Def Jam Rapstar is what you would call a game that has been a long time in the waiting. Much like what DJ Hero did to fill the hip-hop void left by the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises, Def Jam Rapstar provides a karaoke gaming experience that will delight everyone’s inner lyricist. The track list is nothing short of epic and historic, featuring music dating from the 1980s to the present. Party mode brings to life the spirit of the emcee battle, while Freestyle mode offers aspiring lyricists the chance to rhyme over original tracks created by some of the leading beat producers in the business. However, what really makes this game ‘off the chain,’ is an online community where gamers can wage social rhyme battles on the web. Although there are a few kinks around an unpredictable bouncing ball as well as some minor areas that can be improved, Def Jam Rapstar is officially that ‘new-new hotness.’
Typically, when you power on most games, a Career or Campaign mode sits at the top of the menu. Def Jam Rapstar makes no overzealous claim as to what it is – a Party game. The game has three modes: Party, Career and Freestyle Mode. Party mode sits at the top of the list and will be the mode where most gamers will spend their time. Gamers will have immediate access to forty songs and be teased by five additional tracks, which can be unlocked in Career mode.
If you’re a hip-hop fan, the track list is simply amazing. Rapstar may boast the name Def Jam, but the game touches on every label, region and historical moment of hip-hop’s history. It’s almost a time capsule for hip-hop. From the 80s, you’ve got The Ruler, Slick Rick, blasting “Children’s Story.” Home emcees also have access to classics like Run DMC’s “Run’s House,” Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It,” Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” and “Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” The 90s is where this title really shines. There’s a spectrum of music ranging from hard core rap titles like “Juicy” by the Notorious B.I.G., “C.R.E.A.M” by Wu Tang Clan and “Ruff Ryder’s Anthym” to smooth flow titles like “I Get Around” by 2 Pac and “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” by Pete Rock & CL Smooth. There’s also more contemporary songs: “Best I Ever Had” by Drake, “A Milli” by Lil Jon and We Fly High by Jim Jones.
In Party mode you can play songs solo, as a duet or as a battle. Most gamers will probably skip the duet mode. This is rap game after all, which is all about the emcee battle. In versus mode, two players will rhyme head-to-head as the song’s music video plays. Before each song, you can enter a practice mode, which allows you to go over the entire music video or just the parts you’re unfamiliar with. This is a nice touch when practicing on your own. You can also read over the lyrics before a song and see historical facts about the song or artist. A blue and orange meter on the right side of the screen will measure who’s winning the battle as points are tallied. Just like in Rock Band or Guitar Hero gamers can earn added multipliers. The more successful lines you chain together, the more points you will earn. The game displays the current line being rapped as well as the next line coming up. You can skip over long non-vocal sequences in a video by pressing the Right-bumper.
Instead of monitoring your pitch, the game is tailored to pay attention to the actual lyrics. A yellow circle represents each word that appears, while a ball bounces on top of each word to help guide your rhyme flow. The ball bouncing can be unpredictable at times and doesn’t do much to help you out through the song, unless you already know the song. If you don’t know the song, it’s actually more of a distraction. Sometimes, the ball will hang in the air when the artist is holding a word, but there’s no way to adequately predict this. In this case, it would be better if the game gave you the option to hear the entire song once through before playing. While the menu selection preview offers a small loop from the track, it doesn’t help much with multiple lyricists on one song each with their own unique flow. If you’ve ever heard Twista “spit” a hundred rhymes a second, you’ll get the point. The Practice mode will help you on your own, but most gamers will gloss over this mode during a Party. For songs where singing is involved, gamers will see the familiar pitch meter from Rock Band.
At the end of every song, gamers will see Lyrics, Timing and Pitch stats – the latter is only reserved for songs with singing. Gamers are also given a ranking based on performance. Bomb a song and the game will call you “Garbage.” Kill it and you will be deemed “Off the Chain.” In career mode, gamers are also awarded up to five mics. These are added up to proceed through five levels of songs and to unlock special challenges and one of the five locked songs: “Big Poppa,” “Fight the Power,” “It Takes Two,” “Lean Back” and “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See.” Once you unlock the ability to play the song, you’ll actually have to complete a point challenge on the song so that you can access it in Party mode. These challenges are extremely tough and will require a lot of practice to earn maximum points.
If you’ve got a console camera, Def Jam Rapstar takes the rhyme competition to the next level. You can record yourself while you rhyme to upload to the community site. There, gamers can have friends vote to see whose video is the best. In Freestyle mode, you can also use Rapstar exclusive instrumentals from industry veterans Just Blaze, Premiere and DJ Khalil. If you want to make fancy music videos, Rapstar also offers a unique video-editing tool. Gamers can outfit their videos with chains, hair picks and various items for added glitz. The items are a little cartoony, but it’s all in good fun. Additional items are unlocked through career mode.
Rapstar drums up old memories of Video Music Box and Yo MTV Raps, but where are Crazy Sam and Fab 5 Freddy? Career mode could benefit from the added boost of a host, giving an intelligent play-by-play filled with trash talking or accolades. This would also benefit head-to-head battles.
Def Jam Rapstar is a definite boon to the music gaming. The set list is unmatched, with barely a “duck” in sight. With a few tweaks to the bouncing ball interface, newcomers to hip hop won’t be left befuddled and frustrated. The game can be purchased both with and without a mic. So if you’ve already got a USB mic, you’re set to go for single player. Rapstar is the karaoke game closet rappers have been dying for. The game is innovative in an industry that has left hip-hop out in the cold. So, check the mic and let’s get it on.
Def Jam Rapstar
Platform: Xbox 360 (Also available on PS3)
Developer: 4mm Games , Terminal Reality
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2010
Rating: 8.2 / 10