Genre: Role-Playing Game
Release Date: March 1, 2007
The idea of being in your own band is a dream that has crossed the minds of many an aspiring musician. Shady O'Grady's Rising Star essentially puts the player in the role of managing a band from its lowly roots playing in run-down bars all the way until, if you're successful, playing on massive tours and selling out arenas. What Rising Star also captures is the skill, business sense, tenacity, and a bit of luck that a band must have in order to carve out its path to stardom.
In Rising Star, you must first choose a genre that you want your band to encompass, and the choices are numerous. Everything from metal to punk, ska to pop, and rap to blues, is present and accounted for. The selection doesn't massively affect the gameplay, but it contributes to more subtle elements such as how you shouldn't expect a massive turnout if you're a rap group playing in a country bar.
The next set of choices you will have to make comes in the form of creating the first musician for your band. You have to pick what role he or she will play such as guitar, bass, vocals, keyboard, and other choices; followed by choosing how they look. You can choose their facial features, hairstyle and color, and basic clothing. As you gain money and can afford to do so, you can purchase better threads for your musicians to give them the specific look you want. Want a metal band dressed up in leather jackets and top hats? The title, for better or worse, allows for you to do so.
Every musician has a certain skill level to quantify how good of a musician he or she is and must gain a certain amount of experience before reaching the next level, similar in nature to how most RPGs operate. Anything from practicing and writing songs to playing gigs will raise a musician's experience by some amount, with your musicians gaining much more experience writing killer songs or playing packed stadiums than practicing in their garage or playing a nightclub.
When the musician achieves a new level, he also gains 10 skill points to allocate to abilities such as playing, songwriting, stage performance skills, and other traits, such as business ability (which affects how much things cost/will sell for), knack for repairing instruments, and talent for producing music in the studio. It's useful for one band member to excel in each of the final three skills, as only the highest-skilled person in the category will actually be the one repairing, producing, etc.
So you have a single musician and must now form a band and begin your path to becoming a rock god. Your first stop will undoubtedly be that of the local music shop, where you can purchase an instrument, strings, drumsticks, amplifiers, effects boxes, or any other item that your musicians will require. Each item has a certain durability and will wear out over time if not repaired, and even still will need to be eventually refurbished to make them like new again after many repair cycles. Items can also have stat bonuses when equipped, such as giving the musician who uses them additional playing, songwriting, or stage performance skills.
Of course, you'll also need to recruit some additional musicians while you are there to round out the empty spaces in your band, for a total of six members. There are no specific slots for vocals, guitars, etc., so one could just as easily make a band comprised of a keyboardist, two bass guitarists, and a drummer. Musicians come and go onto the list, so if you don't see a specific one you need, you can either select one from a different genre for a while or just wait until one comes along.
Your band members have relationships with one another — some good and some bad. It is rare to have a band where everyone likes each other, especially if you have all six slots filled. How good or bad these relations are translates into how well your band members perform with one another. Relationships can also be affected if one musician consistently screws up while on stage, or if a band member really isn't being involved in the writing process.
To write a song, you must first pick which band members you want to have work on the song as well as the pacing and name of the song. It is a wise idea to leave band members with low songwriting skill out of the songwriting process as much as possible, as their lack of skill will harm the potential quality of the tune, but you still have to let them help out occasionally to keep them happy. The pacing is important, as songs with high pacing will gain a lot of interest from the crowd but wear them out considerably, and a worn-out crowd won't generate much interest at all.
To counter this, you can use songs with low pacing to let the audience gain their energy back but only generate a little more or even lose some interest, while songs with medium pacing will gain a little in both categories. The actual writing of the song is essentially a memory game, with a bunch of tiles when your songwriters lack skill and fewer tiles when they are old hands at the idea. By matching musical instruments, you raise the current quality rating of the song, and by clearing them all, you make the song as good as your writers could possible make it. You only have a limited time before the process is finished though, so occasionally a song that had a good potential quality rating simply won't make it that far due to you only being able to match a few pairs of tiles.
To make it big in the world of music, you have to become known, and in Rising Star, that is no exception. You must first visit bands as they perform at a local bar or club to gain some reputation with both the bands that are playing and the place in which they are playing. Gain enough rep, and bands may ask you to open up for them in upcoming gigs, or venues may ask you to take part in a battle of the bands or even headline a show. Of course, if you botch a performance you lose said rep with both the bands you are potentially opening up for, as well as with the venue.
When you play a gig in Rising Star, you don't actually play or even hear the gig going on; you must take a look at the starting audience interest and energy levels and pick suitable songs as the set progresses. Smaller bars and clubs may only let you play six songs, while larger venues will let you play 12 or more, which gives you more time to get the audience interested. If it is a venue you frequent, it is much easier to sway the audience's interest than if you are there for the first time, so it's not a bad idea to be regulars at a few venues.
While playing a gig, you can adjust your band's exertion level which is automatically set to the amount of your band's lowest skilled stage performer. By increasing this number, whether it be by leveling up your lower member, buying him a lot of +Stage Performance equipment, or simply by dragging the slider higher, your band will gain more attention per song than normal. At the same time, increasing it past a band member's highest skill will occasionally cause him to hurt himself; he could get a bloody nose, which brings down his health a bit, or break a bone, which would end the gig right then and there. Moral of the story? When you're on your last song of your set and your band has a few days to heal, you may as well move up that slider and potentially break a nose while absolutely wowing the crowd. It's more metal that way.
You can also hire a manger to find gigs for you, book tours, get some product placement, and try to stake down some record deals. The quality and reputation of your manager goes a long way, but generally speaking, the better the manager, the higher the price. Some managers may perform poorly but only ask for a mere $200 a month, while a better manager might ask for $2,000 a month as well as 46% of your ticket sale proceeds. Sure, it's expensive, but when the manager gets you a arena gig that nets you $30,000 after he takes his cut, you really don't mind when your old manager had to struggle to book you gigs that only got you $150 at the most.
It must be said that Rising Star really isn't a graphically attractive title. The character models are probably the game's lowest point in terms of appearance, and both the animations and texturing are unpolished and bland. The upshot (or downshot, if you are a graphics hound) is that the majority of the game is essentially menu-driven with the player simply clicking different buttons or using different sliders to perform what he wants. From a musician's standpoint, the title works well aesthetically, and the way that most of the interfaces and controls look and work are grounded very heavily on the buttons, sliders, and dials one would find on the amps and effects boxes that are probably in the garage right now.
Rising Star does have a lengthy soundtrack of songs from pretty much every genre represented, but they're written and performed by largely unknown bands. Their quality is pretty decent despite that fact, and there is the option to remove songs from the overall playlist or add new ones to the mix in .mp3 format. While playing a gig, you can hear the crowd cheer and boo depending on how well your set is going, which is nice to hear after you've just unleashed your fast-paced hit onto the set list.
Overall, Shady O'Grady's Rising Star is an interesting find for those who are looking for a title that deals with a band's rise to stardom and all of the difficulties and nitty-gritty that must be faced down on the way there. At its heart, it feels like a strategy game at times, with aspects from RPG and simulation titles thrown into the mix for good measure. Rising Star has its share of flaws, with the dated graphics and decent, although limited, audio palette, but at the same time, the game is rather endearing and is entertaining for both a quick-play session and those marathon times when you keep playing for "just one more gig." For the price, and assuming you don't turn up your nose at titles that aren't graphical powerhouses, Rising Star is entertaining and has enough going for it to be easily recommendable to those who think there just aren't enough games that simulate what it's like to be in and manage your own band.
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