In our review of A Story of a Band a few months back, I wrote “If you can stomach the mediocre graphics, outdated screen resolution, weird controls, and horrendous U.I., there is a surprisingly deep management sim to be found here.” Well, developer Six Foot Kid must have heard my cries because they’ve just released Band Stars (out now, FREE), another music business management game (published by Halfbrick, of all companies). Unfortunately, it seems they only read the first part of the sentence and not the rest, because while the game is much, much easier on the eyes and fingers, it’s quite a bit shallower and marred by some frustrating free-to-play mechanics.
In Band Stars you’re put in charge of a young indie band who wants to make it big. Luckily, they are apparently skilled in a shockingly wide variety of genres and are always eager to record. Your job, then, is to see that they are constantly creating new singles in order to keep the money flowing in. (You didn’t think you were in this for the artistry, did you? Aw, that’s cute.) And what do you do with all this sweet, sweet moolah? Why, spend it on upgrades and new band members so you can repeat the cycle over and over, of course.
Thankfully it’s not all just another free-to-play infinite loop. Your real goal is to rise to the top of the local charts with a #1 song, and then conquer the national and world charts. To do this you need to keep your band members’ stats high through frequent training (or by replacing them with someone better. Sorry, that’s life!). However, if you do too much training, recording, or any other activity in a short enough time, you’ll run out of energy and need to wait about an hour and a half for it to recharge. And it’s here, perhaps unsurprisingly, where the trouble starts.
Unlike a game like Real Racing 3, you can’t just switch to a different band or something when yours is recharging. You’ll have to wait. Sure, you can swap out various members (putting them in the VIP lounge when not in use), but when they aren’t in the studio, they aren’t recharging, so you’re just putting off the inevitable. Plus, any musicians you’ve banished to the VIP lounge probably aren’t worth bringing back anyway, stats-wise. Compounding these problems is the fact that most things (recording, training, etc.) will take out at least half of each musician’s energy bar, meaning you can usually only do one or two things before needing to wait another hour or so.
As bad as that sounds, though, it didn’t actually cause me too much frustration. I’m the kind of person who will play these sorts of games in smaller bites anyway, so I didn’t mind the waiting. It’s fun to just whip out the ol’ iPhone every couple hours and record a hit song. You know, the usual.
Slightly more problematic, however, is the premium currency. It comes in the form of energy drinks, which you can use for everything from refilling your energy bars to promoting “viral hits” in order to climb the charts faster. I’ve got no problem with those uses. What I do have a problem with is the cost to unlock more floors in your VIP lounge. You can only have up to six musicians in your studio at any time and there’s no way to permanently get rid of the less skilled ones, so you need to keep unlocking VIP floors to store the old members while accumulating new, better ones. The first floor is free, but once you fill that up you have to pay 35 energy drinks to get a second. Even if you’ve used the drinks sparingly before, though, that 35 drink fee will pretty much wipe out your collection in one fell swoop. Then, if you run out of VIP space again and need a third floor, well, that’s 65 drinks. That, my friends, is what we call a hard pay wall.
In order to get new drinks (aside from dipping into your real life bank account, which will cost you 5 to 10 bucks if you want that third floor) you must complete challenges. That’s not so easy, though, because most of the challenges involve recording songs — sometimes several songs — and only net you 1 drink for each challenge completed. This means you can spend hours just to accumulate one drink. And finally, making a bad situation even worse is the fact that most challenges are band member specific, meaning if all your band members run out of challenges (each one has only three), the only way you can get more challenges — in order to get more drinks, remember — is to buy new band members. But wait, you don’t have room for new band members because that third VIP floor is locked and you need more drinks to open it! So you’re stuck. Pay up, or get lost.
In fairness, though, you don’t really need new band members, VIP floors, or energy drinks to reach the top of the world charts. You can stick with a single group of basic, loyal musicians and just max out their stats through lots of training. That’s totally fine, but then you’re going to be in for an extraordinary grind to get enough basic currency for all that training. Not only that, but it’ll take a long time as well since you’ve got to wait for them to recharge after each training session, and blah blah blah, on and on it goes.
I hate to sound so negative about this game, since it actually is quite a bit of fun when you just focus on the actual game parts. The thing is, every time I try to write about a single problem, it just branches off into more paragraphs about other problems. All of the free-to-play systems in the game (the timers, the premium energy drinks, and so on) are so tightly woven together that it’s almost impossible to focus on one thing without bringing up several others. There’s a lot more stuff I could talk about, both good and bad, but for the sake of your time (and my own sanity) I’m just going to end it here and leave the rest for you to discover. The bottom line is, if you don’t mind waiting for timers and are really, really good at managing the premium currency right from the beginning, you’ll probably have an alright time with Band Stars. It’s nowhere near as deep as A Story of a Band or the many Kairosoft management sims on the App Store, but it’s a great way to dip your snakeskin boots into the genre if you’re just looking for something to pass the time between gigs.
iFanzine Verdict: Band Stars by Six Foot Kid is a management sim full of nice little touches, like the ever increasing group of fans outside the studio, or the way your song titles are hilariously randomly generated. (I’m not going to lie, the first time I got a pop up saying, “Sales are up because the President says he listens to ‘Holla Farm’ in the shower!” I cracked a smile.) Unfortunately, the fun is nearly ruined by an oppressive free-to-play model ruled by timers and premium currency. I’m sure it’s entirely possible to “win” the game without paying anything, but that would take an absurd amount of time and I’m not sure that doing the same train-wait-record-wait loop could sustain that much interest from anybody. Still, if you’re a noob to the genre, this is a perfectly fine place to start.