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SingStar Pop
Platform: PlayStation 2
[Sony Computer Entertainment]

Karaoke is generally considered a public act.

You knock down a couple stiff ones then belt out your own special rendition of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” under harsh spotlights and the glare of strangers. Yet, in Japan, where this pastime originated, most joints rent intimate, private rooms where handfuls of friends can feel free to croon, unfettered by fear of public shame. Many Tokyo denizens don’t entertain at home. Apartments are small, and raucous karaoke parties are out of the question. In the land of American Idol and suburban tract homes on the other hand, those who want to avoid the spotlight can crank up a game like SingStar Pop and invite some close friends over for cocktails.

SingStar Pop provides all the necessary hardware for such private performances. Two microphones plug into the PlayStation 2. The game keeps track of pitch and timing on the ?y, mixes the singer’s vocals with the original audio, and tallies a score at the end of every performance. Besides poor marks and the threat of an instant audio replay, the game doesn’t really punish you for howling off key.

SingStar Pop’s fatal flaw is that there are only 30 songs from which to choose. The game tries to cast a wide net to make up for its scant selection, but the attempt at variety feels more like music supervision by committee. Part of the game’s problem is its broad definition of “pop.” Sure, The Clash, Avril Lavigne, Hoobastank and Gorillaz are all examples of popular music. They’re also bands that some will love and others despise. The game disc can be swapped out mid-session for other editions of the game, like SingStar Rocks, but that still leaves you with only 60 songs. Your average dive bar Karaoke joint offers hundreds, if not thousands of songs to choose from. So while you may crash and burn in front of strangers, at least you’ll be doing it to the tune of a song you genuinely like. With SingStar Pop’s sketchy playlist, chances are there will be more cringing than crooning.