Reviewed: February 24, 2004
Released: November 18, 2003
It was inevitable. Reality TV has taken over the networks and now itís invading the video game market. Arguably, American Idol is the least offensive of the latest batch of reality shows clogging the airwaves but American Idol, the game, has about as much to do with the show as that Survivor game a few years ago.
For those that live outside the broadcast range of Fox, American Idol is a show that starts with about 70,000 hopeful singers from around the country. Most suck, but the 32 that suck the least get to go to Hollywood where they slowly get whittled away, first by the judges, then by the viewers who phone in their votes. After a few dozen shows that feature more commercials than singing the group is narrowed down to two and then one lucky singer become Americaís next idol, gets a record contract, and lives happily ever after.
Music games are nothing new to the bigger consoles but this is my first attempt at playing one on the GBA. American Idol features a couple of game modes that include the main competition, a rehearsal mode, and an endurance mode that strings all the songs back to back for a marathon button mashing session.
The competition mode follows the general outline of the TV show. You start with auditions then move on to the various heat matches hopefully making your way to the Top 10 where you keep on singing and America keeps on voting off the worst singer each week. Since you canít really ďsingĒ the game is quickly reduced to a rhythm game where you must press the A and B buttons as they circle around your player. The better your timing, the more in-tune you sing and the more the crowd loves you.
In addition to singing you need to have a good fashion sense about you. As you win each match you will unlock bonus costumes and before you take the stage you get to pick from several costumes and mix and match your top and bottom and even change your hair color and style. As silly as it sounds, your visual appeal does factor into your score.
Graphics are simply okay. The character models are in 3D and swapping costumes seems like playing those old dress-up games where shirts or pants are swapped. There are some interesting backgrounds to sing in including the theater and a full-blown soundstage with lights and video screens for the final shows.
The gameplay interface is colorful and works well enough with easy-to-read symbols and a bit of graphical flair like sparkles and starbursts. Itís simple but functional. The judges, Paula, Randy, and the infamous Simon are present in a cel-shaded form, dishing out their trademarked lines of constructive criticism.
The list of music is pretty good with plenty of older songs and just as many new pop tunes. The songs start off short then get longer and more complicated the further you get into the competition. If youíve listened to the radio in the last five years you should know most of the music in this game. The actual quality of the music and lyrics is surprisingly good and itís fun to hear the shift in tempo and pitch warping to represent a poor performance when you miss a beat.
The judgesí comments were a bit skewed from the show. I actually got more praise from Simon and shot down by Paula more than anything else and Randy seemed to always be on the fence. Anyone who has seen the show knows this just doesnít happen.
There is a decent selection of music but once you wade through all the songs and finish a few competitions the game loses most of its appeal. In all fairness, American Idol does get significantly difficult near the end, but youíll still be able to tap your way to stardom in a few hours.
If you are a huge fan of the show and donít have the voice or confidence to try out for the real thing then American Idol, the game, is probably as close as you can come to getting on TV. If you have access to a PS2 I think youíll find that game significantly better, but if you prefer to take your talent show on the road then the GBA version gets the job done.
Even so, with the limited scope in gameplay, primitive graphics, and repetitive comments from the judges, this is a game best left for the bargain bin, a weekend rental, or perhaps just skip it altogether.