Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I was reading some reviews at IGN last night when I stumbled across this little gem in a review for 'Lips', a Karaoke game:

"In fact, it's not really much of a game at all. It's far too easy to offer much enjoyment for hardcore gamers…
varying difficulty levels, career modes…Lips has none of these things"

In this context, that statement makes about as much sense as saying "Vampire Lesbian Bikini Beach Babes 3 just won't offer much enjoyment to the Over-50 Feminist Bible Group and Mensa Member."

Lips isn't aimed at hardcore gamers, in fact I'd go so far as to say it's not really aimed at what we'd traditionally think of as a 'gamer'. It's a game you pull out at parties so you can have a laugh with your friends. It's made as simple as possible so at your next family gathering you can hand the mic to your great Aunt Mabel and all those other people who've never touched a controller in their lives without having to explain what they have to do for twenty minutes.

Lips turns your Xbox into a karaoke machine. The idea of a 'hardcore gamer' buying Lips to play on his own so he can 'beat the game', get all the achievements and brag about it to his other gamer friends is laughable. What makes me laugh even more is that despite the fact that 'casual' games like Lips are becoming more and more common, reviewers seem to have no idea what to do with them when they land on their desks.

It's time for a quick history lesson.

Traditionally, the aim of console and game creators was to make the biggest, best, fastest and prettiest product. The gaming industry was for all intents and purposes an arms race between the major industry players. If your console was the most powerful, chances are it would be the most successful. However, the side effect of this 'arms race' is that as games got bigger and better, they also got a lot more complicated.

I think this can be seen easily just through the controllers. The Nintendo Entertainment System had a controller with two buttons and a D-Pad. The Super Nintendo had a D-Pad and six buttons…and today the Xbox 360 has a D-Pad, two thumb-sticks, four face buttons (Not counting the start, select and guide buttons), two triggers and two shoulder buttons.

Of course, it's not just the hardware. When you put a game like Mario next to a game like Mass Effect, we see that Mass Effect is exponentially more complicated.

However, it was Nintendo that threw a major wrench into the established way of doing things with the Wii.

You see, Nintendo almost went bankrupt thanks to the failure of the Gamecube, and they were going up against Microsoft and Sony in the current console cycle. Basically, Sony and Microsoft could afford to build bleeding edge consoles and could also afford to sell them at a big loss and make their money back later on the games. Nintendo simply couldn't afford to do that same thing.

So Nintendo did a very clever thing. They simply chose not to compete. Instead of trying to build a super-powerful next-gen console, they built a less powerful console and aimed it at people who don't actually think of themselves as gamers. Nintendo ignored horsepower and went back to basics, making games that are no more complicated to play or control that Pac Man or Space Invaders.

Basically 'traditional gaming' has a pretty high barrier to entry. The games themselves can be quite difficult, they have complex controls and expect a certain amount of 'prior knowledge' from the gamer. However, absolutely anyone can instantly understand how to play Tennis on the Wii when you show them that you swing the controller like a tennis racket.

So, what Nintendo did was open up a whole new demographic. A group of people who don't consider themselves to be 'gamers'. People who just want to turn on their consoles and be entertained until they turn them off. People who have no interests in global leader boards or spending hours and hours grinding away to unlock every hidden easter-egg. Basically people who look at their consoles in the same way I look at a scrabble board.

So, with that in mind, let's go back to that Lips review for a second:

"…even your score is fairly irrelevant. Sure, it's nice to see that I scored more than 3 million points singing R.E.M.'s "The One I Love," but it didn't really do anything, so what's the point, really? All 40 songs are available at the start, the various backgrounds and color schemes are all there from the get-go and there are no extras or secrets to be found. Doing well doesn't open up stages or skins or trophies or anything at all."

This makes me want to track down that reviewer and say just one word:


This game is designed so the next time your friends or family are over and you've all had a few beers, you can slap the disc into your console and have a laugh. The score doesn't 'do anything' in game terms, because it's only there so you can gloat when you score higher than anyone else in the room. All forty songs are available from the start because the point of this game is to sing the songs for fun. Not grind away, singing the same song (that you don't actually like) over and over just so you can unlock the next one. There are no extras, secrets, trophies or skins because when you're in a room full of drunk-ass family-members, you don't want to be dicking around with difficulty settings, or making sure you're playing on the right profile so your progression doesn't get messed up, or have to explain to great-aunt dolly that she can't sing Great Balls of Fire because it's not been unlocked yet…and the song keeps stopping halfway through because she sounds like a tortured armadillo and is 'failing'.

Think about it. If you go to an actual karaoke bar, you sing just for the sheer hell of it. That's what this game is all about. The fun comes from playing, not from beating it.

As I said at the beginning of this post, judging games like Lips by traditional standards is like giving a go-kart a bad review because there's no trunk space or room for kids in the back. It's meant to be shallow because it's a party game designed to appeal to people who've never played a videogame before. Lips is a karaoke machine that gives you a score at the end of the song…and that's exactly what it's meant to be.


Sunny said...

Hmmmm.....Drinking & singing.....what could be more fun?

Evan 08 said...

Drinking and singing naked.

Today's word verification word: Unkneud. Ironic, considering my comment, eh?

Sunny said...

Oh...... well I kinda thought nudity was a given with drinking and singing combined anyway!!

Did you go to my High School by some chance???