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Def Jam Rapstar
Score: 75%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Konami
Developer: 4mm Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Rhythm/ Party

Graphics & Sound:
With music games seemingly reaching critical mass this holiday season, it seems like a huge oversight that there hasn't been a popular or successful rap game to enter the market. Rap is huge. There is really no way around that one. Artists like Lil' Wayne, Soulja Boy Tell'em, and Eminem light up the charts and sell millions and millions of dollars worth of music, so why has no one properly capitalized on the rap star fantasy? Well, it is much trickier than anyone thought. Def Jam Rapstar hopes to fix this issue and has one of the biggest labels in rap and hip-hop behind it. If a Def Jam game can't be successful, then there may not be much hope for the genre after all.

So what Def Jam has done is create a karaoke game with rap music. Basically. For the average person that just wants to act out a fantasy of being on stage rapping along to dope beats, Def Jam Rapstar meets that need. A slick presentation ups the gritty, urban feel with gold and bling adorning most menu screens you come across. The interface is solid and easy to navigate in order to reach the real meat of the experience; the music videos. With over 40 different songs and videos, browsing through the relatively brief history of rap music is made simple and fun.

The track list is the real show-stealer. There is an excellent selection of rap tunes from the past and present and I'm pretty sure everyone has heard "Gin and Juice" or "Push It" some time in their life, so even non-rap fans have a place to start. The selection does seem a bit thin when compared to other music contemporaries that include over 80 songs on the disc. There is an online music store to remedy the light selection that will offer new songs and videos for your purchase pleasure, all edited for a "T" rating. Although the 40+ songs on the disc are overall crowd-pleasers, Def Jam Rapstar engages in some sleazy tactics for its own personal song selection.

For example, if you were to walk up to someone and ask them "Can you name ONE song that should be included in a game about rap music?" I would bet a huge majority of people would suggest Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight." Guess what? Def Jam Rapstar does not include the quintessential rap song on the disc, but instead the song is available for purchase through the online store. It's a low-down dirty shame that someone had to make the decision to gouge players who want to play one of the most popular rap songs of all time. This isn't a single issue either. There are many cases where there will be songs available on the store that I would gladly rather play than some of the songs included on the retail disc.

This one is really a no-brainer. Def Jam Rapstar plays music videos along with the lyrics at the top or bottom of the screen as you attempt to keep up with the seasoned rap veterans. You score is based on two criteria: pitch and rhythm. You must rap on-point along to the beat AND match pitch for any back-up singers or guest artists. Off the bat, there is one major problem with the design of the song: it's Rapstar not "Singstar."

Rapping is a very different skill than singing. The tempo and flow of blazing through lyrics at breakneck speeds sometimes flies in the face of creating harmonies or melodies. Although many songs today use both to great success, penalizing the players that choose not to sing instead of rap seems counter-intuitive in a game that revels in the fantasy of speaking really fast. While it is certainly not a deal breaker (you can easily cheat the system), it seems like an area that should be re-thought if a sequel happens.

Before I get too much farther, I want to make it clear that I thoroughly enjoyed making a fool of myself in ways that only singing karaoke can create. Whether it was the songs I didn't know, the songs that were way out of my skill range (Twista? Really?) or the complete denial of my own abilities in the songs I thought I knew, I had a lot of fun during my time with Def Jam Rapstar. It's a simple party game in the vein of Singstar or Rock Band and the rule of thumb is "more people, more fun."

That said, the problems it does suffer from are only noticeable because it prevents the player from having MORE fun with the game. The bare bones Career Mode is just a series of song groups that become available after earning certain scores in the group. The rap battles with a friend are no more than two sets of lyrics during the video, or if its a duet, one person backs up the other person. There is no innovation in the main gameplay department, but that doesn't mean it wasn't fun, it just means it could have been much better.

Probably the most impressive and simultaneously most disappointing feature in Def Jam Rapstar is the ability to record and upload your own rap videos (with a PlayStation Eye) where other members of the community can rate and share their finds. Without getting into the numerous hoops you have to jump through just to make your own video, it seems half-baked. You are limited to 30 second clips which means you have to pick and choose which part of your favorite song you want to upload to share. After you made a selection, you can edit the video with simple video effects or filters to make it stand out, but the tools aren't nearly robust enough to really allow creativity to shine through because most videos are inaudible due to the varying quality of the microphones out there in the wild.

The accompanying "Freestyle" Mode highlights the ability to create and share, but the same problems keep popping up. Not enough tools, not enough time. It is a neat feature included in the final release, but it simply isn't practical.

Other than the innate ability to keep rhythm and flow, Def Jam Rapstar only expects three difficulties from you: Easy, Medium, Hard. Obviously some songs are much harder than others, but I found that once you listen to a song once or twice, just to get a feel, it isn't so bad on the hardest difficulty setting (Lil' Wayne and Twista excluded.) It is the easiest example of a pick-up-and-play party game because all you need is a mic and a voice. What happens after that really isn't the game's fault if you fail out because you grew up listening to jazz or country instead of Run DMC or Biz Markie.

Game Mechanics:
As I said before, the mechanics of Def Jam Rapstar are simple. Your voice. One mic. Go. It is a little confusing at first trying to find out how much you can stumble in a single song and still earn a good score or "On Point." As the lyrics appear on-screen, they are separated into groups of words; if you can hit all the words in a phrase you earn multipliers. Continue your streak without missing a word and you earn an overdrive mode that doubles the multiplier and is a bit more lenient with messing up the words.

However, it isn't that hard to work around the system. Mumbling isn't clever enough to get you past tricky spots, but make a noise that approximates the word you were supposed to say and it works just fine. This serves as a good way to learn the songs if you haven't learned all of the lyrics yet, but still recognize the tempo.

Def Jam Rapstar isn't the greatest MC when it comes to delivering a solid music game. It is a great start, for sure, but there are too many missing features to not take notice. As it is right now, Def Jam Rapstar is great for die-hard fans or a fun distraction at a party, but if a sequel comes around, we need more songs, more customization, better tools, a streamlined online store, and more variety in Career Mode. If the Def Jam label is serious about getting behind Rapstar, then this could really be something B.I.G.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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