Starting with Rock Band last year, the blatant misuse of microphones in gaming has crossed over into console territory. This is a new development sin, though. Popular music games with karaoke-like gameplay are now asking players to scream into the microphone in order to activate "star power" or some equivalent. Don't get me wrong, screaming is a legitimate element of rock music, but it certainly doesn't belong in every song. Moreover, the mechanic just doesn't work very well. I'm extremely disappointed to hear that this glaring design flaw hasn't been addressed in Rock Band 2, and it seems to have been directly copied for Guitar Hero: World Tour.
When playing Rock Band with friends, I usually spend a lot of time singing; most other people seem to consider it some kind of duty that must be fulfilled until your next turn at the drums. But I like singing, and I'm happy to take care of that role. Sadly, the vocals portion of Rock Band seems to get no love from the developers, either. Putting aside my many qualms with the pitch tracking, it's completely ridiculous that there is no good way to activate star power on the microphone. Screaming sounds terrible in many songs, and sometimes it doesn't even work. Other times, loud noises in the room (a.k.a. the drums) can set off your boost by accident. Hitting the microphone in your hand, as you would for the tambourine beats, doesn't seem to work very well either. Perhaps the most effective way to activate star power is –you guessed it– blowing into the mike. Regardless of your method, it sounds horrible when the game plays the input back over your TV's speakers to everyone else.
If the point of these music games is to make you feel like you're really playing the song, why can't the developers find some way to activate the vocal score boost without totally ruining that immersion? All it would take is one small button on the microphone. These companies are willing to ship $70 guitars and $100 drum sets, but they can't be bothered to include anything other than a cheap, plain $10 USB microphone. Hell, at least give us the option to press a button on the standard game controller! MadCatz makes a premium microphone for Rock Band on Xbox 360, featuring its own D-pad and controller buttons, but these can't be used to activate star power because the game isn't programmed for that functionality.
Am I the only one bothered by the complete disregard for these games' vocal components?
Update: Since I posted this blog entry, some readers have noted in the Talkback thread that Guitar Hero: World Tour does allow you to press a button on the controller. Now we'll see if Harmonix will use the extra three months of development on the Wii version of Rock Band 2 to fix this problem.