If you're holding a preview for a karaoke game, it stands to reason that you might want to hold it somewhere private. Somewhere people like us can embarrass themselves to their heart's content, as they throw back their heads, and sing at the top of their voices, safe in the knowledge that no-one can hear. It looks like they picked the right place for the recent We Sing Encore event, then.
Located off a busy London street, down a populated, but quieter road, beneath a sushi restaurant, lay Lucky Voice - the somewhat fitting karaoke bar chosen as the venue for this event. Greeted at the door, we were led through what seemed like an infinite maze of dark walled corridors to our booth. With no windows to the outside world, and seemingly a fair amount of soundproofing, this underground bunker ended up being our home for the next few hours. And not because we couldn't find our way back out again - but because we were having so much fun.
We Sing Encore is the sequel to last year's best selling Wii karaoke game, We Sing. Still hanging around the charts at the moment, almost nine months later, the first game's success seems to have been limited only by a lack of physical units, as all of our local games emporiums seem to be eternally out of stock.
Picking up the mics, we scrolled through a few of the songs and took in a pretty impressive setlist - from cheesy pop anthems like "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred, to "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, all the way through the modern day hits like Taio Cruz's "Break Your Heart", you'll be hard pushed to find someone who doesn't know a song on here - and the full We Sing Encore setlist certainly does its best to tease people off the sofa, with some immensely fun sing-along songs.
Accompanying me, a karaoke game virgin to the event, was Sarah, who was, shall we say, a lot more experienced than I was. A war-torn veteran of Lips, Rock Band, and conqueror of Run to the Hills on Expert, Sarah was as experienced with karaoke games as England's football team are at losing to the Germans, whereas I had only ever had a microphone near my mouth once, when I leant my own unique vocal stylings to Paramore's "Crushcrushcrush".
Taking my relative inexperience into account, we decided to start with something simple - Sweet Home Alabama. And although this was one of the two or so songs on the game that doesn't feature a music video, it didn't really do anything to hamper the experience, as we proceeded to butcher the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic.
Speaking from experience, We Sing is incredibly easy for a novice to pick up and get into. Presenting you with a number of lines on screen that are meant to equate to the pitch you've got to sing, when you hit the right note, the bar will fill up in gold - mess it up, and you'll have a coloured smear either above or below the bar, showing you whether you're singing too high, or too low. From there, you simply let your instinct carry you, as you quickly start to lose all your inhibitions, and just, well, have fun.
The standard We Sing multiplayer mode's been designed to encourage people to just pick up a mic, and start playing without fear of embarassment - there's nothing telling you who's failing, or who's missing the notes - instead, so long as one of your group's singing vaguely in tune, the bars will keep filling up, and you'll keep scoring points. To help keep things interesting, they've even added new Star Notes, which basically work as multipliers, and are typically found on long, held notes. Stay at the right pitch for the duration of the held note, and you'll earn yourself a nice points bonus. Beyonce and Leona Lewis would probably walk away with nothing.
That said, it would be nice if the game at least gave you the option of seeing how well you've done at the end of the song. We understand why people may be embarrassed at only hitting 3% of the notes, or something, but at the same time, it would be nice to at least have the option.
Of course, there's a wide variety of other modes to push your vocal chords to the limits too - from the standard versus mode, which has you competiting for points, through to blind mode, which removes the lyrics, and the every-bit-as-evil-as-it-sounds Expert mode.
It was on this that we (foolishly, in hindsight) decided to attempt Westlife's "Flying Without Wings". Knowing that Sarah used to really like Westlife (I'm only half joking - sorry Sarah), I actually fancied our chances here. And so the video started playing... but with only an instrumental backing track for accompaniment. There were no lyrics on screen, no bars showing you where you have to sing, and no vocals to try and sing along to. When it said Expert mode, it wasn't joking - and to bring us crashing back down to Earth after our earlier successes, I think we managed to hit somewhere in the low teens, percentage wise on that one.
That said, our strategy of just repeatedly singing every note in the octave in a blind attempt to at least hit some of the notes, and work out what we were meant to be singing did work fairly well in places. Maybe Beyonce and Leona had the right idea after all...
Every song in We Sing Encore can be customised in a similar way to Expert mode. If you want to sing a short version, because you hate the long intros, you can - if you want to sing without lyrics, you can, and if you want to turn the vocal part off, and really show off, you can even do that, too. As the game's producer told us, this was quite a rigorous process, as backing tracks aren't all that easy to get from record companies - and with 40 songs in the game, you can imagine what an arduous task that would be.
So, that's the multiplayer side nicely wrapped up, but what about the single player? The first We Sing was criticised for not featuring much in the way of a proper single player mode, so you shouldn't be surprised to hear that the single player's been beefed up here. Now, with the addition of in-game achievements, every time you play a song in single player, you'll be being challenged - whether it's earning a certain number of points, or hitting a certain percentage of the notes, or even just putting together a playlist, there's now finally a reason to keep playing on your own.
And even if you don't think you're that good at singing (and that probably accounts for a fair few of us), We Sing Encore does its best to both help you get better, and boost your confidence, by coming with a fully featured tutorial mode. Starting off by being pretty lenient, before gradually getting more difficult, the tutorial mode eases you into the basics of singing like a songbird, taking you by the hand before it slowly starts its march towards requiring pitch perfect tonality.
That said, despite how much fun We Sing Encore is, there were still a few slight frustrations with the version we played. On songs like Mambo No. 5, for example, it does seem a bit silly that Lou Bega's pretty much rapping in places, yet you're meant to somehow sing his rapping (not an easy task) - a problem which seems even dafter, when you consider We Sing Encore even has a brand new rapping mode. And, it does seem like a bit of an oversight to have not included a scrolling lyrics mode - as it stands, just the one line's worth of "notes" and lyrics is displayed on screen, which means you're sometimes caught completely unaware as the next line suddenly pops-up on screen, and then disappears before you can so much as utter a "la".
Ultimately though, everything We Sing Encore sets out to do, it does incredibly well. Once the microphone's in your hand, and the song starts playing, you'll quickly forget what a berk you may look or sound like, and lose yourself in the flow of the music. Desperately trying to be as pitch perfect as possible to maximise your score (especially on the later difficulties) adds a fair amount of replay value to the songs, while the multiplayer modes, and song choices ensure everyone, young or old, experienced or novice, talented or, well, like us, will find something that want to sing.
Nearly four hours later, and we were still there - throats starting to ache, windows showing signs of fracture, and the microphones begging for a rest. They say time flies when you're having fun, and We Sing Encore is about as fun as a karaoke game gets.