Review: SiNG Party (Wii U)

Pants party

When you're aiming for a wide audience with your new console, it's important to have all of your boxes ticked. New Mario? Check. Zombies? Check. Party game? Check, mate.

That seems to be the driving force behind SiNG Party, a game so light and fluffy that it wafts through the air like the smell of cotton candy. It just kind of exists in a mildly pleasing way, a light nosh of pop culture shenanigans that leaves little substantial impression beyond "so that happened." Clever GamePad use can only carry bare-bones features and a Milquetoast aesthetic so far, though, keeping SiNG Party away from the pantheon of great social games.

Karaoke is as good a place as any to binge on empty pop calories and SiNG Party hopes to feed them to you by the shovel, although, stupidly, there is no indication of how challenging a song is until you realize that you are absolute garbage at it. With 50 tracks ranging from Carly Rae Jepsen's immortal summerjam "Call Me Maybe" to Pet Shop Boys' take on "Always On My Mind" and Florence and the Machine's "You've Got The Love," SiNG Party's songbook is contemporary and diverse enough to please most on the Theoretical Party-goer Check-list (however, why anyone thought that Nickelback's "How You Remind Me" is a quality pick for a music game in 2012 is beyond us). The selection feels very "safe" and, thus, unexciting — of what is on offer here, the tracks are either aggressively played on pop radio (e.g. LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem") or well-worn karaoke classics (e.g. Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now") — desperately pleading for a curve ball somewhere, anywhere, to lend a bit of character. There's a promise to open the eShop floodgates for purchase of new songs, but the store has as of yet not opened for business so we can't speak to pricing, selection or anything like that, but fingers crossed that sanity prevails.

Party mode is the marketable one at the heart of the package, where the singer holds the GamePad streaming lyrics to allow them to croon towards the crowd, which in turn is treated to some bubblegum nonsense show on the television with giant lyrics flashing and vague instructions to dance. There is no pitch guide to follow, so singers can belt out their best impersonation of Bruce Springsteen during Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory" if they so choose. Keen to get the crowd going, the GamePad nudges singers to say things like "Clap your hands, everybody!" and to sway and dance along — an amusing touch, but one that mostly feels forced and not very compelling to go through with.

Sing mode is more along the lines of what you'd expect from a karaoke video game, where pitch guidelines and lyrics scroll on the TV screen and you do your darndest to follow along. Performances in Sing mode are scored and Starred, and completing little mission-like Awards (say, perform three songs by male artists) allow you to level up — this number doesn't really mean or unlock anything, so Awards are mostly there to give your caterwauling some direction. If you've got a second microphone you can hook it up for a Duet, and to keep things at a good clip you can sing an abridged version of a song or savour the full track. If you've got a competitive streak, Team mode pits you against a frenemy in assorted challenges, and what the game calls an "impartial judge" — a.k.a. a third person in the room — gets a say in who put on the best performance by voting on the GamePad, which is a neat way of trying to encourage showmanship that the game otherwise wouldn't be able to account for.

It's no surprise that the more substantial Sing mode makes greater use of the GamePad: instead of tying it up with the singer by streaming lyrics to it that often appear on the TV anyway, audience members can fiddle with channel volume levels, tap to "jam" along with an instrument that mostly ends up as a diabolical distraction and, most important, tee up songs to keep the flow constant. This is probably the best idea SiNG Party has and its execution is delightful; it's incredibly practical for avoiding downtime between songs and is easy to use, with the added bonus of a pop-up notification on the TV screen of who is up next and what song they've chosen so you know whether to go get that next glass of Yoo-Hoo quite yet. Since the singer holds the GamePad during Party play, none of this functionality, that would better facilitate a karaoke party, is available there, rendering the mode further useless compared to virtually every other pocket of data comprising the game.

Conclusion

SiNG Party feels like it was designed for commercials: It's flashy and light, heavy on that kind of wholesome party fun that impossibly well-groomed human-like people seem to have all the time but of which the grubby masses never finds itself a part. By trying to please everyone at the same time, though, the game sacrifices a lot of identity and ends up with modes that are either just plain adequate or downright puzzling. With the right group of like-minded people you could find yourself having a great time with SiNG Party, but then again you can achieve the same effect cranking up the radio and belting along at the top of your lungs.