Cowboy Up

We just can't quit this countrified Karaoke

With scrappy warblers like Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington trying to out-twang each other on American Idol, country music is hotter than a corn dog at a county fair.

One reason is that almost anybody can sing it. Even mopes who argue that NASCAR isn't a real sport have been known to fall back on "The Gambler" when their friends drag them out for karaoke night. And the ladyfolk love the Dixie Chicks.

Which is why CMT Presents: Karaoke Revolution Country -- the fifth title in the hit sing-along-party series -- is the best edition yet, even if you don't have the stars and bars pinned up in your mom's basement.

As with previous editions, the game play is as easy as losing fingers in farm machinery. While singing into the microphone (included with the game), you're judged on how well you match the pitch. You can go up or down an octave, depending on your range, and an on-screen arrow will help those with tin ears. Hit all the right notes and you'll earn "Platinum Record" status; sing off-key and you'll be booed offstage faster than Billy Ray Cyrus at a bar mitzvah.

The selection of 35 songs calls for a yee-haw whether you're into classic country ("Stand by Your Man," "I Walk the Line," "All My Ex's Live in Texas") or the pop-Nashville, city-slicker stuff ("Independence Day," "It's Your Love," "Wide Open Spaces"). While "Anything but country" is a popular answer to "What kind of music do you like?", you may be surprised by how many of these songs you already know, such as "Good Ol' Boys" (the theme from Dukes of Hazzard). If none of that wins you over, just pick up a case of Schlitz and unlock the secret track: Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places." Who's up for a road trip to Dollywood?

Tons of games let you customize a generic stable of characters, and Countryis no exception -- you even get your choice of mullets! But using the EyeToy camera (sold separately) to graft your face into the game adds an extra level of realism to your Nashville Star fantasies. There's nothing quite like seeing yourself in a 10-gallon hat and tight Levi's, doing the boot-scootin' boogie for a bunch of slack-jawed yokels.

Duets are the cornerstone of country, and if Ma and Pa buy you a second microphone, you can engage friends in rhinestone-studded sing-offs and the head-to-head "Knockout" mode, where you sling notes like mud at a tractor pull. Countryrounds out the southern goodness with several singing-based mini-games like "Yo! Dude! Rock!" (a voice-activated whack-a-mole of sorts). These extras are gimmicky, but addictive -- though it would've been nice if they'd hewed a bit more closely to the spurs-and-chaps theme.

The extra hardware that music games require can make them prohibitively expensive for trailer trash like us, but at 40 bucks, Country is a better investment than the singing fish over your dinner table. And you'll get more mileage out of it than you do that busted-up Ford you've got up on blocks in your front yard.

The wise owner of a fried-chicken chain once said that you've gotta know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em. Karaoke Country definitely belongs in the hold 'em category.

 
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