David is a proudly queer performing artist and software developer. He spends most of his downtime with a controller in his hands and a lazy beagle on his lap.
Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch
November 13, 2020
There’s a little proverb that gets taught in musical theatre: when you’re speaking, and you feel emotion swell up inside you so much that ordinary speech is not enough, you start to sing. Singing is the cathartic equivalent of screaming – a beautiful expression of the state of the soul. This year, more than ever, when we have stayed in our homes and screamed in our hearts, the power of singing has the capacity to provide reflection and healing. It’s with this generous mindset that I approached Let’s Sing 2021, and not with the utterly tragic memories of disappointment from playing Let’s Sing Presents Queen just last month.
To preface, I do recommend at least skim-reading my review of the previous karaoke party title in this series, as this is essentially the same game with a different hat. The Let’s Sing games carry on the tradition of singing games established by the SingStar franchise in the 2000s, allowing players to sing along with their favourite hits and compete for high scores with excellent vocal production.
There’s a single-player “campaign” this time around in the form of Legends mode. Choosing one of four avatars, you battle your way through a variety of challenges in order to defeat your opponents. Each opponent hosts three challenges and a “finale”, which is a classic point-scoring contest with an entire song. I love the idea of this mode for the solo singer, and it’s presented in a pretty funky way. The opponents are grouped into bands, with each band raising the difficulty as you defeat them. Earning stars in challenges helps unlock the next opponent, as well as some fashion gear for your avatar. Unfortunately, playing this mode is not fun. The challenges are varied enough on paper – they’ll have you trying to achieve the most Key notes in a snippet of a song, or nailing the specific phrasing – but they all end up being a variation on “sing the song well”. Nothing interesting is done with harmony or actual song artistry, there are no unique timing-based challenges, and it ends up being a sort of lacklustre single-player collection of the Let’s Party mode minigames. Since those minigames are barely entertaining even with friends, this mode really misses the mark.
That’s not to say that there are no opportunities for fun in Let’s Sing 2021. The endorphins you get from screaming your lungs out are a real chemical rush, and I had a few moments of pure joy with the title. The World Contest mode, in particular, gives a much-needed sense of challenge. Absolutely wiping the floor with some anonymous player through the power of Lizzo is a uniquely satisfying experience only second to open mic karaoke. It’s just that these moments are few and far between, and while they’re facilitated by the game they’re not made any better by the game – you have to battle through Let’s Sing 2021’s shonky mechanics to find the golden nuggets of vocal joy.
I mentioned in my previous review that the smartphone mic functionality was dodgy. In Let’s Sing 2021, I discovered even more issues. In short, it’s broken. Look, I’m not usually up for big-noting myself, but I have a tertiary qualification in singing and I’m in two choirs: I was absolutely nailing The Lion King’s I Just Can’t Wait To Be King, but the little line on the screen did not remotely accurately reflect my performance. A significant amount of lag ruins phrase timings, and some bizarre choices in adding pitch to spoken lines adds an unpleasant re-learning curve to any songs you’re already familiar with. Further to this, the game has zero intelligence when it comes to harmony. A song like Billie Eilish’s bad guy doesn’t really have a dominant melody in the verses, but Let’s Sing 2021 sure thinks it does, and you’d better guess which tune the game is listening for or no points for you! I remember struggling with this in the previous game’s Bohemian Rhapsody which was an absolute mess to try to figure out. It’s rough enough when multiplayer is already marred by each smartphone picking up every singer in the room, let alone trying to figure out which arbitrary vocal part the game is demanding. The occasional hiccup would be excusable, but when your game’s core mechanic is consistently flawed it makes it difficult to recommend.
A saving grace of Let’s Sing 2021 is its excellent library of songs. The thirty tracks on offer are a delightfully varied bunch of recent pop hits, less recent classic pop bangers, and karaoke faves. It made me feel old when I scrolled through and realised I recognised maybe half of the songs, but this is exactly the kind of experience I crave from this sort of all-ages party game. In a family setting with multiple generations present, there should be a bunch of songs that only the kids know as well as a heap of classics. I was initially excited that you can extend your song library through purchases until I saw the pricing structure. The base game sets you back $60, while each song pack of 5 songs is around $7. If you were to buy every song pack, that’s around $80 of extra purchases. There’s no option to purchase individual tracks, you have to buy a pack based around a theme like “90s Classics”. I hate this. Want to belt out The Cranberries’ Zombie with your mates? Gotta buy a bunch of other songs you don’t want as well. Ick. Wasteful.
I’m once again unimpressed with Let’s Sing 2021. I tried to approach it with an open mind, and I was excited by its track list, but too many issues prevent this experience from being anything more than a frustrating mess. In this case, the emotion that’s too strong for speech is one of disappointment.
Despite issues with the previous title in the franchise, I had High Hopes that maybe Let’s Sing 2021 would be Good As Hell, but I guess I was just a Sucker. Technical issues with the core singing mechanic cop much of the Blame, but even when the game tries to Lean On its varied play modes it can’t provide a Yummy experience. You’d be much Happier putting on a karaoke playlist and screaming along with your mates (when singing together is safe again, of course). To this disappointing game, I only have one thing to say: Thank U, Next.