Acting and singing have a lot in common: plenty of people believe they do them brilliantly, and the speed with which celebrities flit between both disciplines would have you believe they’re easy. As anyone who’s listened to a loved one murder a beloved song at karaoke will tell you, singing is best left to the professionals, yet games such as Lips and SingStar sell millions. Could a game based around acting do the same?
That’s the central question around Yoostar 2, dubbed a “movie karaoke” game by publishing group Yoostar. Like traditional karaoke games that ask you to warble through your favourite tunes, dishing out points accordingly, Yoostar puts you inside scenes from famous Hollywood films, gives you the dialogue and shouts “action”. It’s a remarkably simple concept with plenty of appeal, and although the game has its faults, it’s as close as many will get to appearing opposite Tom Hanks.
The first place you’ll likely visit is the game’s Quick Play area, where you can dive into one of 80 clips from films as varied as Cheech & Chong, The Godfather and 300. It’s an unhelpful cliché to say there’s something for everyone, but there’s a broad range of genres and actors available, and in the game’s intended party setting there’s bound to be at least one scene each of your guests will attempt. More scenes are available through DLC from the built-in Yoostore, and with no need to pick up a pad and navigate back to Xbox Live Marketplace the party pace shouldn’t slacken.
Getting started in a scene is simple. You can choose to follow a script or ad-lib, with scripted clips scored according to accurate delivery, appropriate body movements and more. In scenes where multiple roles are available, you select your target and an outline appears on screen. Line up with the outline and the scene starts: unlike previous (and somewhat disastrous) movie party game You’re In The Movies, there’s no need for a green screen, with all the hard work done by Kinect. When brightly lit the background removal is good, but even so though there are issues around edges and dark areas that result in flickering, breaking the illusion just enough to dampen your enjoyment.
A bigger stumbling block is playing in artificially lit rooms, a must for any party game. While Kinect does a decent job of tracking movement in such lighting conditions, the sensor’s video capture isn’t so capable, resulting in some grainy images and flickering issues. For a game intended to be played in a party atmosphere, the need for bright lighting may put many off.
Once you’ve finishing chewing the scenery in your chosen scene, you can save the clip to watch later, but Yoostar’s most interesting features happen online. While there’s no multiplayer over Xbox Live, the game’s online portal lets you upload your performances to be rated by other players: as more people watch your clips your overall fame rating increases, unlocking video backgrounds for you to create your own scenes from scratch. If you don’t want to share your videos with the entire Yoostar community, you can share them with just your friends via Facebook and Twitter integration, with a dedicated Facebook application to boot.
For all its qualities, Yoostar 2 never quite breaks out to become a must-have. The range of clips on the disc is commendable, but it’s so varied that half the disc will likely go unplayed: the same players who want to recreate Norbit are unlikely to appreciate Casablanca, for example. Downloadable content helps, but after shelling out for the disc, many will be disappointed at leaving many of the scenes untouched.
Another hurdle to overcome is the nature of acting itself: we learn songs through singing along repeatedly, but only the most ardent movie-lovers will have seen their favourite films more than a few times, resulting in first performances spent staring at the screen reading lines and waiting for cues. It might be funny to watch afterwards, but it’ll take a few repeat performances to learn the timing and lines, and by that time many casual players will be put off.
While navigating the menus with Kinect is significantly easier than previous Blitz Games Studios title The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout, with chunky menu blocks to scroll through and separate radio buttons to select. It’s a better system that’s less text-heavy than the Blitz fitness game, but it can still be fiddly with such big blocks and such small buttons.
Yoostar 2 gives a spirited but flawed performance: its ingenuity is not to be underestimated, but a mixture of technical limitations and development missteps prevent it from fulfilling its potential.