Welcome to showbusiness! You’re the new manager of a (hopefully) up and coming talent agency – time to rise to the stars, right? Maybe not… In Glitch Pitch’s dark comedy management sim, Idol Manager, the stakes are high and the business is ruthless. You’ll not only have to hire and train young new pop stars, but watch out for gossip, manage PR disasters, hire appropriate staff, and put together new singles, shows, and events to show off to the world. It’s a tall order and a hectic business.
First off, Idol Manager deserves credit for having some deeply uncomfortable moments that make you really consider the industry it’s trying to shine a light on. There were so many conversations about what fans want versus what would make the girls comfortable, and a lot of discussions about how easy it is to push them too hard to the point of injury or depression. I honestly think it’s impossible to play this game without feeling a bit like the bad guy – no matter how nice you are, you’ll always see options like making them wear short skirts while dancing or forcing them to break up with their boyfriend or girlfriend. These are moments that stand out – especially because most of us have probably seen the real-life articles about similar situations.
Where I really struggle with Idol Manager is deciding if the game is just too unforgiving, or if I just am really bad. On my first playthrough, I managed to bankrupt the company nearly immediately. My second playthrough was a little less spicy, but still not a great success. It felt like everything I could do to make money didn’t even pay the cost of rent – assuming it wasn’t an outright loss. At some points I didn’t even understand how something lost me money. My third single was the first to finally get a critical success, and it completely sold out. Somehow I still ended up losing a wild amount of money on the release. I hired a marketing manager to get us some work, and watched her make 5 or 6 failed proposals in a row. It felt like a never-ending series of punishments to try to keep up with the costs.
On the easiest mode, the game promises money isn’t an issue, and that’s partially true – if you go bankrupt, you’ll get bailed out. The first time is a freebie. After that it seems to come with strings attached, like bringing on an idol who really isn’t very good but thinks she walks on water and is the daughter of your financer so you’d better make it work. However, if you’re in the red, you can’t do things like produce CDs or concerts until you have the available money, making it harder and harder to keep going. When I tested hitting bankruptcy, I realized I had to pretty much wait out the 30 days because I couldn’t release anything except digital singles.
Managing the idols feels like a nonstop struggle as well. You need them available in order to take jobs, release singles, and put on performances, but their stamina goes down quickly for things like photoshoots. At points I had to decide if I wanted to play safe by letting my idol take a hiatus, spend money I couldn’t afford to get a doctor (who wasn’t much help anyway), or risk injury because I had negative sums staring me in the face constantly. Now that I have a better hang of it, I have no doubts I could take it slower to do a more successful job, but the start is already slow enough.
Does it say a lot about the industry? Sure. Does it make good commentary about how the industry treats both its idols and workers? Yes. But good commentary doesn’t necessarily make for a good gameplay experience.
That said, there’s a lot to micromanage and I think for someone who enjoys that, this could be a lot of fun. I really wanted to do well. Unfortunately I just found it balanced too harshly against the player, to the point where I barely even got to experience the story because getting there was too much of a pain. What I did see wasn’t bad – a little wooden at times, with some reasonably unlikable characters.
Did I have fun? Sometimes. Do I want to keep going? Absolutely. Will I? At this point I’m not really sure how much I want to keep trying – the slow but steady grind is too slow, and the fast and furious approach just lands you in fast debt. Sure you can get bailed out if you need to (at least once – I’m not sure about a second time), but if you don’t have a plan for how to approach that, it won’t do you much good.
As far as the actual controls, I have very mixed feelings. It’s clear this is a PC port to Switch, but not really adjusted that much for it – you’ll have a tiny mouse to use occasionally to click or drag things. I do like how they adjusted the L and R sticks to let you operate different menus fairly smoothly, but after a few hours in my hands were just aching.
If you like your management sims to be very number-focused and don’t mind that story or relationships take a backseat, this might be your kind of game – I’ve seen plenty of positive reviews talking about how much fun it is. For me personally, I both hate and love it. I’ll keep playing, but mostly only to prove to myself that there’s something more there beyond shallow interactions with my idols and an ever growing negative balance.
Order Up! is a column featuring indie-focused reviews, news, or interviews! We like old games just as much as new ones and are always looking for something to check out. Have a game recommendation, a project, or a company you want to talk about? Email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @ArcanaChance