The Show Must Go On (Review) iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch

The Show Must Go On (Review) iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch
Review Score:

This app may be the greatest development in opera since Elmer Fudd’s maniacally shrieking “KILL THE WABBIT!”

That landmark performance more than 50 years ago squeezed Wagner’s 17-hour “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (“The Ring Cycle”) into seven minutes, according to Bugs himself. Actually, it’s even more impressive than that since key elements of Tannhäuser  and other works by Wagner are thrown in.

Opera is an Italian word meaning work or labor, as nearly anyone attending one can attest. It’s where guys bring their dates as penance for watching football, with the matrons getting the satisfaction of seeing their man clueless and clean-shaven.

So for everyone believing all that stage tragedy ought to be actually inflicted on the performers as well as the audience, we now have The Show Must Go On courtesy of London’s Royal Opera House. Not only is it an entertaining and often funny collection of mindless arcade minigames, but it may be the best game since Dragon’s Lair in making failure more entertaining than success.

You’re the stage manager of an opera house whose collective competence is roughly equal to what would happen if Ed Wood decided to work a stint at La Scala. For each show you need to perform five tasks to make sure the actors are in costume, the sets are built, the props are properly sorted, the sheet music is rescued after being scattered and the lights are properly directed on the stage. In lieu of a paycheck or a warped paddle ball, your reward is getting to watch the results play out on stage and in the newspaper.

There’s four increasingly challenging shows that must be played sequentially. After that the main challenge is racking up feats and leaderboard status in a “Score Attack” mode where the rules are slightly different and gameplay lasts until you run out of lives, but four of the five games are in-app purchases costing a dollar each. The games may be great in short snippets that build to a finale where the results of your efforts are played out in stage, but they’re pretty meh as standalone long-term divisions.

You select a task by scrolling through five screens, each featuring a department manager in tears, a rage or otherwise uncultured mood. The first time through they’ll explain their predicament – probably the blunder of some hapless underling – and explain what you need to do to fill the cretin’s shoes. In later stages you’ll get brief and usually laugh-worth rants about whatever other bugs they’ve got up their culo.

Collecting scattered sheet music is a single-stage, horizontally scrolling platformer with no fatal enemies, but some tricky jumping and a need to collect nearly all the sheets if things are going to go smoothly on stage. Falling into one of the many gaps causes you to lose a bunch of sheets, which you might be able to get away with a time or two if you do a stellar job of collecting. Some floating cups of coffee along the way will give you a speed boost and flocks of birds can slight disrupt your navigation, but neither massively affects things. At the end, as with other stages, you’ll get an attaboy or some variation of a “we’ll try to make do” lament.

Building sets is a physics puzzler where boxes of various colors need to be moved from backstage to their proper outlined places on stage within a limited amount of time. It’s not terribly challenging unless you slip up, which can send everything you’ve done into a chaos you may not be able to recover from. There’s several sets to be built, so again you can probably blow at least one and still end up with something that’s less than a disaster at performance time.

Getting the actors into costume involves moving them back and forth to catch the right clothes while avoiding the wrong ones. As time passes trap doors underneath them will start giving way for a few seconds (much as I applaud hiring the deaf, maybe the trap room isn’t the best place for them). Sorting the props is a memorization game – you’re shown what items belong in each box, then must drag them there. You’ll need to do this a few times, with the number of objects increasing each time.

The lights stage is probably the most difficult. You turn five stage lights on and off by tapping on them, and must keep a procession of actors lit as they walk on stage, sing briefly and exit. There’s a limited power supply (apparently somebody decided D-cell batteries are cheaper than paying the electric bill) and keeping any unnecessary lights on for long will cause things to go dark before everyone appears. Trying to keep pace with the performers is maddeningly hard even on the beginning level, especially when more than on actor starts appearing at a time.

Once everything is done more or less successfully you’re rewarded with a seat in the audience (behind the bourgeoisie, of course), where the fruits of your efforts will be performed in drastically condensed fashion. Perform most tasks well and you’ll see a nice show, hear lots of applause and get good newspaper reviews. Blow it and…well, I hate to show the surprise in screenshots, but let’s just say a lot of players will be even more entertained by the results. There’s no question the reply value is immensely enhanced by playing through each show repeatedly, screwing up some or all tasks to varying degrees to see the hilarity that ensues..

The titles and plots of the four shows will probably be afterthoughts to most gamers, but they’ll likely be familiar with the snippets of music played throughout the game. “Le Nozze di Figaro” (also known as “Ossia la Folle Giornata,” which translates to “The Day of Madness”) is the one with the women singing that piece in “The Shawshank Redemption” (you could say it makes imprisoned men feel free and free men feel imprisoned), although the music in the game is the well-known opening salvo. The other shows, in order, are “Swan Lake,” “Carmen” and “The Nutcracker.”

You’ll pick up other tidbits about opera and ballet as you go, but nothing feeling like forced edutainment or likely to make you enjoy your next obligation date. At the end of each show a link appears allowing players to purchase an MP3 album of the performance, but anyone not needing this-instant gratification can probably find better and/or cheaper albums with about 60 seconds of Googling. There’s also an abundance of free audio and video options, and these are probably more than adequate in quality for casual listeners, especially if they’re using a mobile device.

This probably a good time to mention that, among the game’s negatives, the small amount of in-game music definitely leaves much to be desired considering what the endeavor is all about. There’s an option to play music from your iTunes collection in the background,  but loading the appropriate mood music can balloon the space devoted to the game to Myst-like absurdity. My copy of “Le Nozze di Figaro,” for instance, is 406MB in MP3 format (it’s a long show – the sort of thing you attend after coming home from the game drunk and wearing the lipstick of some bombshell who unexpectedly osculated you in the euphoria of that last-second win). A 10-song soundtrack for the app is available through iTunes for $7, which is a somewhat pricy option that will likely please most ears.

The other hitch is the cost/appeal factor. A huge percentage of the gaming community will spurn this app as soon as they see the word “opera.” Persevering browsers might find the concept intriguing at the $1.99 initial price. But by the time they’ve forked over $4 more for the Score Attack versions they’re a buck away from Chaos Rings II. I’m guessing a random poll about who would prefer The Show Must Go On would be roughly equal to the number of people opting for “Don Giovanni” instead of “Harry Potter.”

But there’s a world of pop-culture games and almost nothing for libretto aficionados who enjoy a little videogaming during their torpor. For them The Show Must Go On is a premier way to channel their inner campesino, while proles able to shun their snobbish stereotypes will find the basic game a worthy comédie mêlée d’ariettes.

Mark Sabbatini

The Show Must Go On by the Royal Opera House and Hide & Seek Productions Ltd.
$1.99
Category: Simulation
Language: English
Rated: 4+
Size: 113 MB

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