Ah, the ‘80s… remembered locally for Rogernomics, the Nuclear Free policy and the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, it was a decade of immense change - political, economic and technological. Global events included the fall of the Berlin Wall, the stock market crash of ‘87 and the identification of AIDS. The ‘80s saw the birth of MTV, the space shuttle program and those creepy Cabbage Patch Kids; and the increasing popularity of video arcades, personal computers and the walkman – all set against a dramatic backdrop of pastel and neon fashion blunders, and garnished with outrageous hair.

Musically speaking, the decade encompassed an ever-expanding mix of styles, including new romantic, new wave, thrash and glam metal, synth pop, techno, house, and old school rap. Sony has attempted to capture the sound and spirit of the ‘80s with the fourth title their in their popular home karaoke series, and the first to feature an era-specific tracklist: SingStar '80s.

By now, most folks will be familiar with the SingStar concept: plug in the USB microphones, select one of the single or multi-player options, set the difficulty level, choose a track and start singing. You are given visual assistance in the form of lyrics and pitch/timing indicators. The game measures your pitch, tone and rhythm and at the end of the song you are given a score befitting your talent - or lack thereof. If you’re not in the mood to compete against your mates you can sing freestyle, with no pressure and no scoring.

Single player is fine for a bit of pre-party practise. However, multiplayer is by far and away the game’s strongest selling point. Feature-wise, there’s nothing really new; the rap scoring and medleys from SingStar Pop return for another outing, as do Duet and Pass the Mic from SingStar Party. One rather gimmicky addition is Sing-Song: a Pong clone mini-game – complete with blocky ‘80s-style pixels – that has very little to do with singing. The idea is to use voice modulations to operate your paddle and hit the ball. While this was hilarious for spectators and initially quite popular with our younger play-testers, the novelty quickly wore off.

While we’re on the subject of younger (as in pre-teen) players, our playtesters were only able to recognise two of the thirty tracks. One of these was Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl”, which was covered several years ago by the boy band Westlife; the other was Fairground Attraction’s “Perfect”, currently experiencing a new lease on life as the jingle for a national supermarket chain. While the tracks featuring rap - Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky” and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” - were unfamiliar with the kids, they proved quite popular. Otherwise, the younger set showed little interest in SingStar ‘80s content. This is definitely one for the 30-plus age group.

The SingStar titles are cross-disc compatible; at the carousel (track selection) screen you can swap discs, applying all the benefits of the latest version to tracks from earlier ones. The EyeToy camera can also be used in conjunction with SingStar to take snapshots of high-scoring singers, create psychedelic visual effects or even project your image onto the TV in place of the original video clip.

On the whole there’s a strong and well-varied selection of ‘80s hits to sing, most of which will be familiar to anyone who grew up in the era. However, as was the case with previous SingStar titles, the inclusion of certain tracks was cause for some puzzlement. For example, Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” or “Save a Prayer” are both easier on the ears and vocal chords than “Rio”. Also, the omission of other artists was somewhat disappointing. Queen, Billy Idol, Bon Jovi, Go West, Crowded House, Eurythmics and UB40 are only a few of the big names from the ‘80s music scene not featured on the tracklist. On the positive side, there’s easily enough material for another ‘80s-themed disc… or even two!

The melodies in general are more challenging this time around, with many songs requiring a generous lung capacity and some vocal gymnastics to nail the notes with an acceptable degree of accuracy. This could have been intentional – an effort perhaps to increase the embarrassment factor SingStar is famous for; however, it would’ve held far more long term appeal had it included more easy-to-sing tracks pitched in the mid-range.

If a song is simply out of your vocal range, singing at an octave lower or higher is an acceptable alternative for which you won't be penalised; however, we found many of the songs on SingStar ‘80s to be pitched a little too highly for your average karaoke enthusiast – even for some of the ladies. We’d like to have seen a transposition feature, whereby you could tweak the pitch up or down a tone or two – nothing too drastic, since tampering with a song’s pitch would also alter its tempo and affect the video clip.

While it may not hold as much attraction for the younger demographic as the three previous titles, we can guarantee SingStar ‘80s will be the centre of attention at any 80s-themed party, and should appeal to 30-somethings who can remember when Madonna popularised lace gloves and "Boy Toy" belt buckles, Freddy Krueger made his debut appearance on the big screen, and Ray Ban aviators were, like, totally bitchin’!

Tracklist

Alice Cooper Poison

Belinda Carlisle Heaven Is A Place On Earth

Billy Joel Uptown Girl

Blondie Atomic

Culture Club Karma Chameleon

Dexy’s Midnight Runners Come On Eileen

Dolly Parton Nine To Five

Duran Duran Rio

Erasure A Little Respect

Europe The Final Countdown

Fairground Attraction Perfect

Foreigner I Want To Know What Love I

Frankie Goes To Hollywood The Power Of Love

Kate Bush Running Up That Hill

Katrina And The Waves Walking On Sunshine

Madness Our House

Madonna Material Girl

Marillion Kayleigh

Nena 99 Red Balloon

Run DMC It’s Tricky

Simple Minds Don't You (Forget About Me)

Soft Cell Tainted Love

Starship We Built This City

Survivor Eye Of The Tiger

Tears For Fears Everybody Wants To Rule The World

The Cure Just Like Heaven

The Pretenders Brass In Pocket

Tina Turner Simply The Best

Vanilla Ice Ice Ice Baby

Wham! Wake Me Up Before You Go Go