Longest title ever?I’ve outlined my “Gaming 5” in the past, but I feel like I left something off the list…

Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol Encore is a phenomenal game for teaching a gaming neophyte how videogames work.

I have never watched an episode of American Idol. For that matter, I’m almost certain I’ve never watched more than five minutes of the show. This is probably just a result of American Idol first getting super popular around when I “cut the cord” coupled with the (delightful) fact that I haven’t dated anyone that was particularly into the show (fun fact: the converse of that is why I understand The Real World mythology more than I care to admit). However, without ever having watched the show, I feel like I’ve absorbed the basic flow through sheer cultural osmosis. The start of the season features a bunch of randos singing their hearts out for a panel of judges, and said judges make witty comments and promote their picks to… regionals? Something like that. Then the thinned-herd performs again and again, the judges make more pithy comments, and America chooses its next American Idol. Then the winners make a beach party movie for some reason.

Did I get any of that wrong? I want to say that I didn’t (mostly because I’m a narcissist), if only because it’s integral to “understanding” American Idol. Nobody has to have the “rules” of American Idol recapped every episode. Unlike, say, Survivor, where there could be some confusion as to the exact goals of the game (“Wait, is this supposed to be like a ‘real’ thing, or does everyone know it’s a game? Why is that guy always naked? Do they have access to toilet paper? Is that why everyone is always scowling?”), American Idol is a straight-up singing competition. Sound bad, and you’re a laughingstock destined only for Arrested Development guest spots, but sound good, and you could be America’s next pop star… oh, wait, that might be another show.

This is also how Karaoke Revolution works.

… Kinda.

Rock outFirst, the similarities. Brass tacks, Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol Encore is about singing, and singing well. There are forty songs to choose from, and once you choose between the three songs you actually know (“Is Sister Christian the name of the song or the band?”), you’re off to sing-along land. As an added bonus for people that have work in the morning, each song has an abbreviated “radio cut” that gets all the best parts, but doesn’t last any longer than about three minutes. Fun fact: if you choose the short version of Bohemian Rhapsody, your friends will boo you.

But now let’s look at the videogame side of things.

As ever, your job is to impress the judges with your singing. In the real world, this would include, ya know, actual singing, and not warbling like a drunken cucco. But this isn’t reality, this is videogame land, so clear your throat, take a deep breath, and, if you want, feel free to groan out something that sounds like a melody. It might just work!

Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol Encore, like all Karaoke Revolution entries, simply relies on the player doing two things: make noise when you’re told to make noise, and make sure that noise is somewhere in the proper pitch. Somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re a bass or a soprano, the game does account for your register. That’s good! The bad side is that the Karaoke Revolution system doesn’t recognize words at all. Whoop whoopAlright, yes, this does allow for every other song to become a Weird Al hit (even if the set list is sorely lacking Like a Surgeon), which can’t be a bad thing. But it also means that you don’t really need to enunciate a single word to score a platinum ranking, and, once you realize this, you can make your way to victory by simply humming a few bars.

What I’m saying here is that if you can win a karaoke competition by playing a harmonica, something is wrong.

But that’s how the game is played, and, while American Idol did occasionally reward interesting interpretations of well-known songs, you’ll lose in a heartbeat if you try that crap with Karaoke Revolution. You will sing, mumble, or whine within the proper pitch parameter, or you will fail. Play by this game’s rules, and attempt nothing else you may have learned in some sort of “music class”, should such a thing exist.

And that, really, is where videogames originate.

Videogames, when you get right down to it, are bonkers. You’ve entered an all new, magical world of pipes and smiling clouds and mushrooms that change your shape. You encounter a walking chestnut. Is your first impulse to engage this new life form that has vaguely human features, or immediately smash it into a bloody oblivion? A turtle approaches! Better stomp that sucker and kick it as far as you can. Don’t look down that hole, it’s bottomless and leads to agonizing death.

Whip itVideogames play by their own rules. We’ve become desensitized to the sheer insanity of attacking an immortal vampire with S&M gear, but that concept wound up with fifteen sequels where it became increasingly likely you’d be able to transform a teenage girl into an owl. To the average, non-gaming person, though, that sentence sounds like some kind of fever dream, and not a valid way to bypass a living portrait portraying an upside down world of murder clowns.

Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol Encore is tremendously more mundane than a trip to the Mushroom Kingdom or Castlevania, but it still exists only within its confines. The same performance that would earn you a platinum rank in this game would get you laughed off the stage of “real” American Idol, and a stunning, ballad rendition of Tainted Love might impress Simon Cowell, but it’ll fail you right quick in Konami’s eyes.

And, really, that is a fair way for videogames to work. You’ll get no bonus points for stopping at traffic lights in Saint’s Row, and Karaoke Revolution works on a microcosm of that same concept. There are different rules here, and you follow them, or you fail. It’s as easy to understand as a singing competition.

Videogames aren’t reality, but they find their own ways of interpreting reality. The faster you learn that, the more you’ll enjoy the medium.

FGC #159 Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol Encore

  • System: Playstation 2, Xbox 360, and Wii. Yes, it was that awkward transition year of 2008. Playstation 3 came along eventually.
  • Number of players: Who likes duets? Nobody, that’s who.
  • Favorite Song (KRPAIE Edition): Bohemian Rhapsody without a second thought.
  • But I’m more likely to sing: Piano Man by Billy Joel, because I am secretly a sixty year old alcoholic from Jersey with dreams of getting out of this bar. Okay, one of those things is true.
  • And just to annoy your friends: She Bangs is also available as a selection, so you too can simulate William Hung’s breakout performance. Or don’t, and live a happier life.
  • Create a character: I swear this is like looking in a mirror.
    My twin!
  • Did you know? Paula Abdul, friend to MC Scat Cat, refused to participate in Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol. However, she did relent in time for Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol Encore, but then Ryan Seacrest dropped out of the licensing, and had to be replaced with A Ryan Seacrest Type. Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson enjoy sleeping on piles of money, and had no problem with appearing in either game.
  • Would I play again: There was a time these karaoke games were in heavy rotation in my peer group, but just looking at the anemic play data for this version, I want to say this one was the tail end of that local fad. And if you’re just playing karaoke alone in your basement… well… Let’s say no.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas! Let’s go back to the old neighborhood and conquer/burn it. That should go well! Please look forward to it!

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