Hip-hop has risen from the streets to be one of the most prolific and lucrative genres of music, but it's never really been playable in any game, leaving fans in the dust while all their friends were rocking out. But now two companies with respectable pedigrees, Def Jam's music and Konami's rhythm games, have finally come together to feed the hungry masses with "Def Jam Rapstar."
In three words "Def Jam Rapstar" is best summed up as "hip-hop karaoke." The player takes the mic and does their best to keep up with some of the most famous and important rappers of all time by hitting as many words as they can correctly throughout each song. "Rapstar" offers the obligatory Career and Party modes, the latter of which has almost all of the game's songs available from the beginning. The game also incorporates either the Xbox 360 Camera, Kinect, or Playstation Eye to allow players to capture their performances and upload them to the game's community.
From classic Snoop Dogg to Canada's most important contribution to hip-hop since Snow, Drake, "Def Jam" has collected an amazing lineup of some of the best music since the genre's inception. Overall, the game is a veritable who's who of the last 30 years of rap, fortunately spreading out beyond just Def Jam's stable of artists. With 44 tracks on the disc, whether you're a fan of the old school, new school, you're bound to find at least a track or two that you love. "Rapstar" brings together East Coast and West Coast, Lil Wayne and Lil John, Kanye and 50 Cent, all on one disc.
One of the absolute best things about "Def Jam Rapstar" is that they included all of the music videos for the tracks in the game, with one exception; The Beastie Boys' "Brass Monkey". While it seems like a no-brainer for music games, "Singstar" is really the only other game to do it, and it truly adds to the gameplay experience. Don't agree? Maybe you don't think music videos are relevant any more, but when was the last time you saw the video for Onyx's "Slam"? Or what about Nelly's "Hot In Herre"? Have you ever even seen the full cut of "Fight The Power"? Each of these are snapshots into the deep history of hip-hop and a collection like this, some of the greatest videos ever made, all in one place is almost worth the price of admission, at least for true fans of the genre.
"Rapstar" has gone the extra mile trying to turn its players into "stars" by offering the capability to record yourself performing, add visual effects to and then upload your video to the defjamrapstar.com community. Outside of the visual effects, that's something "Singstar" did a few years ago, but "Rapstar" actually offers players the chance to become famous on their own merit, not just by performing other peoples' music. Included along with the big name tracks on the disc, there are freestyle tracks that you can do anything with (ideally it's write your own lyrics and then spit fire for all to see). In addition to the community being a demonstration in gamers not knowing how to light a room, it also allows for you to battle against other users, for crews, and rate other players' performances.
The tricky thing about releasing such a specific type of rhythm game in today's market is that it only offers one type of gameplay - rocking the mic, and if you aren't good at that then the overall fun of "Rapstar" is going to be very quickly lost on you. Whereas other games offer a host of different plastic instruments that can satisfy a range of different players, it's hard to say that everyone is going to find something they can do in this game.
Only Two MCs
While "Rapstar" is a complete package, it doesn't really push the rhythm game genre forward at all, which may be a sign that there's not much room for it to go anywhere. "Def Jam" still confines you to just two players on the mic at a time, and as far as the actual gameplay goes, the PS2 had "Karaoke Revolution" games that played roughly the same way. On the upside, it's hard to fake your way through "Rapstar" as it measures whether or not you actually say the right word, as well as the pitch you're singing at. It even prevents you from holding the microphone up to the speaker and have the game play for you (no need to ask how I know that).
Outside of the music videos, the overall presentation of the game (the menus, modes, community, etc.) tends to come across as a little on the bland side. A digital cityscape is the persistent background, whether you're battling your friends, or picking your next track, and it gets old pretty quickly. Given the deep history of the genre it seems like there could have been a little more spice thrown into the game to appeal to the fans. While there is an overall polish on the package, it's just not as engaging as it could have been.
When you boil it down there is nothing fundamentally wrong with "Def Jam Rapstar," yet it feels like it's missing something (and it's not the Sugerhill Gang - that's available as DLC). Compared to the other rhythm games that are out on the market "Rapstar" seems to come up a little short, but when you qualify that by taking a look at each of those games' original incarnations, this all hip-hop package is leaps and bounds ahead of where they were at on their first tries. It's a good first shot, and hopefully the beginning of a series (that's right, another rhythm game franchise) because jamming on plastic guitars is just so much different than going head-to-head with your boys, rapping over some of the greatest hip-hop tracks of years gone by.