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Def Jam Rapstar

By Calum Marsh | 14 October 2010

What surprised me most about Def Jam Rapstar, a new Sing Star-like videogame with a unique angle that should be fairly self-explanatory, is just how much a change in genre could distinguish one rhythm game from the glut of Guitar Hero knockoffs crowding the market. My friends and I have poured countless hours into Rock Band—still the crown jewel of the genre thanks to its unrivaled availability of downloadable content—since its release in late 2007, but despite the continued efforts by every game developer out there to produce bigger and better iterations of more or less the same product, there just hasn’t been any incentive to move on to something new. But the problem with Rock Band has always been right there in the title: we’re necessarily restricted to the confines of rock n’ roll. Which, I mean: fair enough, because “Ride the Lightning” or some shit is a lot more conducive to hardcore simulacral drumming than, like, Tim Hecker would be. But as a general rule, the kinds of songs that are the most fun to play plastic guitars and plastic drums along to are also the kinds of songs that are the least fun to sing. Which is why if you bust out, say, “Reptillia,” nobody wants to be Julian Casablancas. Rock Band does try to mitigate the issue a bit with the inclusion of songs more in line with a modern karaoke playlist, but if you’ve spent five seconds strumming along to nonexistent guitar parts on “Bad Romance” you know why that’s really no better.

Point being: hip-hop makes way more sense as a platform on which to base a party game because everybody gets to kill it equally. And Def Jam Rapstar pulls the whole enterprise off surprisingly well: it boasts an intuitive interface, a robust and well-rounded tracklist, and, because it precisely measures both the timing of your flow and your accuracy with lyrics (Rock Band measures only your timing and pitch, allowing you to sing gibberish), the overall product feels more competently produced than most other music games on the market. Which is a huge relief, because buggy or inaccurate gameplay could have derailed what turns out to one of the most purely fun gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Like, seriously: trading off with a buddy (or sibling) as Malice and Pusha T on “Grindin’”? A rap battle based around “A Milli”? Last night my girlfriend played a stellar Rihanna to my gaffe-prone T.I. on “Live Your Life,” and it as ridiculous as it was fucking awesome. This stuff is a social godsend for the uninhibited (or inebriated), the best-ever alternative to Guitar Hero‘s white-washed cock rock or Toto-heavy karaoke nights. And given the ton of shit I’ve yet to really delve into—downloadable content, the cultivation of online crews and rivalries, and an honest-to-goodness freestyle mode—my weekend plans are pretty much taken care of for the rest of the year.