Review: Singstar Country (PS2)

Singstar Country
Genre: Singing/Rhythm game
Developer: SCEE London
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: 10/28/08


A word, before we begin: as Singstar Country is functionally identical to the billion other Singstar games before it (most notably Singstar Pop Vol. 2), so too will the review be mostly identical. There’s no reason to re-write a review if Sony isn’t interested in renovating the game; as such, new commentary will be italicized, while the core content of the review will remain unchanged. If you’ve read that review already, feel free to skip to the italicized text. Suffice it to say, however, if you own any of the various other Singstar games already, whether or not you feel the need to own Singstar Country will depend exclusively on whether or not you feel the need to spend thirty dollars on more songs; if you do, this is good, but if not, it isn’t.

As noted previously regarding the PS3 version of Singstar, it is a generally fun, enjoyable experience, mostly because of the ability to download new songs and watch/make videos of ridiculous behavior while playing the game. The PS2 games, lacking either of those features, generally get by because of their price point: you can, in most respects, acquire the games, sans microphones, for about thirty dollars, and as each game contains about thirty songs, well, the cost-to-value ratio is generally pretty good. As such, however, rating such a game is somewhat difficult at the best of times, largely because it’s really designed to just be an expansion of the prior titles, and as such, whether or not you’re going to want to buy the game is going to come down to whether or not the track list is worth owning. Singstar Country does present a tracklist that features a bunch of songs you can’t sing anywhere else, so it has that much going for it, and if you’ve never played one of the games before (and don’t own a PS3) it’s not a bad buy at all, but whether or not its worth your thirty dollars will really depend on your personal tastes.

So, as with every other Singstar title ever, there’s no story, so let’s look at the gameplay modes. All of the modes from the various other versions are here, from solo, duet and battle modes for one or two players to “Pass the Mic” play that lets you switch players mid-song for up to eight players to freestyle karaoke play that just lets you sing without having to earn points (or match pitches). As is the standard for the franchise, there’s nothing to unlock, nothing to earn, and nothing to strive to accomplish; you’re given thirty songs to sing across a bunch of different modes, as well as the ability to switch out your disc at any time for another disc from the franchise. The variety in gameplay comes from being able to access any song in any Singstar game you own at any time, which is what makes the experience so fun and adaptable, since you can go from pop tunes to 80’s tunes in a flash. As party games go, it has enough modes and options to be instantly accessible, and offers enough to do to keep it in rotation, though there’s nothing new or exciting here, as there hasn’t been in any of the PS2 releases since the first.

Visually, Singstar Country, as with all games in the series, shows you the music video of the song you’re singing, the words to sing, the pitches to hit, and the odd words of encouragement as you play. As usual, the videos are all top quality, and the interface and menus look good and are easy to navigate. If you, for whatever reason, don’t like the videos, you can always hook up your Eyetoy and watch yourself singing the songs, if, you know, you’re not already embarrassed enough at the idea of your bad singing that you feel the need to be shamed further. As far as the audio goes, again, all of the songs are the master recordings, so they’re pretty much perfect, and the background tunes that pop up while browsing menus are just fine.

So let’s talk tunes.

Now, I am an openly unrepentant Country music fan, largely because I was raised on it, and as such, I dread anything “country” themed, because if there’s anything people who DO NOT listen to country music have proven, it’s that they are VERY BAD at creating country-themed products. Singstar Country is marginally less depressing than I would have initially expected, largely because the game has somehow managed to avoid the soul-sucking entity known as Shania Twain, and it’s all the better for it. In fact, a good portion of the soundtrack is flat-out awesome; between Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee”, Brooks and Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”, TWO Johnny Cash songs, and some Willie Nelson and Martina McBride, there’s a ton of good stuff on the disc to sing along to, making this a better effort than, say, Karaoke Revolution Country.

That said, the soundtrack contents are objectionable for three reasons. First… okay, I understand that Jessica Simpson has decided she’s a country musician now, and hey, more power to her, but… look, alright, we can understand and accept that she has to take up space in a pop compilation somewhere, but you could have, I don’t know, taped up pictures of female artists, thrown a dart, and hit someone more talented, and someone who’s sold more records to boot. Second, this is one of the very few Singstar games to double-up artists (five, specifically: Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, Johnny Cash, Montgomery Gentry, and Trace Adkins), and while I understand the need to scoop up popular acts, there’s no need for this. The third big issue is that there are a fairly large amount of POPULAR (or formerly so) artists who were omitted for… no apparent reason whatsoever. No Garth Brooks? No Dixie Chicks? No Travis Tritt and/or Marty Stuart? No Clint Black? No Toby Keith? No Dwight Yokam? No Kenny Rogers? No Dolly Parton? No George Strait? No George Jones? You couldn’t even stick “Achy Breaky Heart” on there just so we could laugh at it? Really?

The track list isn’t bad, per say, in other words; it’s just… narrow and lazy. The songs are good, but there’s a lot missing and doubled-up that simply didn’t need to be. Though, deep down, I think we were all hoping for some Rodney Carrington and Ray Stevens, so really, we were going to come away disappointed no matter what.

As far as gameplay is concerned, well, time for the copy paste:

“The gameplay in Singstar Country consists almost entirely of singing, which probably isn’t much of a surprise. As in previous Singstar games, the words are displayed at the bottom of the screen, along with a series of bars that appear directly above it, some of which may be glittering. Your objective is to match the pitch of the actual song, so that your vocals trace across the bar, thus earning you points, moreso if you complete the glittering bars. If you’re off-pitch, your vocals will pop up either or above or below the bar you’re aiming for so as to indicate how off you are so that you can adjust, so you can adjust your pitch to try and score regardless. Depending on how you do, you’re given any one of a number of different descriptors like “Hopeful” based on your score. The game judges neither words nor tone, so you need not sound like Gretchen Wilson to sing “Red Neck Woman”, nor do you have to sing the actual lyrics. The downside of this is that you can simply hum and earn points with no penalty, but on the upside, if you’re so inclined, you can feel free to come up with your own words to the songs and sing those instead. The game seems to respond well to your voice, and so long as your microphone works and you can match the pitch of the song, you should have no issues to speak of with the gameplay.”

Further, “If you know how a song goes, you’ll obviously be better off than if you don’t, but you can learn the song well enough with a little time, assuming you want to, and if you can match the pitch, you’re golden either way. Singstar Country also offers up “Freestyle” sections where you can pretty much do whatever you want (the game doesn’t score freestyle), so if you want to make an ass of yourself or whatever by making up your own little freestyle rap or song, by all means, knock yourself out, though if you don’t, you’re not obligated to do so either.”

Now, as this is a PS2 game, and is as such part of the PS2 series of Singstar games, all of the neat stuff the PS3 game featured, IE the ability to see people’s weird videos, the ability to download songs, and so on, are not in this version; as such, for the reduced price, you’re essentially getting a frontend with some songs stuffed into it. And again, that isn’t a bad thing; for thirty bucks, you’re getting a good, solid party product, and if you happen to own other games in the series, this is another disc you can swap in or out to keep things going, offering up more variety for gatherings and whatnot. Singstar Legends generally plays about as well as its predecessors, meaning that if you liked any of the other games, you’ll like this one too, so long as you like the tracklist.

However, as has been noted previously, “the biggest problem, of course, is that this is just another karaoke game, for better or worse. If you like Singstar as a brand, this is exactly like all the others; if you don’t, well, this is exactly like all the others.” Now, Singstar Country is basically a pick up and play game, as everything is open and ready to use from the get-go, which means you can simply play it and enjoy it, but that ALSO means there’s no reason to play it outside of a social setting; without the ability to download tracks or watch videos that the PS3 version has, or the unlockables and character editing of a Karaoke Revolution, it’s basically really only going to get any use as a social game. That’s not a bad thing, by any means, but if the track list isn’t to your group’s liking, it might be difficult to justify picking up this iteration of the game.

The biggest problem with Singstar Country, all that aside, is that it’s a game focused on a genre that isn’t entirely universally appealing (which is fairly easy to notice, since there’s not a UK version of the game in any form or fashion), meaning that if you’re not a huge fan of country music, well, you’re not going to have any interest in this. Now, as noted above, the fact that there are five doubled-up acts actually hurts the product in a noticeable way; while a few of the acts in the game are “mainstream” and could potentially attract non-country fans, the majority of the songs are pure country music, which may or may not put off those who aren’t interested. Including artists who have at least SOME mainstream appeal would have been helpful, such as the Dixie Chicks, Garth Brooks, Toby Keith, and yes, even Shania Twain; as it is, a lot of the tracks here are going to appeal to FANS and that’s it. Now, this too wouldn’t be a bad thing, as there are certainly enough country fans to make a game of this sort and make bucks off of it, but we once again come to the fact that there’s a lack of real variety to the songs; again, the five spaces that are occupied by duplicates could have been occupied by other popular acts of some sort or another. Just because the song selection is more reasonable and more varied than that of Karaoke Revolution Country doesn’t make it instantly great, and while it’s certainly not bad, it COULD HAVE BEEN better.

The bottom line is, if you’re a karaoke game fan, or you love the tracklist, or you love social video games, Singstar Country is probably worth your cash, as it’s a fun, easy to play karaoke game, just all of the other games in the series. It’s simple to play, good fun at parties, is completely compatible with the other discs in the series, and features a tracklist that definitely will have something on it your country-loving fans will want to sing, though it won’t see as much play as your other games unless you’re all big country fans. Singstar Country can’t touch the PS3 version, of course, as it lacks the downloadable content and the online video watching, but if all you have is the PS2, it’s a fine choice, so long as you don’t expect anything new and different. Singstar Country is still the same game as the franchise has always provided, for better or worse, and if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll have fun with it. If you’re looking for something else, though, the PS3 version (or a Rock Band/Guitar Hero product) might be more your speed; the PS2 Singstar games are treading close to wearing out their welcome, and while Singstar Country is pretty much the only country-focused compilation of the lot of the games, and there aren’t many country tracks available on the other games or the Singstore, unless you’re a big fan of the genre, you won’t get much play from this. Genre-focused collections are often a good thing, and Singstar Country is a good compilation of country music, but it won’t convince non-fans to pick it up, and it’s too repetitive to be a must-buy for casual country lovers, leaving the game as a must-own for serious fans only.

The Scores:
Game Modes: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: UNPARALLELED
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: GOOD
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: POOR
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS
Final Score: MEDIOCRE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Seventh verse, same as the first, a little bit narrower and a little bit worse. Singstar Country continues the trend of popping thirty tracks onto a disc and letting you play, with no frills or extras to speak of, only this time it focuses on a genre that’s not as broadly appealing as prior efforts, and it shows. The videos still look great, the songs still sound great, the game is still easy to play, and there’s still lots of fun to be had with a group of friends, especially if you have more than one game, since they can be easily swapped from the main menu. It’s still the same game as all of the other PS2 versions with different songs, however, and the song list is basically going to be the selling point for you with this one; if you want to sing some country hits, you’ll be fully satisfied by Singstar Country, but if you’re looking for more mainstream hits or more variety to your tunes, it probably won’t be worth the thirty/fifty dollars (if you get the game only or the game and the mics) to add it to your collection. If you love all karaoke games, Singstar Country will probably be worth the money for you, but if you’re a little more selective, unless you’re a country music fan, you can safely pass this by.

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