Sometimes a game’s theme song tells you everything you need to know about what you’re about to get yourself into. For Gameloft’s Miami Nights: Life in the Spotlight, it’s a circa-1996 MIDI instrumental tune that sounds suspiciously like Reel 2 Reel’s “I Like To Move It,” a senseless dance song so shallow and perpetually eager to party that it has since turned into a parody of itself. After a few minutes of playtime, you get the feeling that Gameloft tasked themselves with taking that song and making its video game equivalent.
As a social life game a la The Sims that was originally developed for cell phones, Miami Nights is wider than it is deep. On the surface there appears to be a lot to do on your quest for fame and fortune: the streets, beaches and buildings are packed with people to talk to, you can get jobs, go on dates, make friends and enemies and more. If you have any hope of reaching your hopes and dreams, you’ll have to do these things in some capacity, and if you’d like you can ignore the story and just wreak havoc on Miami’s party population. The problem is that after a while there seems to be little point.
Your actions are fairly inconsequential to the game world outside of advancing the plot to the next stage, which is a glaring omission for game based on nurturing a social life. Case in point: our character, an aspiring singer, had developed romantic relationships with multiple people in the same room, with not a single one batting an eye when we blatantly cheated on them with the person standing next to them. Shouldn’t at least one of them have reacted at all?
Maybe it’s asking too much from a downloadable game with cell phone roots. Maybe it’s more in line with the commonly perceived sexual promiscuity of the people who strive for this lifestyle (not judging, just sayin’). Either way, forming friendly or romantic relationships feels pointless unless it’s with a specific person who is the arbitrary next step to fame, like a bouncer to get into a club or a museum owner for a job. After learning how to make friends in the fewest steps possible, there’s little challenge in reaching your goal other than the effort it takes to find the next person you have to sweet-talk.
The only real challenge lies in the controls, which tend to be on the fiddly side. All of the action takes place on the touchscreen, allowing the stylus to be used for everything from character movement (tap your destination) to navigating the clumsy menu system. The D-Pad and face buttons work too, but navigating menus is clunky this way. Using one or the other exclusively never quite feels right, which can lead to a lot of switching back and forth trying to get comfortable during the game’s two-hour lifespan.
The art direction is admittedly nice: the cartoony characters have some personality to them and the world is very colorful. Notably, the animation is somewhat choppy and utilises few frames, breaking the illusion that this has risen any higher than its cell phone roots. This is also painfully obvious on the audio side – the music and sound effects are so simple you’ll think you’re holding a Nokia handset.
Despite its rough edges, there’s still fun to be had here. Miami Nights doesn’t take itself seriously one iota, with plenty of thinly veiled “adult” content delivered with a wink and a nod. This is a game where you can buy drinks for a friend until they puke, bring somebody home for an all-night romp of shooting hearts at each other and buy “vitamins” from seedy back-alley loiterers.
Miami Nights is not a terrible game as much as it is painfully average. Life sim fans can gleam some fun out of this, but it’s over before you know it and you likely won’t care to go back. It’s worth a shot if you’re looking for a quick dance, but just like its theme song it’ll wear thin fast.