Because it’s coming out in a time when music videogames are driving both music and videogame sales, it’s easy to mistake Lips: Number One Hits as a competitor to Guitar Hero and Rock Band’s throne. Play it for five minutes and you’ll realize it has got different game in its crosshairs; its main opponents are karaoke machines. On that front, Lips: Number One Hits has tried, and partially succeeded at, making karaoke its bitch.
The title of the game sums up Lips’ point succinctly; mutes need not apply. All you’ll be doing is shouting out off-pitch versions of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” and Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” striving for a higher score or a less embarrassing attempt at singing. Not that the scoring matters much. There’s literally no way to fail a song. No matter how horrible your falsetto, you can’t “lose” at Lips. You’re really competing against your own ability to nail Colby O’Donnis’ lyrics in Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” and your tumbling sense of shame.
What it lacks in a less than in-depth gameplay experience, Lips more than makes up for in presentation. Every song comes packaged with its music video, so you can match the dance moves of Marvin Gaye as you sing “I Heard It on the Grapevine” or enjoy the ridiculously overblown video for Tupac’s “California Love,” which is a pretty bad song, when you get down to it (it’s the rap version of Huey Lewis’ “The Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Still Beating”). This makes what could be a quickly boring experience into a better time, which makes the inclusion of an option that allows you to avoid seeing the videos seem downright useless (ditto for the option to port songs from your MP3 player to the game, minus video or lyrics).
Elsewhere, the menus are clean and the singing interface is cluttered but easy enough to follow, mixing Guitar Hero and Rock Band’s singing gameplay with those old Disney sing-along videos. The new microphone packaged with Lips is a major improvement over the budget mics available with other instrument games too, but it’s hard to be too excited about a plastic singing device.
For its success in beating the presentation and experience of karaoke, Lips is still best experienced in a party atmosphere. In fact, Lips should probably be the first videogame to come packaged with a warning about how it’s only fun to play with a group, because it’s the first game I’ve ever felt vaguely embarrassed playing alone, which isn’t exactly the feeling you want sitting in front of the ol’ X-Box on a Tuesday night. But I expect that if you have a few drinks in the stomach and a few friends over, it could quickly start to feel like the greatest videogame of all time. Until Lips comes packaged with three buddies and a case of Cuervo, karaoke will be the favored singing-related party tool of choice, but Lips is pretty close to taking over that role.