Review – Idol Manager
Back when Idol Manager came to PC, I was swallowed by jealousy. The genre was in my wheelhouse, and having a gaggle of girls that strove to become idols seemed like it could be an intriguing concept. Upon release, I began hearing rumblings of praise concerning the gameplay loop. Somewhat unexpectedly, those compliments extended well into the story. The consensus seemed to be that the narrative had a dark underbelly. Since I knew details of how scandalous such groups can be, that sealed the deal for me. My curiosity was high. When I heard there would be a Nintendo Switch port, you bet your booty that I jumped at a chance to cover it. It currently boasts a Very Positive reception on Steam. My hopes have reached the sun, but the question is, are they destined to crash land?
I’ve heard many critiques about my reviews, targeting length and my habit of over-explanations. So, it’s fairly ironic that my main hindrance with Idol Manager is that very thing. It goes off on these long-winded tangents that often repeat a point it’s trying to convey. Only, the wording is slightly different to give an illusion that it’s not actually the same idea. If, like me, you’re a literary snub that sits and reads the visual novel sections, that all quickly becomes apparent. It then becomes a tiresome slog to have to scroll through frivolous exposition that could be condensed. It’s evident that localization wasn’t a task given to a native speaker. As for missing words, well, that isn’t as rampant as I expected, but grammar takes a minor hit. Sadly, that’s just the beginning of the issues I encountered.
If I’m being blunt, the script resembles a rough draft of a coverage piece or even a chapter of a novel. It’s a regurgitation of words meant to place the notions floating in my head on paper. The spice and liveliness typically get added in afterwards. Somebody missed that memo, though, and the characters are mostly devoid of personality. I say that because, in a surprising discovery, there’s some potentially funny banter. I smiled and nodded with approval several times. Much like the dialogue, however, that silliness is never fully realized because it suffocates under meaningless verbiage. It creates a bland cast that babbles incoherently about nothing of substance. Well, unless, of course, you’re not taking part in the main storyline. I had some enjoyment with it. You know, amid this vocabulary clutter, there’s an obscene tale waiting to burst out.
Now, I’m no idol, and I sure as hell don’t look good enough to be one – plus being a male doesn’t help. I have heard of various ordeals that may befall someone that is, though – ranging from stalkers to a girl’s fame is dependent on her being single. Idol Manager does a superb job in nailing that world and presenting the harsh realities faced by these women. It also explores behaviour that could occur within the group, such as instances of bullying or blackmail. Hell, the plotline mentions prostitution or using one’s body to gain business favours. That piqued my interest and compelled me to continue. The thing is, a rework of the text is a necessity to achieve something truly extraordinary. I know I’m a broken record at this juncture, but the writing is holding it back from enthralling the player.
The quality of the literary prowess is subpar, but there’s cleverness. The script just requires a refresh. By shortening sentences, the punchlines get a boost to their impact; the entertainment factor would increase. Not only that, but I wouldn’t sit and mash on the A button to get on with proceedings and back into the gameplay. I’m a nerd when it comes to narrative, and yet, even I groaned. That’s not a favourable result, especially because, eventually, it introduces branching paths. At a certain point, a deviation appears and lets you align with a specific character. Sure, if you squint and focus on the general subject matter of the words, it’s possible to gather the gist of what’s happening. It’s fascinating, too, but again, it’s held back by poor localization. I resorted to fast-forwarding through the discourse due to the outlandish girth, missing pivotal plot beats.
The Management Simulator genre is a niche one, only recently seeing a resurgence of sorts on consoles. Gameplay is limited, with your one real task being to ensure that the business you’re running generates hard cash. Idol Manager is no different. In a rather unique spin on difficulty spike, what we have here functions in reverse. When I’d begin a run, the initial flow of money ran at a molasses pace. After hitting my stride and breaking through, well, it sped up. It got to the point I was no longer struggling financially. Currently, my budget sits comfortably in the billions, rendering the remainder of my session a cakewalk. Since the overall challenge isn’t an issue, the appeal might be in question. The fact of the matter is it’s so Goddamn addictive and satisfying. If you relish incremental stat upgrades, it’s unbridled bliss and why my coverage is late.
Of course, when you run a large corporation that houses an equally sized band of Idols, there will be drama. Alternatively, a few of these girls will form cliques, friendships, and in a couple of cases, romantic connections. Then, when those isolated groups put out a song, their chemistry shines and, by proxy, their track sales skyrocket. It adds a bit of strategy to the game, but that’s also why I’m filthy rich. See, it’s easily exploitable, meaning once you locate a compatible pair, that’s it. Sure, they eventually graduate and move on to the real world, but by then, I was already rolling in dough. I did like the extra wrinkle of using established stars to build up a novice hire. It adds a sense of realism. Another method is having them pose for photoshoots or appear on television.
Glitch Pitch does try to counteract a dependency on idols. See, it isn’t all peaches and cream because bullying is rampant. Some girls, and at times their gang of close friends, will pick on someone. If you have them featured on the same track, expect their hatred to push through, sullying the quality. On paper, it sounds intriguing, but in practice, it’s horribly done. See, while playing, a notification pops up, indicating someone is being targeted, and as a consequence, their mental health suffers. To find out who it is, you must first socialize to strengthen the bond with everyone. They then openly gossip with you, divulging what’s going on. Point blank; there’s no sugar-coating how tedious this is. It breaks up the momentum because it inexplicably shoehorns monotony. The arduous nature of finding out made me ignore it altogether – screw their happiness.
If there’s a worry that the decrease will disrupt the session, that only applies to, again, the start. As additional facilities are bought and added to your building, whatever’s lost is mitigated. For example, adding a medical professional helps smooth out what’s lost when idols get teased. The same goes for when one breaks up with their boyfriend or girlfriend. While rejection is much more damaging, it’s nothing that bulking up the roster of doctors won’t solve. I also must acknowledge that this tries to combat the dullness of befriending people, which I appreciate. However, eliminating whole mechanics seems the opposite of what someone wants to do with their title, and that’s precisely what we have. Fortunately, it’s viable to forgo doing it, but that’s where the misstep is. It spotlights how the features lack cohesiveness. Other areas are unpolished, too.
Frenemies are a thing, and it’s a notion that could produce an enthralling facet. To have one of these women offer random perks determined by RNG would add an element of risk. It sucks that Idol Manager fumbles it. See, it’s possible to have a girl be part of a clique but also simultaneously hated. That vitriol then overrides any pleasantries, voiding the friendship. Suddenly, pairing besties to record a banging single for the new CD is impractical because of their disdain. It’s yet another example of mechanics dueling it out to get the upper hand. It’s a baffling design choice. I understand the desire to introduce spice that makes a player think, but not to the game’s detriment. Ideas should marry one another beautifully, functioning as a unit, and not divorce almost immediately. It would be great if accessibility were a priority, too, and not an afterthought.
You see, tutorials are, much like literary work, long-winded. Typically, I could forgive that if it’s informative. Well, it isn’t, leaving features up to the player to figure out while droning on about something that could otherwise be summarized in a sentence or two. I’m not too fussed over them, in all honesty, primarily because they can be shut off. Idol Manager isn’t complicated to understand, either. I easily grasped the nuances that make the bomb tick – like, increasing an idol’s fame also relies on making her a focal point of concerts. In that respect, approachability is stellar. Where it falters is when I was confronted by a choice that asked me to showcase a high-performing track. Unless I’ve looked into a menu hidden in a corner, I’m clueless. Thanks to my goldfish memory, I’m at a bigger disadvantage. Having such information readily visible would be appreciated.
As I added more amenities to my building, one truth became abundantly clear – optimization to console is horrid. Button responsiveness seemingly decides when to work correctly. There were moments I’d try confirming a task, only for Idol Manager to, I’m assuming, stare at me, befuddled by my command.
Furthermore, the stuttering when I’d scroll up and down was hard not to notice. At first, it did rectify itself in no time, but as my session continued, the frames began locking up for a whole second. It took its sweet time recognizing that I wanted to maneuver my cursor to the left and right. Look, I stand by my proclamation that I had an enormous bit of fun. These types of titles are like a drug, and improving upon the girls I’ve recruited is the injection into my veins. I can only guess that if performance improves, ecstasy will follow.
Now, jumping between menus is what you’ll be predominantly doing. Given the less-than-strenuous level of graphical fidelity, it’s safe to surmise that transitions between them would be smooth. However, that isn’t the case, and I came face-to-face with soft locks. The good news, if you can even call it that, is it seems exclusive to picking the setlist for concerts. As I dove into the litany of songs in my, by this point, colossal backlog, a white screen materialized. The bad news is that once this happens, it’s already too late. My only option is to shut the application down before rebooting. Thankfully, almost as if by an act of mercy, there’s a generous auto-save. I lost, at maximum, five minutes. I should note that it occurred twice in thirty hours, meaning it’s rare. The stuttering, however, is frequent and annoying but never did manage to chase me away.
For a title centered around a musical theme, there’s not much variety to the soundtrack. Sure, it does have a very chill vibe, but it also has a strong sense of sterility. Now, that isn’t a terrible thing, but it does devolve into background musings. It blends in, pretty much to the point I don’t notice it. There are voices, but they’re relegated to short clips. As such, the delivery of the lines is both flat and monotoned. In past reviews, I have mentioned this before, but Idol Manager is ideal for listening to Podcasts while mindlessly turning musicians into all-stars – and you know what, I prefer that since I don’t always get a chance to. A much more extensive selection to add distinction to the tracks would help them stand out more. My ears want a diverse assortment, but they don’t get it.
In conclusion, Idol Manager is a riveting hidden gem buried underneath piss poor performance. The way mechanics actively attempt to sabotage each other is quite the head-scratcher, too. The writing, overall, is adequate but could be better. To be frank, there’s a decent bit of legitimately humorous analogies I found delightful. It’s rambly but enjoyable. It’s evident that a creative mind was behind localizing the script but English isn’t their first language. There’s no nuance to the dialogue. It’s very dry and uneventful in how everything is structured and can be a slog to muscle through. To indeed be worth buying on the Nintendo Switch, I firmly believe the technical faux-pas need adjusting. Otherwise, my inner addict was hooked, and it may do the same to you. Wait it out or grab it on PC where that peanut butter smoothness awaits, as well as mods.
Character portraits are wonderfully drawn. The set pieces are great, albeit limited. The fact that there’s not much variation of scenes means it isn’t visually exciting.
This is going to be very contentious. It’s a niche genre for a reason. The gameplay is simplistic but the loop is truly an addictive romp.
Like I’ve already said, having a lack of choice in the music lends itself to being bland. I quickly relied on Podcasts to carry me forward.
Nothing really to say other than I got addicted. Period.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Idol Manager is available now on PS4, PS5, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Idol Manager was provided by the publisher.