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E3 2009: Def Jam Rapstar Hands on

Posted by: Chuck at 6/2/2009 11:00 PM
While John was suffering through another mediocre Nintendo press conference this morning I was shuttled offsite to catch a demo of 4MM's first game Def Jam Rapstar.  With the rise in music games over the last three years there's yet to be a decent game for the hip-hop community.  Sure we've had rap songs in Singstar and in other games but there hasn't been a game that's specifically targeted the rap and hip hop market.  This is where 4MM is looking to make their coin with their first game and it doesn't help that they the label that helped define the rap genre on board.

It's important to note that Def Jam Rapstar isn't just an all rap version of Singstar.  There's a semi-similar interface but where Singstar (and other karaoke games) are focused on melody , Rapstar is built around the rhyming.and timing of the lyrics. It's a subtle but crucial nuance as you can't get away with humming the melody in line with the words but rather have to hit the words on specific beats as they cross the screen.  It helps that rhyming is a bit easier than singing and 4MM is counting on this to make the game a bit more acceptable  to those souls who haven't been blessed with golden vocal cords.

The game is built on Terminal Reality's Infernal engine and sports a nice 3D interface.  The game isn't just about singing by yourself and has a couple of cool modes where you can battle and sing with your friends.  One really interesting feature is that you can record short music videos of you (and others) playing the game and then upload them to the web.  You're limited to just a 30 second performance but the game features a green screen feature that will allow you to place yourself in a wide variety of pre-packaged rap setups (like a boat).  It's a slick feature as videos upload to the web in less than five minutes after you finish your performance. 

The game will also have the social features that are becoming the norm as you can check out videos from other MC's around the world, comment on them, and rank them.  You can also hook up with friends online and see how your scores on songs compare to those and get notifications of when your friends are playing and if they've beaten your score or not (yeah, there's an iPhone app for that).  Players will also be able to create their own songs using a set of pre-built in scratches on the disc.

The game is going to ship with a huge selection of songs from the Def Jam library and you'll have everything from Kanye to the notorious B.I.G.  According to Devin from 4MM they are looking for songs that true hip hop fans will like so no "Prom Rap" like Vanilla Ice or The Digital Underground.  They are still finalizing the set list but I would expect that there's something for everyone on the list.

I did get to play the game with Devin and while I'm not exactly the biggest rap fan in the world (I'm listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeah's as I write this) I did start to get the feel of the game.  As you play the game you stop trying to sing the songs but try to match the words to the beat of the song.  It's not something that came naturally at first but after going through two songs I started to get the feel for it.  I'm thinking 4MM has a hit here if they can hit on everything they showed today as the hip-hop market is aching for a game like this.  We'll see when Def Jam Rapstar ships later this winter.