By Allyson Cygan of Gaming Fyx
The world of idol music can be addicting – full of catchy music, intense performances, and performers who seem to be born for the role of idol. However, behind all of that is a lot of work, a lot of planning, and a lot of money. It’s that behind the scenes role you take in Idol Manager, the business sim developed by Glitch Pitch and published by PLAYISM, now on Nintendo Switch.
Idol Manager takes place in the world of Japanese pop idol music, a subgenre all its own within JPop that focuses on manufactured idol singers performing music written for them. It’s a subculture that has existed since the 60s/70s and since then multiple media empires have formed, with many many idol acts formed and fighting for a place at the top. Hundreds of idol groups perform at events like the Tokyo Idol Festival every year, and groups come and go. This is a stressful industry, and one that is well represented within Idol Manager.
In Idol Manager you are the titular idol manager, given basic funding and a small office space from a businessman who is implied to have some shady connections and businesses. He’s investing in you to form an idol group from nothing. At the start of the game you hire some basic staff, audition some members, and get started on your path to producing an all-female idol group. Once a short tutorial is over, you are let loose – you need to build popularity, release singles, plan concerts, and balance your checkbook while also looking after the wellbeing of the idols in your care. It’s a lot to keep in track, and it’s easy to let something go to the wayside while focusing on something else. If you choose to do everything to optimize your income, for example, it’s easy for the idols under your care to become worn out (quantified in physical and mental stamina) which can lead to injuries that require a hiatus. Do that enough and hey, you have no income. But if you don’t have that push for an income, then you can easily go in the red and creep ever closer to bankruptcy. It’s a balancing act and it’s a tough one – while playing this game I feel like I’m constantly just trying to survive.
The fine folks over at Super GG Radio thought of me for writing this review because I’ve been invested in Japanese idol culture for about the past 15 years or so. I’ve spent a lot of time in that world, following indie performers and the biggest stars of the industry, so this is something I am very comfortable with. Idol Manager gets this industry right, which is really refreshing. It’s easy to focus on either the fantasy that idol groups are often trying to promote or to focus only on negatives of the industry, but Idol Manager does both right. It doesn’t sugarcoat the industry or overemphasize the darker side to be edgy, but does a great job of striking a balance of showing the joys of the industry while also showing the struggles. Of course I don’t have behind the scenes experience of working on the idol industry, but this truly seems to showcase the depth of the industry. It can get dark at times, but all in justified, honest ways. For example, in a mechanic I haven’t touched, you can pursue romantic relationships with the idols under your care, which brings to mind the history of idol producer Akimoto Yasushi marrying one of the members of his first group, Onyanko Club, as well as the grooming/exploitation accusations against Johnny Kitagawa, the late creator of massive boy band empire Johnny’s Entertainment.
Throughout you are managing music releases, entertainment programs for your members, concerts, popularity contests (reminiscent of AKB48’s elections), and business deals, while all the idols have relationships with you and their fellow members. You have to manage your group’s fame, their number of fans, the money you bring in and your idols’ wellbeing. It’s often overwhelming but feels like the only way to do something like this right. In fact, while playing I kept thinking of other ways the game could have added even more mechanics, but it’s hard to say how that could work without the game becoming impossible to keep straight. Still, it makes me think that there could be DLC or new additions to the game if the developers wanted. This game has a lot of depth already but there are so many possibilities for this game.
This review was conducted on the Nintendo Switch version of the game and I was initially skeptical. This game was originally released on PC and for good reason – this is a game that seems made for a mouse and keyboard. However, the shortcuts and controls on Switch feel seamless and work remarkably well, to the point where I forgot this wasn’t native to Switch. It’s still a game I’d recommend on PC if you have the opportunity (it’s the type of game that I imagine could run on most things) but the portability aspect of the Switch suits Idol Manager well – it’s a great game to pick up, make a few decisions, and set down for a while once the stress of running an idol group is too much. I’m impressed at how well this all works for the platform.
This is a substantial game, with many ways you can approach the game and several endings. However, the game is in the day to day decisions you make, the way you choose to run your group, and ultimately what you make of your group. Because of the level of complexity involved I would highly recommend Idol Manager to anyone who is looking for a good management sim, idol music fan or no. If you happen to be an idol music fan like management games, seriously, just buy it already, it’s a real no brainer. And who knows, maybe if you aren’t already invested in idol culture, this could draw you in.
You can find Allyson on twitter @writerserenyty as well as on the Gaming Fyx podcast!