Often oriented towards the music side of the industry, there have been a few games revolving around Japan’s extensive idol scene such as Bandai Namco Entertainment’s monolithic rhythm game series The Idolm@ster. However, what the market hasn’t really had was a game that tackled more of the simulation side, where every decision you make can make or break the careers of the idols in the care of your talent agency, and that you could focus on every facet of their careers, from modelling gigs to television roles to concert tours. Launching in 2021 was Idol Manager from developer Glitch Pitch and publisher PLAYISM for the Windows PC, where it (as of writing) enjoys a ‘Very Positive’ rating on Steam. Now in 2022 the developers have brought the full game to the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch. Do the ports do the game justice, or did they falter as badly as my first agency during playtesting? Read more to find out.
For a simulation game, Idol Manager covers many facets of the industry, both the good and the bad. While a gameplay loop quickly becomes evident around making money and building your fanbase, more heavily weighted towards the music industry, they factor in many ways that you would expect an idol to make their money. These include photoshoots, concerts, voting contests, a variety of scripted and unscripted programs and more. But with the fun public-facing elements of being an idol, also comes the darker and seedier sides of it. Overworked idols, nepotism, bullying, public harassment and more are all features in the game’s rather in-depth story through events, and while the game does encourage you to take the “right” approach to these, you can typically choose either option, and it comes down to money to keep the doors open, or treating your idols well and playing the long game.
Regarding the overall experience, on the audiovisual side, it is minimalist but does the job well. The visual style is simple, and the most you will do to directly impact how your studio is developed is by putting a handful of rooms in a location on a 2D building. You obtain idols through a completely in-game-currency only gacha system, with the option to obtain different idols with different skills. Paying more does unlock a guaranteed pull of a certain type, but it can be frustrating to spend 15 million yen and only get a single gold character. After you have your idols and train them, you can control the creation of their singles (through several menu options including name, idol choice, distribution method, marketing, choreography, lyric style and funding format production), opt to create a broadcast and more. Ultimately it is a lot of fiddling through menus which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but with enough imagination and keeping your eye on the (financial and narrative-driven) prize, it is good in mid-length bursts.
Playtesting Idol Manager on the PlayStation 5 however, there were a few issues that soured my experience somewhat. Less notably was the localisation work, which was passable, but felt like it could have been refined and needed another pass – at least for the console versions which were released a year after the PC release. The biggest issue however is that the user interface was just downright annoying, with menu transitions and interacting with the building mostly done via a mouse cursor the entire game. Especially with some laggier moments and scroll bars that were a wee bit too small for my 65″ monitor, I found myself quickly groaning every time I was creating a new initiative for the idols to be involved in, as it would be a tedious process of working through the menus. This ultimately took away from the experience as players should be encouraged to meticulously simulate the creation of their agency’s next single, not wanting to get past that part as quickly as possible.
Is Idol Manager a good game? Yes, I think so. I can particularly appreciate that the developers have taken into account both the nicer public-facing elements of the industry and the more controversial elements – and allowed the player to explore them both, all the while providing a lot of freedom to set their path for the agency and its talent. But this is a game I would argue is better bought on the PC, primarily because some issues of the console versions such as dips in performance and especially the user interface are hard to ignore, and hampered the overall experience. So yes, in terms of delivering a gameplay experience in its genre and niche, Idol Manager does well – but sadly, the console versions would be my least preferred option.
This review was conducted on a PlayStation 5 review copy provided by the publisher.