Def Jam Rapstar (PS3) Review

To detractors, Def Jam Rapstar is little more than rap karaoke, and there’s a certain amount of truth in the statement. If you narrow-mindedly insist on hating an entire musical genre, then there’s probably nothing for you here. For everyone else, Def Jam Rapstar a rap game that delivers, and it’s time for you to grab the mic.

Mechanically, Rapstar is reminiscent of any other music title. You rhyme in time to the lyrics that scroll across the bottom of the screen and the more words you hit, the higher your eventual score. Career mode, quick play, and most other standard features are all accounted for, and it’s incredibly easy for anyone to jump right in.

Scoring is based on lyrical accuracy, timing, and (in some songs) pitch, and the game does a surprisingly good job of independently evaluating all three. Proper enunciation is required and Rapstar will know if you’re mumbling your way through the verses.

The only real gameplay problem is that the written words don’t always correspond to actual pronunciation. Trying to match the idiosyncratic deliveries of dozens of different rappers can be tricky, and you’ll sometimes miss beats that you were convinced you hit.

Fortunately, the scoring system has been tweaked to take such issues account. Each verse is assigned a point value, and your multiplier builds at the end of the line if you’re able to match the appropriate score. You can thus maintain your streak through one or two missed syllables, and reaching the quota before the end of the phrase charges up the Platinum Power meter and boosts your score even further.And that more or less covers the basics. The game is compatible with most gaming microphones so startup costs are low and there aren’t any serious functionality concerns. There are flaws, but most of them are either expected (and minor) growing pains or subjective complaints related to personal gameplay style.

Part of that ties into the fact that the sheer sonic speed of the music can make it difficult to immerse yourself in some of the more challenging tracks. Practice mode allows you to loop specific sections, but the songs are never slowed down and always feature the same number of beats. If you can’t keep up with the ironically titled “Slow Jamz” on Hard, that’s not going to change on Easy even if the scoring is more forgiving.

Def Jam Rapstar also requires a surprising amount of singing. For me, that’s unfortunate because I cannot – repeat cannot – carry a tune, and I’d frequently lose my score multiplier while stumbling through various choruses. It can sometimes feel as if the game punishes you for not being a good enough backup performer, and that’s not the sort of thing that makes you feel like a Rapstar.

While the two ‘instruments’ approach does make sense from a gameplay perspective – if you’re not singing the chorus, you’re not doing anything during that portion of the song – the simple truth is that rapping and singing demand two different sets of skills. It’s less of a concern if you’re performing a duet since you can pass the high notes on to player two, but you should be prepared to suffer through the sound of your own singing voice if you’re planning to go it alone.

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It’s not so easy to overlook the removal of profanity. Contrary to what you might expect, I can’t criticize the decision – it’s the only thing allowing the developers to sneak away with a ‘Teen’ rating – but the powers-that-be need to find a more elegant solution. In rap, every syllable matters, and the elimination of offensive vocabulary interrupts the natural flow of many of the songs. It can be tough to drop back in mid-sentence if you don’t know what you’ve missed.

Finally, unless you’re a trained vocalist, your voice will start getting tired after about an hour of play. That’s a physical reality more than anything else, and is consequently something to be aware of.Despite the niggling issues, it’s important to note that Def Jam Rapstar never stops being fun, and the overall presentation is superb. The game is a celebration of rap culture, and it’s designed to make you appreciate the genre as both a student and a contributor.

To that end, the producers have opted to include original music videos instead of the usual unexciting background animations and the diverse soundtrack highlights the entire spectrum of rap. Your career will take you from the old school (Beastie Boys, Run DMC) to the new school (Ludacris, Nelly), and for every “I Get Money,” there’s at least one “Fight the Power.”

Def Jam Rapstar even encourages you to pen your own rhymes and test your microphone skills with the multiple freestyle tracks that have been included in the game. You should have no trouble recording (and uploading) original lyrics as long as you’re bold enough to try.

The amazingly robust online video community enhances the shared experience. Def Jam Rapstar will automatically record your performances if you’ve got a camera hooked up to your console and includes a deep video editor complete with stickers, animations, and distortion effects that allow you to manipulate the sound and picture.

The quality is far from professional, but the tools are relatively user-friendly and it isn’t bad for do-it-yourself. There’s also no need to be afraid, since it’s possible to filter your voice and visage right out of the frame if you’re overly self-conscious. Videos are not automatically saved and you can always unplug the camera, so if your rendition of “Push It” makes it onto the Internet, you have no one but yourself to blame.

I could go on, but you probably get the point. Def Jam Rapstar is a top-of-the-line music game with enough relevant features to keep you entertained for hours. It’s not perfect, but it’s an absolute blast to play and the soundtrack is fantastic. If you’re a fan of rap music, this is the game you’ve been waiting for, and you should absolutely add it to your collection.