Among hardcore Japanese otaku (geeks) there are few games more popular than those of The Idolm@ster series. The premise is simple. As a music producer, it is your job to take a group of recently debuted teenage "idols" and turn them into Japan's most popular popstars.
Or to look at it another way, it's a game where you dress up little girls in skimpy outfits and make them dance for you.
When I picked up the latest game in the series for my PS3, I had no idea what to expect. I had heard it called everything from an innocent game with great music to a pedophile's paradise. But nothing really could have prepared me for my first few hours with The Idolm@aster 2.
1 Minute – Welp, here I am working for a struggling talent agency and charged with creating the next big idol group.
2 Minutes – Only two minutes in and I already feel like a pedophile. I have to choose which of these eight girls I want to be the lead singer in my group. They range in age from 14 to 17 and all look even younger. At least each one comes with a preview video to show off their voices.
10 Minutes – After looking through all the videos, I have chosen Miki—not because of anything in her little video but because of her uncanny resemblance to Anarchy Panty from Ginax's Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt anime—well on her sticker poster at least. Good a reason as any, I suppose.
15 Minutes – Time to dive in to our first week of work. ...And Miki has already forgotten who I am and thinks I'm a pervert stalking her. This really just happened.
28 Minutes – Time for singing practice. It's a nice little music minigame no different from DDR or Guitar Hero—just hit the correct button when it lines up with the correct spot. She sings in an oddly robotic voice though...
35 Minutes – While I haven't ever seen her at the office, it seems all the in-game tutorials are done over the phone by a green-haired woman. She talks via a little icon next to her text box. My boss, however, is just a silhouette. It seems that in this game all men are faceless and voiceless (except for my boss who is just faceless).
45 Minutes – Now that I've spent a week with just my lead singer, it's time to choose the rest of my popstars. I've chosen to go with the short-haired tomboy and the albino "lady" who speaks in proper, flowery Japanese. Key point to note: These are the only two girls who don't have voices so high pitched it would make your ears bleed. I feel like I just won the game.
55 Minutes – Time to choose costumes... I'm gonna spend a lot of time playing dress up with jailbait, aren't I?
1 Hour – I'm loving the Easter eggs in the costume menu. Even at default, I can accessorize with a Taiko: Drum Master necklace and Pac-Man's Pinky and Inky as a set of gloves.
1 Hour 10 Minutes – Alright, this week it looks like I'm doing style lessons. All I do for this minigame is click the tabs it wants me to click. It's like playing rail shooter minus the gun... and the fun.
1 Hour 15 Minutes – Dance practice minigame time! All I need to do is press L1 and R1 in time with the beat. ….Let's see, if you hold out your index finger and thumb, it makes an "L" right?
1 Hour 25 Minutes – Oh it is on! I have just met the rival group. Lead by a hardcore tsundere and managed by a former idol, these girls don't stand a chance.
1 Hour 30 Minutes – Time to pick our debut single. I can choose from 18 possible songs. That's not too bad to start with. Actually, there's quite a variety of J-Pop here.
1 Hour 35 Minutes – It's time to hit our first audition. But before we do, it's time for a group cheer. GAH! Why's she talking in Pac-Man sounds!?
1 Hour 40 Minutes – The audition is a semi-complex minigame where scoring is based on the stats you've built with the costumes and training. All you really need to do is push the buttons with the beat. The skill is in knowing when to press each button and/or use a special.
1 Hour 45 Minutes – Cool! For passing the audition, I get to see a fully choreographed version of the song with my characters singing it. And I have to say, they really do know how to dance.
2 Hours – Now I'm buying coffee for the rival group's lead singer. Dealing with a broken vending machine is truly the highlight of my career. And now I'm cleaning up coffee spills. Truly this is the glamorous life of a producer.
2 Hours 10 Minutes – At our morning meeting, there is a conversation choice with one of the girls. It has a five second time limit. If I fail to pick the right choice, she's totally gonna be pissed all week, isn't she.
2 Hours 11 Minutes – Yes, yes she is.
The Idolm@ster 2 was released in Japan on October 27, 2011 for the PlayStation 3. It is also available on the Xbox 360. There are currently no plans for an international release.