Hands On: Def Jam Rapstar (Konami Pre-E3 Event)

Title available: Fall 2010 on XB360, PS3, and Wii
Version Previewed: XB360

"No thanks, I’m too white."

Def Jam Rapstar hasn’t even been released, yet it is already struggling with its identity within the music game genre. The above quote was said, quite timidly, by a Konami rep who happened to be in the demo room when the developer was looking for eager individuals wanting to try the title. Eyes and microphones began to wander the remaining people in the room. Unfortunately, when you’re the only young twenties male in the room with a hip-hop title being demoed, as I was, there will be a moment where all eyes turn expectantly towards you. Luckily, I had a sore throat that rendered singing impossible. So, in a room of five people, you have one who can’t sing because she’s "too white", one is is unable (and unwilling) to sing, leaving you with two other people who seem just as intimidated to dare intimidate Kanye West or Jaime Foxx. It was at this time the developer agreed to take one of the mics. The title screen of the game lit up the room, and all everyone could wonder: "why are we so afraid of this game?"

Truth be told, I’m not sure why everyone was scared. Def Jam Rapstar plays like several other music titles before it. Truly, the biggest difference (at first) between it and other titles of its ilk is the musical genre of choice. Songs run the music video in the center of the screen, while lyrics for individual players and parts appears along the top or the bottom of the center area of the screen. This seems like an odd use of screen real estate, since the sides of the screen largely just display flashy backgrounds. Gameplay itself is a mixture between phonetic / timing based singing (such as the Kanye West part of "Gold Digger") and matched pitch / tone / timing singing (the Jaime Foxx part). All in all, pretty standard stuff for a singing game. Essentially, if you like Sony’s SingStar and the million of Rock Band-like titles, you’ll feel at home with "Def Jam Rapstar".

But what if I don’t have any friends?

What makes Def Jam Rapstar unique is the wide amount of community options that ship with the game. Actually, options are all that could ship with your game if you’d like, as the microphones from the other music game titles you already own will work. Well, save for Singstar, but we all saw that one coming, right? For those that haven’t taken the plunge into peripheral hell, there will be a version of the game with mics. Community features include integration with different social networking sites, most likely Facebook at the forefront, as well as the ability to upload custom made music videos. Remember that dead space I mentioned on the side of the screen? If you have the X-Box Live Vision Camera or the Playstation Eye attached to your console, you can record (and watch yourself record) a custom music video for the song you’re butchering. This video can be uploaded to the community sites, so everyone can watch you pretend to be Slick Rick. Even more interesting is the gameplay mode "Freestyle". While DJR ships with the standard party and career game modes, it also includes "Freestyle", which will contain custom beat tracks exclusive to the game. These tracks are made by major hip-hop producers (no names were given, but we were assured that they’re well established) without lyrics, allowing the player to make their own interpretation of the song. Furthermore, these songs can use the community to start a collaboration between players, meaning it is only a matter of time before you find your own Jaime Foxx to go with your Kanye West. The community also allows you to challenge other players to battles, which hopefully leads to the community being able to vote on the two versions of the song.

I’m gonna let you finish, but…

Really, you already know if Def Jam Rapstar is a title that will appeal to you. However, if you’re on the fence, I’ll just spout off the checklist of features included in the title. You’ll find at least thirty songs covering the "whole history of hip-hop". Titles shown included "Gold Digger", Slick Rick’s "Children’s Story", through Wu-Tang Clan and 50 Cent (before he got skinny). Naturally, DLC is in the cards as well for future songs. The game is aiming for a Teen rating, which means that there will hopefully be some wonderfully awkward edits within the songs. The developer does seem to respect the Def Jam label, and the interesting blend of battle and collaboration tools within the community just might make the title have life outside of its target audience. However, considering how many music games exist / are on the horizon (Rock Band 3, anyone?), Def Jam Rapstar might have trouble finding its footing.

Def Jam Rapstar ships this Fall for the XB360, PS3, and Wii.