Pop Star Academy
Let’s say you’ve just won Idol 2004 (the horror) and because of this you get tons of media attention. You get recognised in the streets, the other sexe can’t help but whistle at you and – what’s nicer – you get the chance to get to know everything that’s popular, like all the supermodels our country has. Of course you don’t want to loose that last part and you’ll do everything in your power to keep this popularity you’ve just gotten.
Because this isn’t something most of us recognise because lack of singing talent, including me, Monte Cristo now has released a game where you can experience it all youself, but without the dangers of glass from breaking mirrors flying around.
The idea is actually very simple. You have to make yourself a way through the missions the record company gives you to grow to a real Britney or Robbie Williams. Everything starts with the creation of your character after which you get to see the announcement of Idol number so many. Believe it or not but Joe Schmuch (my home-made character) has won ! Personally I would have loved to see the other finalist, a busty brunette, win but hey, we’re drifting away.
After a short cutcsene you’re dropped on a piece of land where you can put a villa with the money you’ve got. A clear Sims-influence, something I’ll go back to a couple more times. You create a room, put some necessary stuff in it like a chair and a computer (you’re a freak or you aren’t), and you add a writing desk to keep in contact with your fans. A refrigurator and a bed you would think ? Guess not, our just launched superstar-to-be can do without these things…
The only three parameters you need to take into account are the Health, Fun and Popularity bars. The health bar goes down whenever you do anything active, going from walking around in your house to doing some yoga. First minor downpoint: Joe Schmuck is so weak that he can only last for one minute doing yoga after which he needs 2 minutes of complete reast. This “reast” comes in the form of sitting in your sofa.
The funbar drops down whenever you do something boring like writing letters to practicing your legsplit. The popularity meter measures –as you could have guessed- the popularity of Joe Schmuck and it goes down out of itself slowly but steadily and with it your amount of money will diminish aswell. You get paid regarding your popularity. Writing letters to your fans, calling them or organising a photo shoot will bring this bar up a bit again.
Second downpoint: not once I was in trouble concerning my money flow, not even in the beginning of my career ! This is because you don’t have to go to work like in The Sims but just by having a picture taken once in a while you’ll earn enough money to keep going. A struggle to stay alive isn’t present which is sad as it would be nice to know how Joe Schmuck would look with a little less fat on his body!
As I said, the idea of this game is to become a pop star. Thé way to do this is by giving concerts and preferably as many as possible and with enough variation to convince those last critics that you are thé revelation of the moment. The goal of the missions is therefore to bring a successful concert.
In the beginning you’ll need to learn a song which you can do by calling a songwriter to help you practice after which you can start preparing for the concert. The success of your performance is shown by a bar on the bottom of the screen and it needs to raise above the minimum success level because otherwise you won’t get permission from your record company boss to start the show. To get the highest possible success score you best use your latest number, different dance steps and matching light effects which show your fans all the colors of the rainbow.
You don’t only have to discover and learn all your dance steps (which is normal) but also all the lighting effects (fire that PA). This you do by inviting specialists in your house to fullfil their jobs which go from practicing tapdance, being telepatically connected with the specialist to drinking beer until the complete DVD collection of some Chinese dude (nothing against the Chinese, all nice people) has been watched. Of course you’ll need to have the necessary furniture for this (tapdance rug, dvd player, 50 liter barrel of beer, …) or a very good connection with your songwriter or roommates.
Roommates you think ? What roommates ? Well, in later missions some dancers come live with you and you’ll also have to make up a concert scheme for them. This way you can start jumping around like an insane madman with a laser pointed at you while your dancers can quietly do the macarena and get respiration problems because of the smoke machine.
There’s also different styles of target audience going from little nitwits to rocking grannies that are long overdue on their lifespan.
Depending on the chosen concert you’ll have to adapt and change your schedule aswell as your look to the target audience. Singing a children’s song in an abandoned warehouse filled with a bunch of bikers isn’t such a good idea, especially not if you’re meanwhile waving your arms like an idiot while your background dancers are doing the birddance and all the time some “happy” multicolor light are shining on you.
All of this just begs for a decent graphical engine, just because it isn’t reall interesting to send a red square to a green triangle to learn some dance. Luckily, the 3D graphics are the best thing of the game although this can’t really be called a good point. They’re a bit better than those of The Sims, but at no time make your mouth fall open although the concerts can be somewhat amusing to watch due to the nice light show and the animations are really good. Joe Schmuck moves his hips like no other and the front of my background dancers hups around as never before.
The sound is a bit less, it’s present but never quite succeeds to be noticed. When Joe Schmuck plays the piano, the sound sometimes just disappears to come back out of nowhere.
The controls are as simple as can be (point & click) and still Monte Cristo managed to make it o so irritating to move through your house. When your mouse is at the edge of your screen, the game passes by like a comic book (picture by picture) meaning that you’ll have to be very lucky to click on something, luckily you still have the good old arrow keys on your keyboard.
Also your roommates tend to sometimes just stand somewhere, blocking everything that comes after them, instead of just going to the place where they need to be. Pretty annoying.
There is way too little variation in the gameplay and this makes the game extremely fast dull. There are no plot twists due to the lack of story, a somewhat melodramatic storyline to keep it a bit interesting would not have hurt the game. Little children may like this, but even that I doubt.
A combination of badly worked out gameplay and missions that get bored pretty fast is all we can say of this game. There aren’t a lot of games that dare to compete with The Sims. Pop Star Academy came, saw and died an inglorious death. And if you’ll excuse me now, I’ll go play something decent…