It's too easy to cheat around Lips' poor vocal- and pitch-detecting technology, but if you're willing to look past that, Lips is a satisfying home karaoke game.
Games like Lips help me out with a core problem that I have with karaoke. Have you ever seen the crowd of people that actually gathers at a karaoke night down at your local bar? Maybe it's just my local bars, but it seems to bring out a mix of shut-ins who usually can't be bothered to change out of their bathrobes, and delusional older women who think they're, you know, singers. Then there's the group of early-20s girls in the back who sort of giggle at the proceedings when they're not making out with each other in a sad-but-effective attempt to get attention.
OK, perhaps I've said too much. Let's start over. As a karaoke game, Lips lets you bring karaoke home, away from the seedy crowds, so you and your friends can just sort of have a good time. While Lips certainly isn't the greatest karaoke-focused game ever released, it's got enough good features and options to make it a decent Xbox 360-only answer to Sony's massive SingStar series. But if you're looking for a challenging singing experience that acts as an accurate judge of your vocal abilities, you're going to be pretty disappointed.
The game is seriously lax when it comes to rating your vocals. For the occasional rapping or pitchless noisemaking that some songs feature, the game gives you full credit as long as noise is being made into the microphone. When you're actually singing, the game checks for a pitch. But you can be pretty off the mark and still do just fine. What's more, blowing into the mic usually fools the game into thinking you're singing in key and gives you a vibrato bonus in the process. Obviously, sitting around and cheatin your way around a karaoke game is a pretty pathetic thing to do--unless you're into achievement points, in which case it's an awesome thing to do, and we also recommend you try holding the mics up to your TV speaker to just capture the vocals of the original song. The side effect of this is that the game lets you challenge other players online, and you'll never know for sure if they're singing fairly or not.
Provided you can put those faults out of your mind and play the game as intended, Lips is decent at what it does. The game comes with 40 tracks that cover a good-sized range of times and genres. It also features Avril Lavigne's song, "Complicated," which has to be some sort of record holder for the song that appears in the most karaoke games of all time in the history of the world. I swear, it's like everyone got together and signed a blood pact to bring this Canadian pop-rock madness to as many homes as possible. There's also an in-game store with a few songs to choose from, but, at this point anyway, it doesn't seem like Microsoft has a dedication to regular downloadable content the way most other big music games do these days.
But you might not actually need to go out and buy any more music, because Lips lets you import music via the same options you have to play your own music in most other games. You can pull songs from portable devices, play them from your 360's hard drive, or even stream them over your local network. Of course, this isn't quite the same as playing the songs that were built for the game, since you won't get on-screen lyrics or music videos. The game will, however, attempt to judge your performance. But this is just kind of there for show, as it just gives you points as long as you're making noise into the mic. If you know a lot of the words to songs, this mode is a terrific addition. If you need the pitch guide and lyrics to sing anything, though, you'll find it sorely lacking.
There are a few different modes to choose from when singing, and some of these take advantage of the motion sensor found in the microphones, like a time bomb minigame where you need to turn over a glass of water to put out the fuse of a bomb by rotating the mic. And in songs, you'll need to strike poses and move the mic to activate a higher-scoring star power equivalent. The mics that come with the game are pretty nice. They're wireless, and feel weighted properly to let you easily flip them around in your hand. Also, they light up around the base and pulsate while you sing. The motion sensor is used well throughout, such as the jukebox mode, which just plays the game's music until you shake a mic to join in and sing. This is also how one-player games can become duets, short songs can be extended to full-length, and so on.
Sony's PlayStation 3 take on the concept, SingStar, is a more mature and robust karaoke solution for home consoles, with more songs to choose from and better pitch-sensing technology. So if you're in the market for a singing game and platform isn't an issue, that's the clear way to go. But Lips is hardly a bad game, so if you're unable to go the Sony route, Microsoft's answer does most of what it needs to do to be successful.