Singstar is one of those great Playstation institutions, and one of those absolute must-have games for whenever you have—or want—a karaoke party. It’s awesome, then, that Sony have decided that South Africa’s Afrikaans-speaking market is big enough to warrant their own Singstar game: Singstar Afrikaanse Treffers. Find out about my experiences in delving into the world of Afrikaans music after the jump.
Story time: a few years back, when my best and closest friends were still living within the same few square kilometers as I and not spread out over multiple countries, we gathered one evening for a night of Singstar. Granted, this was the PS2 version; none of us had heard of the PS3 yet, which should give some indication of how long ago this was. My fondest memory of that night was of two very, very male friends coming to grips for the first time with the proper lyrics to “Material Girl”. There was much halting, choking, and finally protest, starting with the words “some boys kiss me, some boys hug me”. I still make fun of them over that. It’s what true friends do: belittle each other. How else are they supposed to know they had a good time? Point being, my first introduction to Singstar provided me with an awesome memory that I’ll not soon forget (provided I don’t contract Alzheimer’s). Sidestory over, let’s get into this review.
The gameplay of Singstar has not really changed substantially since its inception back in 2004: you fire up the game, select a song, and sing along, trying to match the pitch of the your own voice to the pitch of the lyrics being sung by the actual artist. There have been an imperial ton of Singstar games since the first one appeared on the Playstation2, and Afrikaanse Treffers is the latest one in a very, very long series. This review is mostly valid for both the PS2 and PS3 versions of the game. Note that all online features are PS3-only.
I’m going to start by saying that I was probably not the intended audience, and you’ll see in a moment why this is not a bad thing. My Afrikaans is simply skokkend, for one thing. I was passingly familiar with only one of the songs in the list, so I had a huge hurdle to overcome, i.e. get to know the music first. In typical geek fashion, this did not involve sitting with the game and listening to the music. It also did not involve going to Musica or Look & Listen and sampling a few of the CDs of these artists. Not initially, anyhow. We geeks do not do things by simple, intuitive measures. Getting to know the music, to a geek, means first becoming acquainted with it through the magic that is Google, and by extension, YouTube.
This is what I discovered: there is an awesome amount of amazing talent in this country. And it is not being appreciated widely enough because of a stigma attached to so-called “boeremusiek”. I am far from the world’s most closed-minded listener, however. So I went out and found someone more… discerning in their musical tastes. I wanted a second opinion. I didn’t bombard them with my YouTube findings. I figured that Singstar Afrikaanse Treffers has the word “Treffers” in its title for a reason. So I played them some music from the game. And you know what? They liked it. Why am I telling you all this? Pretty much because I want you, like I did, to approach this game, and the genre in general, with an open mind (I use the word “genre” about as loosely as I possibly can). You lot who already listen to and enjoy Afrikaans music: the preceding two paragraphs weren’t for you. That would be preaching to the converted, and we don’t do that sort of thing around here.
When I fired up the game for the first time, I was prompted to choose a language. I found it extremely promising that Afrikaans was one of the selectable languages. A small point, true, but still something important in a game aimed very much at a single linguistic population. Of course, Afrikaans is not my first language, so with some disappointment, I selected “English” and proceeded. You can, of course, change this in the game’s settings if you feel that the English language interface is not providing a genuinely Afrikaans enough atmosphere for you.
A game such as this lives and dies on the strength of its playlist. Singstar games have been very much a “if you like that sort of music” kind of game, and granted, titles such as Singstar Abba and Singstar Queen are not necessarily everybody’s hot, steaming mug of cocoa with a marshmallow on top. Singstar Afrikaanse Treffers‘ playlist contains the work of some of the most successful Afrikaans artists, and covers a surprisingly wide number of genres. Everything from Blackie Swart’s Liewe Lulu to Jack Parow’s Cooler as Ekke to Karen Zoid’s Afrikaaners is Plesierig is covered here, music that ranges from rap, to rock, to country, to ballad.
The music is fun to listen to, and even more fun to sing to. Heaven knows that a good many of them are earworms in their own right. All this comes with a caveat, of course, and one that applies to all such party games: this game’s Fun And Enjoyment Factor™ goes up to 11 when you’re playing it with a group of other people. Thankfully, if you have friends in remote locations, you can still play Singstar online with them.
Both the PS2 and PS3 versions of the game come with the same track list, and you can buy either version with microphones or as standalone games (for those who already either have mics, or have other Singstar games). Both versions also allow you to swap the disc out for another Singstar disc if you feel like singing songs from another set (and you PS3 owners will be happy to know that you can even swap in a PS2 disc for more music). The similarities end about there, and most of the rest of the review covers the PS3 version of the game. If you’re a PS2 owner, I’m afraid that if you read the next few paragraphs, you’ll be sorely tempted to get a PS3. Don’t blame me if you happen to get so envious that you upgrade.
One of the nicest things about modern music games is their sheer expandability via game-specific online music stores, and Singstar is obviously no different. At last count, the Singstar store contained in excess of 1,600 songs, and this number grows by the week. If you decide that you’d like an entire album’s worth of songs, you’ll find those in the store too. If you’re also the owner of a PSP, you’ll find that Singstar allows you to control the song selection via Remote Play. The only pity is that none of the songs are enabled for dance and guitar. Since that isn’t the main focus of Singstar, however, it’s no big surprise, just a pity and a huge missed opportunity.
Singstar also has community features, so if you feel you’re more of a star than is reasonable, you can also use a camera peripheral to record or take snapshots of your performance and upload it to the international Singstar community (also accessible via www.singstar.com). If you download the free Video Editor from the store, you can also add interesting graphical effects to the performance before you upload. If you don’t have the camera, you can simply upload your vocal performance for everyone to marvel or laugh at. Depends on how good you are, really—and how much self confidence you have.
I honestly do not have much criticism that I can level at this game or its choice of tracks. Sony has tried—and succeeded—to please as many fans as possible without alienating anyone, while hopefully turning a few new ears to the music and the game. I did notice one or two small errors with the lyrics, but nothing so glaring as to make it look amateurish. The songs have been treated with the same respect that any decent South African would give it.
At the end of things, however, Singstar Afrikaanse Treffers is a whole biltong bag of the same fun that Singstar has always been. Nothing radically new has been introduced here like there was in Singstar Dance or Singstar Guitar, and to be honest, I do not think innovation is needed here. Having our own homegrown music is enough. The dance feature would have been reaaally nice though, Sony.
Should you buy this game? If you’re going to buy the PS2 version, I’d say hit the shops immediately if you enjoy Afrikaans music, or if you’re open-minded enough to try something new. The songs are great to listen and sing to. If you will be getting the PS3 version, then I’d say it’s an excellent purchase, mostly for the online features and expandability through the online store. And who knows: maybe, like me, you’ll find that you actually do enjoy Afrikaans music after all, and that making a decision on what to spend your Musica birthday gift card on just got a lot more difficult.