However, there are just as many of you out there who genuinely enjoy the contest and tune in from week to week. Regardless of your opinion of the American Idol TV show, we really don’t see how anyone could argue the fact that the video game based off of it sucks. Such a wonderfully descriptive word like that sums up the very essence of American Idol.
Gameplay - If someone was ignorant (or vile) enough to stick this bomb into your stocking over the holidays, you’d be wishing for all the coal in the world instead. As if the box art wasn’t painful enough, you’re first greeted by a long series of seemingly useless loading screens followed by the infamous American Idol jingle – a sound byte you will hear no less than fifty times after your first hour of play (if you can even resist that burning desire to shut if off). Without even playing yet, the game is scoring zilch in the presentation department.
We’ve made it to the main menu, and select Competition mode to enter the American Idol contest. An “Application Form” appears on the screen, which in reality is an overly simplified character creation system. Creating your custom wannabe Idol involves modifying a whopping nine different categories, and that includes name and gender. We chose a female (America has enough young, crappy male pop-singers) and were given the default body template to work with. What's left to customize are body size (small, medium, large), skin tone, hair and eye color, wardrobe, and the all-important voice. We’ll save voice for last and decide on our gal’s physical appearance first.
Thin, brunette, ponytails, blue eyes, white shoes, tight tank top and a pink miniskirt. Even if you try to make Ms. I’m a Virgin But I’ll Whore Myself Out To Any Guy In Las Vegas, the limited appearance options that American Idol offers will just leave you with a generic wannabe of the aforementioned songstress (but just as trashy-looking, no less). What’s our newly created Idol’s name? Britina seems to fit the bill nicely. In a way, this is the most realistic aspect of the game, since all the real-life contestants are mere wannabes anyway.
Time to grant Britina a voice that will complete her “superstar potential”. No need to rush, you should have plenty of time deciding on which one of the three voices we want our Idol to sing with. You heard us right – Codemasters, these so-called geniuses at play, made a really genius decision when they erroneously calculated that three should be a sufficient number. To top it off, they made extra sure that the trio of voices sounded as flat as Hilary Duff when she isn’t lip-synching and should be. Doesn’t seem like our Britina is fit for the competition, but the “Application Form” is completed. Squint at the screen to try to read your superstar’s chicken-scratch signature, and then select Continue to submit the application.
This is it – Britina’s first American Idol audition! After witnessing some recycled American Idol clips from last season, our wannabe Idol steps into the judges’ room, which graphically resembles a cardboard box with wall lights. American Idol is another game that just goes to show you cel-shaded graphics don’t automatically make a game look good.
Over the next two hours, Britina sings her way up the competition ladder, hardly facing any competition, but ironically not much of a vocal competitor herself. (The judges don’t like her appearance either; we guess dressing like a prostitute and wailing out first-generation N*Sync songs does gets old after a while.) How, specifically, do you make Britina sing? With controller in hand, simply press the button that corresponds with the symbol that is currently in the center of the on-screen reticule. Hit the button exactly as the symbol crosses the middle, and you’ll hit the note perfectly. Mess up your timing, and Britina will fudge up the notes and sound a little more horrible than she does normally. That’s all there is to singing in American Idol. If it sounds too simple, you’re wrong. It’s sleep-inducing. Proof of this is my brief periods of nodding off during the latter parts of the game simply due to the fact that you do the exact same thing over and over…and over again.
Besides being unbelievably repetitive, the player has seemingly no control at all of what happens on screen. When you miscue a button tap, the singer won’t mess up that note until a good 10 seconds later, almost as if the game is being played on the Internet with someone thousands of miles away on a 14kbps modem. The lag between your input and the singer’s response is so bad that you may be lead to believe your controller is defective. What it should really lead you to believe is that you shouldn’t be playing this horrible “game” in the first place. And what happens after our lovely Britina fulfills her dream and steals America’s heart in the final competition? Absolutely nothing. Well, okay, we’re lying. You get to watch another recycled video clip from the television series, and you’re rewarded with a totally out of this world Congratulations! screen. If that wasn’t worth two hours of methodically pressing the face buttons on our PS2 controllers, hell if we know what is.
Graphics - As you can infer from the screenshots, American Idol takes the cel-shaded route. Unfortunately, Codemasters forgot about these things called polygon count and textures. It’s baffling as to why the game is on a DVD when it probably could fit on one half of a CD (and consequently be much more useful since it wouldn’t even boot up.) American Idol’s bland backdrops and blocky characters would’ve been no sweat for the PS One and Nintendo 64, nevermind the PlayStation 2. Adding to the craptacular graphical presentation are the aforementioned grainy video clips of American Idol shows of the past. For no reason whatsoever, you have to watch one of these after every successful round. But seeing isn’t everything, which leads us to…
Sound - Want the definitive collection of the most overplayed/outdated/downright annoying pop-songs of the last 5 years? American Idol’s got you covered. Before each competition round, you’re allowed to choose what song you’d like apply your one-note vocal skills to. The choice is painful enough, and you’d wish there was a randomize option so that the game would automatically pick a song without you even having to lay your innocent eyes on Satan’s list. To tell you the truth, that feature wouldn’t help much, since either way you still need to sit through the entire length of the song before you can finally put down the controller and take another nap. American Idol judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson lend a grand total of approximately three lines each to the game, all of which are incredibly out of context. Maybe they’re just bored…
Bottom Line - American Idol is one of those rare games that make you wonder how it is even authorized to be sold for a profit. If you want to take a shot at being a pop star, try signing up for the real American Idol competition. Better yet, pick up a copy of Konami’s Karaoke Revolution. At the very least, you won’t have to hear the American Idol theme song every four seconds. Unless you happen to tune to FOX again this January…