American Idol on GBA condenses talent down to two buttons

American Idol GBA Header

You may hate me, but it ain’t no lie

My husband may have bought 2003’s American Idol on GBA (for some reason), but I was the one who conquered it in the course of one car trip. I’m not too fond of American Idol. I don’t really enjoy reality television in general, but I find American Idol depressing. It depicts a mindset where a career is not built through hard work, practice, and a drive to improve, but rather it’s something to be won in front of an audience. It views music as merely a product rather than art, regardless of your definition of art.

I don’t have to watch it, though. I only have to listen to the music when I’m shopping. The only thing that is forcing me to play the game is morbid curiosity, of which I have an abundance.

American Idol I did it again

Have you ever wanted to be judged by your Game Boy Advance? Have I got the game for you! There was also a PS2 version, which is the same but different. How is it the same? You put your dignity on the line to try and win a record contract. How is it different? The PS2 version of American Idol has you play a rhythm game with the directional buttons, whereas the GBA gives you only the A and B buttons.

Also, the GBA version is uglier, but to the developer’s credit, they used 3D polygons for characters. That doesn’t earn it an award or anything, but it’s sometimes neat to see. The PS2 version also probably sounds better, considering it’s on a DVD and not a fun-sized Kit-Kat. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s kind of impressive from a technical standpoint if we’re being charitable.

American Idol Judging you

Here’s an admission: I like button-based rhythm games. It might be because it’s reassurance that the most basic gaming ability any of us have – the ability to press the right button at the right time – is still functioning optimally. The way that American Idol boils it down to just two buttons is something that you’d typically expect to see as a mini-game in a larger trial, but here is the whole concept.

Before you get there, you create a character with your choice of horribly outdated clothing. Was this what we wore in the early aughts? Some of these look like they belong in the ‘80s. Weirdly, this is actually one of the criteria American Idol judges you on. It didn’t like my fancy cocktail dress, but when I went to the effort to put together the ugliest possible combination, it bumped my rating up. It’s not clear why you should care about what American Idol thinks of your outfit, but it rates you anyway to make you feel inadequate.

American Idol Die

Then get ready to press buttons to golden oldies by Brittany Spears and the Backstreet Boys. Or is it NSync? I really can’t tell the difference since I was listening to Weird Al at the turn of the millennium. In any case, the playlist will either be awful or nostalgic.

In each tier of the competition, you select what song your character sings from a list of two or three. This makes sure you suffer through a variety of renditions and also means that if you play the game more than twice, you suffer repeatedly.

The gameplay is as basic as it sounds. Your cursor goes around a circle and whenever it goes over an A or B, you press the corresponding button. Behind your rhythm circle, your pixellated origami avatar gyrates. I’m not going to suggest that the papercraft monstrosity moves in time to the music because, while I’m hardly a dancer, I’m fairly confident that it doesn’t.

You’re then rated on how well you pushed buttons. Depictions of (hold on, I need to look this up) Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell then give you vague comments about your performance. These are pretty token sound samples, but I guess you need the judges in there somewhere.

Early level

It’s not all bad. While the song choices aren’t really my style and the backing music sounds like demo tracks on a cheap keyboard, the singer’s voice gets pitch-shifted when you screw up. Not realistically, either, where they might get too high or too low, but rather it starts warbling. It’s riotously funny every time it happens because the track will be going fine, then suddenly your character’s face starts peeling to reveal the lizard living beneath. It nearly made me giggle every time it happened, causing me to lose focus and my singer’s voice to deteriorate further.

You unlock more crappy wardrobe items as you proceed through the game. On the previously mentioned car trip, I was able to unlock them all, so it hardly extended the playtime. How far do you expect it to go? I’ve seen more depth in a hacking mini-game.

I’ll admit that American Idol is not a terrible GBA game, but it’s mostly because it tries so little that it would be hard to screw up. It definitely lacks the pomp of the show; there’s no crowd or much visual indication that you’re not just locked in a room with three judges.

Actually, now that I have run through the details, I realize that American Idol is a terrible game. I’m perfectly okay pressing buttons; it just loses some of its appeal when it warbles Livin’ La Vida Loca at me.

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Zoey Handley
Zoey is a gadabout gaming hobbyist. She's been playing video games all her life and is a lover of both new and retro games. She enjoys digging in the dirt and picking out the games that are perfectly fine if you clean them up a bit.