Hollywood is a very small town in “Surviving Hollywood,” the new vidgame that squeezes the entire experience of making it in showbiz onto a cell phone screen. Though it makes the process of arriving in town and landing an agent seem absurdly simplistic, “Surviving Hollywood” is sophisticated and involving compared to most mobile games and should succeed with young women looking for a fun download for their phones.
Game takes place over 29 days, each of which is divided into three-hour long activities. Because “Surviving Hollywood” automatically saves at the end of each day, it’s very easy to pick up and play for a few minutes, a key attribute in any cell phone game.
Once players get past an exposition-heavy introduction, “Surviving Hollywood” is about trying to accumulate enough acting experience, get in good enough shape, and look beautiful enough to get great headshots and land an agent. In another context, rewarding players for increasing their “beauty” and “fitness” scores might seem offensive. But the game is called “Surviving Hollywood” and the title isn’t meant ironically, so it’s hard to fault the designers for capturing the reality of a superficial business.
Of course, on the cell phone screen, Hollywood has only one gym and one beauty salon and landing roles is as easy as consulting the classified ads in the “Reel Times.” Because those processes are so fundamentally simple, “Surviving Hollywood” throws up challenges in the form of mini-games, by far the weakest element of the game. Having to capture a certain number of falling items to get a good workout or spell words quickly to nail a rehearsal turns a relatively interesting role-playing game into something that would have felt hacky in an arcade in the early ’80s.
The most interesting parts of “Surviving Hollywood” are actually those that surround the core challenge. Designers made an effort to accurately portray the personal struggles of starting off in showbiz, including working an entry-level job to make money and trying to maintain a long-distance relationship. Balancing it all without letting the character’s stress level get too high is the biggest challenge of the game and feels true to life.
Graphics are solid for a cell phone game. Though the writing captures the reality of Hollywood as well as could be expected in a small videogame, the periodic stabs at humor, such as a studio exec who gets caught up with a mafia catering business and an experimental film about the conflict between a jellyfish and some ketchup, largely fall flat. But “Surviving Hollywood” isn’t utimately about poking fun at a ridiculous industry. It’s about getting players to buy into the dream of making it as a celebrity enough to keep playing, as well as to keep paying for future episodes that will continue the story of a cell phone starlet.