Reviewed: April 27, 2006
Released: March 21, 2006
For better or worse, the past twenty-five years has brought about a number of dramatic changes in the music industry; by breaking down walls and blurring the lines between the popular musical genres, the music industry has literally turned itself inside out.
Where we once had definitive lines segregating mainstream pop, heavy metal, alternative rock, punk and new wave, and country and western – we now have a musical melting pot where old school punk rockers are wearing cowboy hats and embroidered shirts and stand-up basses to cover their favorite Johnny Cash songs, while country musicians sport shaggy mop-tops, eyeliner and earrings to cover outdated R&B tunes.
In fact, as a whole, the Country and Western of yesteryear is looking a lot less country, and a lot less western, than it ever did – and this new country has become an integral part of mainstream music. It’s no surprise then that the folks at Konami would team up with the folks at Country Music Television (CMT) to bring you a country-flavored twist on their popular Karaoke Revolution franchise - CMT Presents: Karaoke Revolution Country.
I am not sure how it happened, but over the course of the past three years I have become a sort of resident Karaoke Revolution reviewer here at GCM – and with each new release, the job of reviewing Konami’s ultra-popular series of bemani series gets more and more difficult. Not because the games are not good – in fact, they are quite impressive on most accounts.
The real problem is that Konami is so darn prolific in pumping out these fad franchise games, that trying to summarize a game that happens to be virtually identical to its four or five prior versions – without plagiarizing myself in the process – becomes quite difficult.
For those familiar with the series, this review can be quite short; CMT Presents Karaoke Revolution Country is a complete carbon copy of last year’s Karaoke Revolution Party except that it features an all-country music soundtrack, period. All of KRP’s additions – including Eye Toy support – are present and accounted for in Karaoke Revolution Country. Of course, prerequisite affinity for country music is required, as rockers and soulful crooners will find no love here. But, fans of the Karaoke Revolution gameplay will find it hard not to like Karaoke Revolution Country.
Now, for those five gamers out there who happen to not be familiar with the Karaoke Revolution franchise, let me give you a little background on the gameplay:
The crux of the of any Karaoke Revolution game revolves around you singing into a microphone (or headset) to a laundry list of popular tunes. All the while, the game uses a unique ranking engine to grade your performances based on pitch, tone and duration – and how well the three match the original versions of the song.
Gamers can pick any one of the dozen or so kooky-cool avatars to represent them on the virtual stages within a number of interesting venues ranging from old backwoods barns to arena-sized stadiums.
Points are awarded or subtracted for performance, and as you do better or worse, the animated crowd will react accordingly by cheering, jeering, booing, even laughing. In turn, the animated band will react to the crowd’s reception – kicking out the jams for a cheering crowd, or losing time and missing tempos for an angry one.
First timers will be blown you away how well Konami has tuned in the pitch-based input, and how well they have incorporated the singer-to-crowd-to-band interaction into the gameplay – but lon-time fans might not be so impressed, given that Konami’s been doing this very same thing for three or four years now. And while country music (at least the “new” country-pop) really is not my bag, I cannot knock a good concept, and Konami’s got a very solid game here.
Graphics have never been the strong point with the Karaoke Revolution games, but they have always sufficed for the intent.
The whole menagerie of cute and wacky (sometimes disturbing) bobble-headed characters return for another round, although their wardrobe is unsurprisingly a bit more country this time around. And while their canned animations and corny gesticulations might be a bit, er…odd…they do seem to reflect the tide of the music quite well – with characters showing honest-to-goodness emotions like excitement, pride and embarrassment.
As always, there is a fairly long list of venues to play at – with a few surprised thrown in for good measure. These barns, arenas, and auditoriums do a great job expressing the size and scale of the crowd and making the gamer feel a part of the action, as his character progress from the small town to the big stage.
The EyeToy makes yet another appearance Karaoke Revolution Country, allowing the user to project themselves on the big screen behind the crooner or to map their faces in for interesting “cameo” skins for build-your-own avatars. Always the problem with the EyeToy, having enough light to get a clear photo, but not so much that it makes you look strange, is a big factor.
As opposed to rock music – in which the songs tend to be written by the same group of people who will eventually play the songs on stage together – country music tends to be written by third party songwriters, who in turn sell the song to a charismatic front man (or woman) to sing while backed up by paid studio musicians. Because of this, the musical structure of country music tends to be very traditional and easy for any studio musician to pick up immediately.
Since Karaoke Revolution uses studio musicians to reproduce songs (as opposed to using the originals), country music works out pretty well for the franchise. In fact, in most cases I found it quite difficult to distinguish between the original recordings and the Karaoke Revolution Country versions. This isn’t the case with the prior Karaoke Revolution titles, where unique-sounding songs and singers are not recreated as well as they could be (i.e. Love Shack).
Karaoke Revolution Country features thirty-five songs, ranging from Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” and Waylon Jennings’ “Good Ole Boys” all the way through to recent hits like Big & Rich’s “Save a Horse (Ride A Cowboy)” and Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman”.
Trying to place value on a Karaoke game is difficult, because the gamer’s enjoyment is entirely dependent on the gamer’s own self confidence and inhibitions – simply meaning that if the gamer is too scared or embarrassed to sing aloud, he probably is not going to enjoy anything about Karaoke Revolution.
For instance; a few years back, I was writing for a different online magazine when Microsoft released their Xbox Music Mixer kit – one of the main features being a microphone and Karaoke voice-stripping technology (don’t get too excited – it didn’t work all that well). On the release day, one of my high school interns came into the office with the $50 kit, plugged it all up, and proceeded to stare at the screen. I asked him when he was going to sing, and he said “uh, I dunno…”.
When all was said and done, my intern really didn’t like the Music Mixer – he spent $50 and wasn’t going to sing. Probably the only saving grace was that the disc allowed for the transfer of mp3’s from a PC to the Xbox. So value is in the eye of the beholder, and only those who are willing to partake in Karaoke need apply.
It is no secret that Karaoke Revolution Country is geared towards a specific audience, and only country music fans will really appreciate the work that has gone into the game. Non-country fans will probably want to steer clear, but cowpoke gamers couldn’t find greener pastures than in Karaoke Revolution Country.
Overall, the title is every bit as impressive as the previous Karaoke Revolution titles. And although I would generally knock a series that has resorted to pricey, twice-yearly updates, these releases do serve a genuine purpose to prolong a solid gameplay experience.
I would also like to mention that for the $40 selling point, the game comes packaged with a Konami branded Logitech USB microphone. I was quite impressed with the overall material quality and feel of the microphone, which features a very sturdy body, natural curves, and a metallic mesh head.
Until Karaoke Revolution Country, I had played all of my review titles using a Logitech headset. The microphone is much more user friendly and natural to pass around the room, and the sturdy design is an added level of protection against butterfingers-prone pals.
I really cannot fault Konami for milking their two successful “Revolution” bemani franchises for all they are worth; both the Dance Dance Revolution and Karaoke Revolution are very solid franchises, and it seems that people just cannot spend enough cash on them.
Country music might not float my boat, but I have to imagine that most country fans will really enjoy Karaoke Revolution Country.