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*NSYNC Hotline – PC Game Review

Posted on January 27th, 2006 by Alastair Craig

Few bands (some would say none at all) have made as big a contribution to the music scene as Popular Musical Group *NSYNC. With a distinguished song library spanning Everybody (Backstreet’s Back), Like a Rolling Stone and the theme from Murder, She Wrote, the group is nothing short of a heaven-sent treasure to the undeserving mortal realm.

Unfortuantely, this burdens any *NSYNC merchandise with a lot to live up to. Can this tie-in PC game, with its promises of “five funny games”, “EXCLUSVIE! voice and video clips” and the chance to “learn the secrets of the boys”, do justice to the *NSYNC legacy? As a member of the twentysomething male target demographic, I vowed to find out.

Disclaimer:*NSYNC Hotline originally shipped with a “Fantasy Phone”. This accessory not only acts as a game controller, but also gives the lucky owner EXCLUSIVE! voice messages and surprise phone calls from every band member! However, this review copy included only the CD ROM. Some might argue that the phone was the biggest incentive to buy the product, and that nitpicking the throwaway games outside their original context is unfair. I say nay; without such appealing and fun-looking distractions, I am baring the game’s very soul. So sit down and shut up – you just might learn something.

The game begins with an introductory video from a trendy looking black guy. I’m not quite sure who he is or what he said, partly because my knowledge of Popular Musical Group *NSYNC is very limited, but mainly because I had the game muted so I could listen to this rather good Elvis Costello compilation CD I found for $10 the other day. Anyway, I can only assume the introduction goes something like this:

Thanks to Jivey Clive’s helpful navigation tips, I successfully made it to the first game…

Game #1: Bowling

Disney Adventures magazine once printed a series of *NSYNC comics in which the band got hold of a time machine and fought some pirates. Walt would be so proud.

Realism is important in any game involving talking bowling pins with cartoon likenesses of pop stars for heads, and *NSYNC Hotline is no exception.

This is certainly a unique approach to the sport. The ball moves left and right and left and right and left and right until the enthralled user presses “enter” to launch it. And watch out for that gutter – if the ball touches the edge it will turn green and bounce back into the middle. Just like real life!

Unless Popular Musical Group *NSYNC’s catchy pop beats have the power to change the fundamental laws of the universe – and frankly, I can’t rule that out – then we could have a problem. It is, in all likelihood, physically impossible to suddenly change a ball’s momentum in this way.

I interviewed Tantalus Games’ Ben Kosmina (pictured below right, next to a slightly rude sign), a Beta Tester on both AMF Bowling 2004 and its recent follow-up, Black Market Bowling, to find out if this portrayal of the sport was accurate.

An Interview with Ben Kosmina

The Rubber Chicken: Ben Kosmina of Tantalus Games, you worked as a Beta Tester on both AMF Bowling 2004 and its recent follow-up, Black Market Bowling. Is *NSYNC Hotline’s portrayal of the sport accurate?

Ben Kosmina: No.

With that conundrum cleared up faster than the sinuses after a curry, we can safely move on to…

Game #2: Charity Challenge

“Bimestrial Junket” and “Lieberman Skit Jut” and “A Be Jerkin Til Smut” are just three of the many thousand anagrams of Justin Timberlake’s name!

“(Popular Musical Group) *NSYNC loves doing work for charity!” the manual proclaims. Somehow, this fact directly translates into shooting arrows at the band’s disembodied heads to plant kisses on the boys’ cheeks! (Tee hee!)

This game is a major step up from the last, with two possible directions to aim, and the ability to control the strength of each shot.

That’s all good. Swell. Gravy. Meat pies. However you want to put it, the gameplay isn’t the issue.  No siree, my gripe is with the visual design.

Below are three pictures.
Two are fan websites of Popular Musical Group *NSYNC.
One is an actual screenshot from the Charity Challenge mini-game.

Can you work out which is which?

Me neither.

Game #3: Quick Change

“Oh no! The band’s wardrobe manager has disappeared and it’s up to you to dress each member of the band in his correct costume for their upcoming concert!”

In 1999, every 14-year-old girl would have killed to have heard those words. Tiffany, I am so, so, sorry to crush your dreams.

If you find yourself waking up screaming every morning from this point, we’d really appreciate it if you sued BMG Records instead of us.

Game #4: Trivia

During Popular Musical Group *NSYNC’s early years, the band were particularly popular in Germany – the same country often associated with the Nazi Party.

Dear Infogrames,

Congratulations on publishing the recent smash hit *NSYNC Hotline. I think I speak for all 21-year-old male humour website editors when I say it’s a perfect digital monument to the band!

That said, I couldn’t help but notice a few glaring omissions in the trivia section. Under ordinary circumstances these would be forgivable, but when as the back cover promises the ability to “learn the secrets of the boys”, I feel the game has a reputation to live up to.

I have therefore taken the liberty of writing some sample questions, free of charge, which you’re welcome to use for the next expansion pack or sequel.

Joey briefly appeared in the Broadway musical “Rent”. Which of the following contemporary issues was a major theme of this story?

a) Real estate prices
c) Endangered species

Justin’s comment “I love giving y’all something to talk about” referred to which scandalous televised incident?
a) The assassination of John F Kennedy

b) Janet Jackson’s “Nipplegate” affair.
c) The “Crazy Frog” music video.

Which former *NSYNC member (whose back catalogue includes “All Day Long I Dream About Sex”) was banned from the NFL half-time entertainment line-up because his songs were deemed too risqué?
a) Justin
b) JC

c) Joey

In the song “Digital Get Down”, what does the phrase “We get nasty, nasty / we get freaky-deaky” imply?
a) Scrabble
b) Faux-sexual interaction on the internet

c) Your mother

I’ve got plenty more of these, so just let me know if you’re interested! My prices are reasonable and very open to negotiation, and I can happily work weekends.

For more details, please see my attached resume.

I’m looking forward to working with you!

Alastair Craig

That concludes today’s session. Of course, we have yet to get to the real dirt of the game: the legendary “Make A Move” dancing section, and let’s not forget the EXCLUSIVE! unlockable behind-the-scenes material!

Watch out for Part Two of this needlessly elaborate odyssey, in which we expose all this and, I’m sorry to say, so much more!

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