Ever since I was in Junior High I’ve wanted to be a rock star. I wasn’t built for accounting or selling or teaching, but rocking? Hell yeah. I was built for that. Over the last 12 years or so I’ve picked up guitar, piano, singing, drums, and bass, gone to study music in college, built myself a humble studio in a spare room, played countless shows and even released an album on iTunes. But am I a rock star? Sadly, no. Developer Hot Byte Games, however, hopes to make me feel like one anyway.
In A Story of a Band (out now, $1.99), you are in the driver’s seat of a rags to riches tale of music, money, pills, and falling asleep onstage. Beginning in the year 1975, you are tasked with selling albums, touring, gaining fame and/or fans, battling rivals, and just plain rocking out until 2010. By then you’ll hopefully be the next Beatles and win the game.
The majority of the action takes place in your basement where your band practices. At the top of the screen is your happiness, skills, cash, and the date (counting ahead one day a second). Along the bottom you’ll find a ton of buttons where you access menus for things like albums, band members, and items. Want to tour? Hit the tour button, choose your cities, and prepare to steal hearts and melt faces. New album? Tap the album button, choose some themes (how about “unicorn” and “nerve gas”?), write some tunes using skills you’ve earned, pick a studio, and see how far up the charts you go.
However, all of that is a gross oversimplification (note to self: great band name). The game is surprisingly deep and complicated, and that’s not always a good thing. In fact, the problems begin right when you first launch the app.
See, apparently it doesn’t support the iPhone 5’s longer screen or even the retina display introduced over three years ago, despite the game launching less than two weeks ago. It’s almost unforgivable this late in the App Store’s life and would be a complete eyesore if the graphics weren’t designed to look sorta 16 bit anyway. Even worse, the game suffers from tap detection problems the likes of which I haven’t seen in years. It may just be because some of the buttons are absurdly small, but that’s still a problem in and of itself. Also strange is a lack of full multitasking support (save often if you are prone to accidentally closing apps). Finally, there are a few weird gesture controls–like swiping up or down to pause the game–that remind me of failed experiments from apps back in the early days. All of this means that even when the game is fun to play, it’s not very fun to play, if you see what I mean.
Even if the game went through a huge graphical, U.I., and control overhaul to bring it into 2013, however, there would still be some problems. Most of the systems in the game are a bit overcomplicated, and making it worse is the fact that a year only takes a few minutes to pass. Yearly expenses from paying band members and whatnot begin to take a huge bite out of your cash every February and it can be frustratingly hard to make enough money to cover it. If you go into debt, the mood of your band drops significantly, creating even more problems. Before you know it it’s February again and you don’t have enough cash to finish Burning Violence, the concept album that was supposed to be your glam metal masterpiece.
So it turns out not even A Story of a Band could help me live my dream. Sure, throughout my story I managed to accumulate fame, fortune, and fans. But it was the lows that hurt worse: the alcoholism, the crippling debt, the nu metal. And after all the ups and downs along my 35 year journey, what was most depressing was the end realization that it was just another tedious job like all the others. Tap, tap, tap. Maybe it’s a good sim of the music business after all.
iFanzine Verdict: 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 in A Story of a Band. Your mileage will probably vary depending on how well you take to the complex and multilayered systems buried in the many menus, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a little fun trying to go the long way to the top wanting to rock and roll.