I usually call myself a console gamer—PS4 over X-Box any day of the week!—but even with, say, my countless hours on fireteams in Destiny and five Inquisitors in Dragon Age: Inquisition, I’ve sunk more time into mobile and browser games by a huge margin.
After six years, my Bejeweled Blitz score could still use improvement. I’ve uninstalled and reinstalled Candy Crush Saga out of frustration more times than I can count. And don’t even ask how many generic strategy games about war/medieval castles/outer space I’ve played. I have harrowing stories about cutthroat coups, guild politics, and failed siege attempts that sound like they’re straight out of Game of Thrones. I’ve come up against the most diabolical of villains, Willow Pape, and lived to tell the tale.
Willow Pape is the antagonist of the Glu Mobile game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. The roleplaying app—launched in 2014 and infamous for earning $1.6 million in just five days—has been the subject of both derision and delight. Considering how some gamers refuse to acknowledge primarily mobile gamers as members of their community, well, it’s no surprise that Kim Kardashian’s game about seeking fame in Hollywood, partying in clubs across the globe, going on dates, and striking poses in photo shoots is a lightning rod for debate.
But Kim K’s game has earned hundreds of millions of dollars and put 45% of its net profit into Kim’s pockets. You can’t argue with numbers like that. The public, and other celebrities, certainly took notice.
Now there’s a whole slate of existing and announced celeb-backed games, the vast majority of them by Hollywood developers Glu Mobile. I’d already played some of them, but I decided to spend time with each and every one to rate playability and general level of fun.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood (Glu Mobile)
The OG app. You create an avatar who starts on the D List and tries their best to climb to the A List. You don’t have one career goal in mind: much like Kim herself, you attempt to become a jack of all trades by modeling, promoting products, and generally chasing the next big paycheck.
With the help of saccharine-sweet Kim Kardashian (all of the celebs in their respective games are benevolent angels, willing to help a stranger achieve their dreams), you potentially find love, cultivate fame, and combat the scheming and cattiness of Willow Pape. Willow is the blonde Genghis Khan determined to take you down because you’re overshadowing her, or you flirted with her boyfriend, or something. Of all the antagonists in celeb RPG games, Willow is the alpha. I don’t know if it’s because she was the first and therefore the rest seem like pale imitators, or if it’s perfectly styled blonde hair and refusal to change outfits, but her villainy gets to you.
The game is actually a pretty fun time. It mixes timed task management with dating-sim elements, and jetsetting to vague interpretations of metropolitan cities across the world makes you feel like you might actually be an A-lister. You’re BFF with Kim Kardashian, anyway. You have mansions and a comically out of touch manager. You can even get married in Italy in front of a wall of flowers, which is a little weird, because that’s exactly where and how Kim and Kanye got married.
The problem, which I realized around level fifteen the first time I played, is that unless you have the money and time to throw at the game, you won’t ever make much progress in terms of the leaderboard. While the game still sees content updates, generally only players who’ve been active since 2014—and have committed time and oodles of money to purchase K Stars and refill energy—rank highly. As someone who’s pretty strategic and competitive, having that victory beyond my reach killed my desire to continue. The app is still a nice casual experience, though.
Playability: 3.5 K Stars out of 4
Intrusiveness of ads: 0
The satisfaction of whacking trees or birds and having money and/or energy fall out: 4
Kylie and Kendall (Glu Mobile)
The Jenner sisters. Part of the enormous Kardashian clan, it makes sense that they’ve cashed in on their fame and tried to put some money in their pockets in way of their older sister. The first issue I have with the Kylie and Kendall game—which is cute (I’d argue the aesthetics are nicer than that of Kim’s game) and entirely not a reinvention of the celeb-RPG wheel—is that it was incredibly buggy. My Galaxy Note 4 crashed repeatedly; tasks were not registered as complete and in some cases spawned three or four of themselves. Pop-up notifications usually popped up twice. I did end up getting extra rewards by way of the bugginess, so it wasn’t all bad, but I initially ended up uninstalling after five days out of irritation.
There’s some attempts at immersion: you receive short, Instagram-like videos that I think the sisters recorded in fifteen minutes on their couch to make the illusion of having befriended the Jenners that much more real. But it’s transparent that Kylie and Kendall is just a shinier version of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. Some elements may be different, but the interface and the general climb-to-the-top premise is the same.
I reinstalled to write this article, and immediately encountered problems (like getting the game to load my previous save data). I still saw double pop-ups and abysmal load times. Also, I somehow had -46 K Gems and couldn’t proceed in the game because of it, which seems impossible, but there you go.
Intrusiveness of ads: 1
Whacking-things satisfaction: 2
Katy Perry Pop (Glu Mobile)
I’m starting to experience deja vu. I’m a nobody, I meet Katy Perry, she sets me on the road to fulfill my dreams (of being a famous pop star, this time), and I deal with the trials and tribulations of fame—and a scheming nemesis. So there’s no wheel reinventing here either.
Except the game took a wild turn I wasn’t expecting.
Katy Vision. A pair of glasses that the player dons by clicking an icon—and all of a sudden the cheery locales are transformed into a neon-soaked LSD hallucination. Go talk to a sunflower and receive a quest to brighten up three people’s days; go talk to Katy’s friend Lefty, aka Left Shark; ignore the fish floating past you on this street; generally try to imagine what on earth the game devs were thinking.
After about an hour, though, it struck me that Katy Vision is actually somewhat ingenious. The change in aesthetic breaks the monotony; it adds a literal new dimension, which means that Katy Perry Pop is flirting with magical realism; and wearing the glasses—or not wearing them—dictates who you’re able to speak with. For a schtick, it’s not bad, and it fits with Katy Perry’s whimsical branding.
I will say, the transportation in this game is miles beyond that found in Hollywood and Kylie and Kendall. I’ve had to google where certain locations are, and have wasted tons of money by flying or busing all over the map when I’ve failed to google. In Pop, you need only press a button and you’re delivered you to the location. I’d like to thank the designer who implemented that one.
Intrusiveness of ads:
Whacking-things satisfaction: 0
Demi Lovato: Path to Fame (Pocket Gems)
This is surprisingly not developed by Glu, and it shows! Where all of the Glu games are casual RPGs, the Demi game is an episodic choose-your-own-adventure type. The story in Path to Fame is much, much more engaging. I can even overlook the long load times, the creepy body design, and the absolutely horrible frequency of ads—typically two 30-second ads play between chapters—for some halfway decent storytelling. I can even overlook the fact that instrumental snippets from Cool for the Summer, played near-constantly in the game, will be haunting my dreams until I’m dead.
Although we come to the same problem: Demi’s game involves breaking into the big time as a singer, fighting a rival or two, and finding love. If you’ve played any of these celeb games, in essence you’ve played all of them—even a game from an entirely different company. The stakes may seem higher in Path to Fame because the writing is better and more immersive—I actually feel some guilt or tension when I have to choose between my little sister and my career, or face disappointing my BFF, or let Demi down as her backup singer—but it’s the same old story.
Intrusiveness of ads: +5000
Whacking-things satisfaction: None, because Glu would sue them.
Love Rocks starring Shakira (Rovio Entertainment)
Love Rocks is a tile-matching puzzle game—think Bejeweled—that somehow features singing sensation Shakira. I love Shakira, and I love a good puzzle game, so playing this was a pleasant enough but overall forgettable experience for me. The game has good ratings on iOS and Android, and while it is technically a flop, you can’t really ask for much from a marriage of generic puzzle game and celeb product endorsement.
Intrusiveness of ads: 1
Lindsay Lohan’s the Price of Fame (Space Inch)
I may have sighed heavily with relief when I realized this game isn’t available on Google Play anymore. The website doesn’t inspire much confidence, and one assumes from its quiet disappearance that it didn’t exactly change the landscape of gaming. RIP, Price of Fame.
It’s also worth noting that all of the Glu games and the Demi Lovato game have the option for same-sex pairings. Being able to marry my hot girlfriend in Rome or plan my wedding while finishing the final leg of Demi’s international tour is a bonus that baby gaymer-me wouldn’t have anticipated five years ago. I’m glad that game devs are seeing the inevitability of LGBT romance options.
And it means I’m one step closer to the gay dating sim of my dreams.
My ulterior motives aside, the slate of celeb games we have are cute, charming, and really same-y. There’s not necessarily one that stands out among the pack, although Kim’s game has made the most money and the rest have struggled to find that kind of an audience. Hollywood saw a substantial drop in revenue, despite the fact that it’s still doing decently, and the Katy Perry game is considered a flop; this might be a sign that consumers are fed up with same-y RPGs about beautiful people.
But given that there’s a host of celeb games in development, all of them from Glu, I doubt we’ll be seeing an end to the trend any time soon. It’s entirely possible that games from Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Britney Spears, and inexplicably Jason Statham, could revitalize the niche entirely.
I hope the newest slate of celeb games will be successful. I enjoy a time suck as much or more than the next person, and any time a game with a significantly female demographic makes bank, I’m happy.