – would spell the end of dance mats. Those large vinyl tiles covering the living room floor now seem a concept from a quite distant era, where strutting around on an oversized d-pad was the only way of unleashing the rhythm trapped inside you.

Around the country, alongside their Guitar Hero axes, charity shops began amassing ever-growing piles of Dance Dance Revolution emblazoned, vinyl mats. Youngsters traded in their DDR knock-offs and replaced them with games requiring distinct lesser amounts of plastic accessories.

“But why can’t we all just get along?” piped up some bright spark at Nordic Games. And so We Dance was born.

Combining both dance mats and motion controls into one entity brings a fair set of challenges, although the potential reward is great. Watching the trailers and seeing players quickstep their way around the 8-way mat, grinning inanely and swinging their arms in gay abandon is a coordinated sight to behold. A far cry from the stern-faced, iron concentration and swift-but-clinical leg motion displayed by the pinnacle of the DDR crowd; they look like they’re actually having fun.

If it sounds overwhelming, have no fear, for dancing with the Wiimote has been spun off into Easy difficulty and the mat alone is used in Medium. Only on Hard are both combined, by which point the mutual flailing of all your limbs will be measured, though they should at such point be moving in utter harmony. However, at every level We Dance falls short of delivering an experience that will succeed in coaxing you into any semblance of smiling choreography.

Even on easy, players are left to fend for themselves. A dancer styled as though from an iPod commercial looms large on screen, silhouetted as an item of high contrast, and takes you through the moves. At no point are you warned what the next move will be. He struts and grooves in time to the video playing behind him, but there is no indication as to what you should be doing other than copying him. The result is you dance as though separated by a poor transatlantic video link, appearing to suffer from terminal lag.

For me, this is the cardinal sin when it comes to dancing games. Prior warning allows players to become attuned with the moves required and feel like they’re taking part in the routine. Offer no indication as to what’s next, how long the move will continue for or even what is considered proper form, and there’s a good chance they’ll feel out of time and foolish.

Not even the included dance school helps to address the problems. It does show you what moves to bust, but in such a way that it becomes illogical. Whilst the requisite moves are displayed below, the Apple dancer continues as normal above, not pausing for you to keep up or waiting for a particular block of moves to complete, he’ll carry on regardless. You’re then left with a series of moves to execute yet with no frame of reference, timing or comparison to work against.

Playing on the mat is thankfully better, but equally flawed. Though jumping out a rhythm to Ace of Base did have me on the cusp of grinning – if it wasn’t for my furrowed brow of concentration – the concept as a whole has simultaneously been made too hard and yet too stagnant.

The choice of an 8-way mat is just too much. We Dance’s chosen method for indicating which squares to hop to doesn’t help, either, obscuring each other and lacking the ability to infer timing. Staring at the screen and then attempting to operate your legs when such comparative precision is required is not intuitive or scalable, and that’s prior even to dancing with both accessories.

Inexplicably, these periods of rapid movement are then interspersed with long sections of inactivity or requests to “freestyle”. One particular Pendulum track – lasting three-and-a-half minutes – saw me standing idle for a combined total of a minute-and-a-half, sparking genuine boredom. With a thumping track backing me, why am I not being asked to move?

We Dance’s saving grace is the broad range of music it can offer, pitched well to appeal to many different generations and tastes. There are pockets of music from the 70s right up to modern day, indie, early 90s dance, cheese, and a playlist that would be at home at any wedding reception, encouraging even Auntie Agnes to join in.

It’s not enough to save the experience as a whole, however. Given a greater emphasis on guiding the player, a “traditional” dance mat and more commitment to an involving dance routine for both arms and legs, We Dance could have been something. As it stands, there are far greater and more rewarding prospects out there deserving of your time.

Sorry, Oxfam. Here’s another one for your collection.

3 /10

Return to Blobolonia

Since yesterday I’ve found some video of Boy and His Blob, both the new and the old versions. It’s quite staggering the difference between the two. Obviously the machines they run on are worlds apart but the art direction has equally gone off in a different direction.

From an initial look it seems as though its more a reimagining than a remake. Everything seems cuter and cuddlier and infinitely more accomodating for younger players. The boy even seems to have found some rudimentary platforming skills.

Wii come bearing gifts

It turns out I was a very good boy last year. Whilst I was away Father Christmas managed to squeeze a lovely selection of board and video games down the chimney for me. Not only that, also some running shoes to help me work off my slothful pastime. However, there was one present that racked me with guilt as soon as I pulled it from its wrapping. Tearing away the paper of one specific gift revealed the white DVD box of a Wii game.

I haven’t played my Wii since Easter. Ali has been seen using it occasionally with the balance board, but at such times I leave the room. It merely being turned on in my presence usually brings forth a rant based on my disappointment of the machine. The only reason it still lives in my house is because I can’t bring myself to sell a console, just in case there is a game that will all make it worth while around the corner.

Sadly this generous gift was not it. I resolved to try for a week to want to the play it, even just to plug the Wii in, but on every occasion I found myself with some free time I did not find any will to do so. Each time I hovered near Nintendo’s toy my mind would flit to Mirror’s Edge, Left 4 Dead and Rock Band 2 and on would go the Xbox. I felt genuinely terrible about this as it was the platform’s fault and not that of this specific game. Someone had put some thought into this present and here it was going to waste.

So, at the weekend, I told them and asked if they had the receipt so I could exchange it. In doing so I hoped that they would at least appreciate my honesty and the fact that this way I wasn’t pretending to like their gift whilst it actually caught dust in my TV cabinet. Hopefully they see it like changing an ill-fitting jumper or a garish shirt.

Did I do the right thing? Ultimately, I like to think I did but the guilt still lingers.

Wii Fit

Whilst most of Cheltenham appeared to playing GTA IV this weekend, Ali twisted my arm and persuaded me to bring a Wii Fit into the house. If it hadn’t been for her interest in Nintendo’s take on the Reebok Step I probably wouldn’t have bought one and our living room would be one large lump of plastic lighter. As it is, my initial cynicism for the product has given way to a begrudging respect.

Don't cross Wii Fit. I knows when you're lying to it.

The main theme of Wii Fit is to improve your posture and flexibility whilst also keeping an eye on your waistline. Each time you turn it on, an animated Wii Fit board encourages you to take a couple of minutes out of your day to be weighed and to attempt a pair of balance tests, from which he will produce your Wii Fit Age. Those of you who have played Brain Training may see the similarities and overtime the aim is to keep this age as low as possible.

To aid you on your way there are four blocks of activities to sample: muscle training, yogo, exercise and mini-games. The first two are the serious side of the game, where the sensitive board measures your body undertaking a variety of stretching and toning movements. Technically, all the board does is have a series of pressure sensors embedded within it monitoring your weight and its distribution, but it allows for some very unnervingly accurate records of what you have (or haven’t) been doing, scoring you appropriately.

As funny as watching someone turn themselves into a tree yoga-stylee in the middle of your living room can be, the fun is to be had in the other two sections. With options to hula-hoop, head footballs, ski, jog and a host of unlockables, you start to see how the potential of the board; for hours at a time over the weekend, four of us took it in turns to throw ourselves down a slalom and play their variation of Monkey Ball.

Current household favourite is the ski jump, where you must keep you must crouch and lean forward to get speed down the slope, before standing quickly causing your Mii to jump high into the alpine air. With a leaderboard after every couple of jumps, trying to gain more speed and more height for more reach with each jump is an addictive affair.

The engineer in me kept simplifying everything down – all it is is a giant analogue joystick, where you are the stick and your centre of gravity its position – but as with most things Nintendo, they’ve taken that something simple and executed it wonderfully.

You’re going to look silly with this thing, you really are. No matter what mode you choose from the menu, jiggling, stretching and contorted positions are inevitable, but it does have a draw both for potential games and the possibility of being an interactive fitness regime. What else comes for the board is still up in the air, but you can’t really fault the first effort.

Yes, I karted

Four days on and I’ve now got a fair appreciation of Mario Kart under my belt. I’ve blasted through all the cups unlocking as many tracks as possible, dabbled in some local player and have only been stopped from going online by the fracious relationship between my Wii and my router.

First thing’s first, the wheel that comes packed in with the game. Basically, you clip your Wii-mote in a giant plastic disc and act as though you were driving a car.

Vrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

This wheel, however, can only get you so far. True, it’s not bad, but with less precision, heavy under-steer and requiring an ungainly shake every time you want to do a trick it is not good, either. I tried for an hour with the wheel and whilst it was alright and generally fun I found I had far better results and accuracy when plugging in my faithful Wavebird.

Control issues aside, although they should always be noted on the Wii, it is a good solid game. Single player as ever is a means to an ends when it comes to unlockable drivers and tracks, and it is the multiplayer where things take off as you battle back and forth, exchanging red shells with the evil cackles that only friends can let forth.

There’s a nice selection of tracks, a variety of karts but I really must say it’s lacking a certain spark. The trick system is a nice addition, the bikes are alright and the game as a whole may be hovering around the 8/10 mark in my head – and so well worth picking up – but it is almost like GTA to me: I expect it to be “good” but when it turns out it’s not to be “great” I feel slightly deflated.

Mario Kart for the Wii still has a lot of play time left for me to squeeze out of it, but come the checkered flag it is the SNES version that still places first for me.

Did you just kart?

So today is the day. Mario Kart is out in the UK and as soon as I finishing typing this post I’m off to purchase what maybe the penultimate hope (the final one being Smash Brothers Brawl) that my Wii will not just become a dedicated BBCi player.

Come on Luigi, run him off the road!

I sense once again I have started this out as a Wii-bashing post but I’m only harsh on it because I want what’s best for they system. I really loved the SNES and DS versions of the same game and I am hoping beyond hope that it is going to spark my waggle sticks back into action.

My brother has already got his hands on it thanks to a friendly source, and seems to be enjoying it even if it still frustrates every living being with its range of powerups that keep causing the standings to be somewhat of a lottery.

I’ll let you know how it goes.