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Lips

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Like it or not, the Wii has been a phenomenal success, and both Microsoft and Sony have realised that broadening your user base is a crucial part of gaining market share in this console generation. Sony, with SingStar, EyeToy and the PlayStation brand has always had a foothold with casual gamers, but for Microsoft this has been an uphill struggle.

While price cuts have made the Xbox 360 an appealing buy for cash-strapped families this Christmas, it's still widely regarded as the hardcore gamer's choice; the one you buy to play Gears of War 2, not the one you buy when you have the family round on boxing day.

This year Microsoft has made a decisive effort to reverse this, both with the more friendly NXE interface and with big, party-hearty games promoted directly to the casual audience on TV. Are these games that you'll want to play this holiday, or are these efforts likely to leave you wishing for a Wii. Roping in what friends and family members I could find, I set out to find out.

Let's not beat around the bush; this is Microsoft's take on SingStar, but with a few changes and improvements that show that someone on the development team has been paying close attention to what people don't like about Sony's product. The two bundled microphones are actually the most innovative thing about it. They're not only wireless, they also glow and pulsate gently in the dark, and are motion sensitive - a fact the game makes use of with bonus points meted out for hand-clapping, maracas shaking and tambourine waggling during intros, outros and instrumental sections.

Fundamentally, though, this is a pretty straight clone of Singstar. Lyrics scroll or are illuminated in sequence in time with the song, while a pitch bar gives you an idea of what notes to sing and when to sing them. You can sing over the original videos or use specially created, animated efforts, and the visual style is actually quite appealing. In fact, at first, it looks like Lips is going to actually improve on SingStar.

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