Recently, we at Nintendo Life reviewed Model Academy from developer Tivola. As a team with plenty of modelling experience between us, we felt well qualified to judge the merits of this title. Tivola have wasted no time releasing a follow-up title, Beauty Academy, and as regular patrons of beauty salons we once again take it on ourselves to answer one important question; does this game bring the excitement of beauty salons to the DSi, or act as a deterrent to aspiring stylists around the world?
The storyline in Beauty Academy introduces a few twists along the way, some of them so left-field we didn’t know what to think. Your character starts off bemoaning the loss of another salon job due to her clumsiness, and decides to indulge in some retail therapy in a newly-opened second-hand store on the way home. She just happens to love second-hand goods, and the gentlemanly shopkeeper allows her to take away a piggy-bank for free. Once she gets home things get strange; it transpires that the pig is actually a wizard called Pigg Bancroft, and that he will make your dreams come true and convert your house into a beauty salon business. Pigg likes to drink expired orange juice, flirt with your best friend Priss and follow you around while flying on a cloud. Maybe the writers were parodying the phrase ‘pigs might fly’ in terms of pursuing dreams, or maybe not. Regardless, it is completely bizarre and as the story progresses it gets even stranger. Whether this storyline will make you smile is entirely dependent on your sense of humour, though in our case we couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry.
While the premise may be bizarre, the gameplay is more conventional. Each level is a day in the life of the business in which you serve your customers as quickly as possible. There are two elements to the gameplay: resource management and stylus based mini-games. In terms of resource management, it is your job to move each customer to the correct chair for their treatment and decide the order in which to serve. You start off with a hair washing and hair cutting station, but as you progress you acquire a make-up chair, massage table, nail chair and a photo studio. You simply use the stylus to drag the customer to the correct chair for their treatment, and you have to engage your brain in order to organise your resources as efficiently as possible. This element of the game is executed fairly well, as you’re racing against a clock and each move counts.
The second aspect of gameplay is applying the treatments themselves. Once a customer is in a chair you direct your character to get to work, with stylus mini-games representing activities such as cutting hair, giving a massage or applying make-up. The game falls over with these mini-games due to repetition and unoriginal design: anyone who has played Model Academy will be familiar with these sections, as they are largely the same as the activities in that title's salon. You do a mixture of tapping, swiping and colouring within dotted lines, and although there are technically quite a few different treatments, they all utilise the same techniques. It is unimaginative and gimmicky, and doesn’t make us want to abandon this video game website business for a new venture in beauty salons, especially if we had a flying pig-wizard bossing us around.
The difficulty in this game is determined by the number of customers and the time limit you’re working to. Experienced gamers are unlikely to see any game overs, but the title’s younger target audience may find some of the later levels tough to beat. For completionists, there are gold star times to go for and some of these are exceptionally difficult. These time targets do add a certain level of compulsion as you rush customers to their seats, cut their hair in ten seconds flat and throw them out of the door. If this was a real salon, its clientele would be sporting some strange hair-cuts and make-overs on the streets.
The overall gameplay experience is a mixed bag. This title serves up 48 levels at around three minutes each and we’d say that the 3 - 4 hours of beating the game does, overall, get pretty tedious. The single-player story mode is also the only game mode, apart from a practice area. Once you beat the game the only reason to go back is to try and earn more gold stars, but you may have already had enough by this point. For those of you sharing a DSi, your family and friends can open a salon of their own with one of the game's three separate save profiles. That’s it though; this title is light on functionality.
The presentation is, like the gameplay, a mixture of the rough with the smooth. Visually this game is acceptable, particularly by DSiWare standards. The cutscenes, despite some cringe-inducing dialogue, are represented by bright, nicely drawn still frames. The resource management element of the game is the expected 2D top-down view, and the graphics are clear enough for you to know what treatment a customer wants. The sound isn’t as good; the strange jazzy composition is tolerable initially, but after a short period we were reaching for the volume down button.
As the second entry in Tivola’s ‘Academy’ franchise, this title does leave a slightly better impression than the first, Model Academy. It must be said though, the improvement is minor. Despite stronger elements such as the resource management gameplay and decent graphics there are still redundant, repetitive mini-games and annoying music. As for the storyline, we can’t decide whether it’s embarrassing or amusingly quirky. The game’s target audience, pre-teen girls, may enjoy elements of Beauty Academy, yet the flaws in the title may irk even these budding stylists. This salon is unlikely to stay in business for long; unless pigs fly of course.