Microsoft's efforts to broaden the Xbox 360's appeal beyond hardcore "Halo" players continues with "Lips," a flashy new karaoke game that's targeted at casual auds.

Microsoft’s efforts to broaden the Xbox 360’s appeal beyond hardcore “Halo” players continues with “Lips,” a flashy new karaoke game that’s targeted at casual auds. Though it will quickly bore vocalists acclimated to the challenge of “Rock Band,” “Lips” excels as home karaoke, bringing style and pizzazz to a crowded genre. However, “Lips” is also exceedingly shallow, with a small number of songs and a broken system for importing new ones, meaning living room crooners will likely stick with Sony’s deeper “SingStar” franchise for the time being.

A karaoke title is a natural choice for a console looking to steal a chunk of Wii’s family audience, and iNiS, developer of quirky cult favorite DS music title “Elite Beat Agents,” seems well suited to the task. So it’s no surprise that at first blush, “Lips” impresses. It’s bundled with twin microphones whose heft, motion sensitivity and starry, light-up glow put band game mics to shame. And the clean, white iPod-esque user interface is very au courant. When available, players can choose to have the song’s actual musicvideo play behind the master tracks. For pre-MTV tracks like the Jackson 5’s “ABC,” “Lips” offers pleasing, color-washed ambient designs.

There are several clever party-friendly modes beyond basic singing: Vocal Fighters pits player vs. player; the odd-but-cute Kiss mode requires a successful duet to get two gradually approaching silhouettes to embrace; and Time Bomb demands skillful singing to defuse an explosion. A second player can join in to sing along just by shaking the second mic to wake it up, while others can add a tambourine or cowbell by pushing buttons on the Xbox 360’s controller.

Game awards extra points for stylistic vibrato, but scoring, along with earning medals for motion-controlled posing or for great pitch, is largely redundant. “Lips” doesn’t penalize players for missing notes, and unlike other popular music games, it’s impossible to fail a song. It’s the kind of game that could be the life of a casual party, but the lack of challenge or reward makes it a snooze for experienced gamers playing solo or together.

“Lips” eschews timeless karaoke favorites in favor of an odd blend so dispersed across genres that each player’s taste is likely to find only a couple of desirables out of a list of 40 titles that run the gamut from A-Ha’s “Take on Me” through perplexing, ultra-current one-hit-wonders like Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song.” The box promises more songs available via download, but there aren’t many just yet, and no must-haves, which looks grim for “Lips” when you contrast it with “SingStar,” which has such a massive song library that Sony had to build a separate, iTunes-esque online store to house them all.

“Lips” promised to make up for that shortcoming through an innovative feature that lets players import songs from an iPod or other MP3 player, tone down the singer’s voice and “freestyle” to the music even if the lyric data isn’t available. But the feature barely functions. Not only does it require the music player to be attached to the console at all times (as opposed to actually transferring files), but this reviewer couldn’t get a single song from the iPod to work in Lips, even though the game was able to recognize them and add them to the track list.


$70 (with two microphones). Rated T.

Production: A Microsoft presentation of a game developed by iNiS for the Xbox 360.

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