SingStar is easily the worst game I ever played on the PS2. Yes, worse than Paparazzi. The whole SingStar franchise is a shameless attempt by Sony to bilk non-gamers out of their money based on the assumption that the average Sue won't realise they're paying full price for $20 worth of development. There's no game elements, there's very little coding, and it's hard to tell the difference between "playing" and watching a non-interactive karaoke DVD.
So I got to spend some time with Lips last night.
Lips is SingStar, as done by Microsoft. It's basically a glorified karaoke box, where songs play and lyrics appear on screen, and players sing along into a microphone.
The short version is that Lips is 100% better than SingStar, but still only 75% as good as the vocalist portions of Rock Band.
There are a lot of pluses. The included track list is a bit on the short side, but has zero filler - every song is a bona fide karaoke hit. The Australian version features honest-to-god Australian content, including classics like "Khe Sahn" and John Farnham's "The Voice". I find it very hard to say bad things about a game that includes "Walk Like An Egyptian" and "Bust A Move".
The microphones are also pretty sweet. They're wireless, you turn them on just by shaking them, they have some sort of motion detector inside, and they light up in unique colours to identify which player they're bound to. Once Rock Band patches to support these things they are going to be the vocalist peripheral of choice among gamers I know.
Unlike SingStar, Lips is an actual game. You earn points for your performance, and rank up over time. You earn medals for such things as perfect pitch and steady singing, and of course being on the 360 there are achievements to be had. There's not a lot of structure to the experience though, and you can't set or change the difficulty, so your tenth hour of play is going to be more or less the same as the nine that came before it. There's no unlockables, bonus content, or customisable avatars either. I didn't get the chance to see whether there were online leaderboards but the scoring system seemed fairly loose so I don't know whether global competition would be worthwhile anyway.
Probably the strongest feature is the multiplayer. Any song can be sung two-player, and you can start a song single-player and have a second player tag in halfway through just by shaking a microphone. There's not a lot in the way of duets present (in fact there may be none, I didn't immediately see any) but you can still belt out something like "Call Me" or "Stand By Me" as a duo. In addition, there are a bunch of competitive modes, such as one where you attempt to push the other player off a virtual stage by virtue of your superior performance.
Lips' last feature is more of an afterthought. You can theoretically import any MP3 from your music collection into the game, which sounds awesome, but of course they're not pitch-mapped and the game doesn't display any lyrics, so it's really no different to just playing one of these songs on your sound system and singing along. The game doesn't even download album art or anything so you're not likely to have a lot of fun with this option.
All in all, it seems that Lips is a karaoke game that doesn't insult its target market. There's a lot of room for improvement, but if you're the sort of person inclined to drop money for this sort of product, Lips is one of the best options currently available.