TV Superstars is an exploration of the world of the manufactured star, where catchphrases, affectations, and empty theatrics serve that sticky philosophy--even you can be a star! Yes, you!--found in so many reality TV shows. This game could almost be a telling satire of the modern predicament, but sadly there is no irony behind the controller as you learn to correctly apply makeup, mix paint, stir ingredients, and shoot paintball guns in a series of reality TV-style showdowns. When it works properly, the gameplay is fun and engaging, but this enjoyment is often interrupted by the game's one-dimensional context and features that don't work as they should.
TV Superstars follows you, a celebrity wannabe, on your path from the Z-list to the A-list. Getting there involves completing a series of PlayStation Move minigame challenges on four different reality TV shows, focusing on fashion, cooking, home improvement, and combat sports. Completing the challenges earns you fame points, which contribute to an overall meter that determines your celebrity status. There is also an acting agency, which you must visit regularly in order to appear in TV commercials to further boost your status. Each of the four TV shows is broken down into a set of smaller episodes, with each one containing four or five minigame challenges. Once you earn enough points in these episodes, new ones will be unlocked. A glammed-up green room serves as your hub, from where you can make and customise your avatar, check your status, pick shows and challenges, and allow other players to join you. The first snag comes when you use the PlayStation Eye camera to take shots of three facial expressions--normal, happy, and angry--that will be mapped to your avatar. While the photos themselves turn out fine, the game's face-capture technology does a terrible job of mapping, resulting in a Frankenstein-like version of yourself that you must constantly look at as you play.
Because the content of the minigame challenges is tied to the individual shows, there's plenty of variety and engaging gameplay. The challenges are also a little more difficult than you'd expect from a game like this, which keeps things interesting and provides an incentive to keep playing: the higher your score in the challenges, the more fame points you get. Some of the challenges repeat depending on the show; for example, the cooking show challenges have you cooking increasingly complex dishes by following the onscreen prompts with the Move controller. These involve stirring, cutting, mixing, heating, pouring, and doing a ridiculous dance routine mid-challenge because the host of the show is really big on rap. The fashion show is made up of a series of episodes in different locales around the world, with each episode consisting of the same formula: a remember-this-outfit minigame, a how-to-apply-makeup minigame, and a catwalk challenge where the aim is to walk straight and then perform a series of hilariously awkward dance steps in front of a large crowd.
Other shows have a bit more flair: home improvement challenges have you chopping wood, rearranging furniture, stripping paint, and so on, while the combat sports challenges are the most fun, mostly because they're based on a mixture of Gladiators and silly Japanese game shows. The challenges here involve a combination of carnival-style games and obstacle-course physical fitness challenges that tend to involve oversized gym equipment or some sort of paint cannon. Using the Move controller in different ways in each of these challenges is fun. The controller tracks well, and the response is immediate. The only time this is frustrating is with minigames that require attention to detail or accuracy, like tracing, painting, or drawing within a narrow area, which prove very difficult to get right and require prodigious skill (probably a breeze for art restoration specialists).
Though the context of TV reality shows makes good fodder for some entertaining minigames, the overall premise is a little too friendly with the perils and pitfalls of fame. The feeble attempt at a linear story is nothing more than a series of slow-loading vignettes that show your progression from fame-seeking desperado to catty socialite. Situations where you must record a commercial by performing a series of consecutive moves with the controller (move left and right, look up and down, swing around!) to match your avatar's onscreen movement and endorse a particular product offer an interesting change of scene, but the wanton abandonment with which you associate your face with toilet bowl cleaner feels mildly cynical. This underscores the will-do-anything-for-fame attitude that pervades the game. The fashion reality show also revels in the same shallow endeavors of that field: putting on make-up, walking down the catwalk and swinging the Move controller in time with your hips, and stripping off to your underwear for numerous clothing changes. Again, the minigames can provide some lighthearted entertainment, but the celebration of vanity here is slightly offputting, particularly during the make-up minigames, which suffer from the aforementioned accuracy issues when required to paint colours within small areas on the screen, and often result in your avatar looking more like The Joker in The Dark Knight than a model.
It's only when playing with a friend (or three in this case, if you like) that these shortcomings become easier to ignore, at least for a while. You can play the game from the start with other players, taking turns to complete the minigame challenges and receiving individual fame points and celebrity status. Apart from being more fun, multiplayer also shifts the focus from trying to beat your own score all the time to a more social experience, where the sense of competition is real. You can also pause the game at any time and return to the green room to add more players.
TV Superstars is best enjoyed with a dose of perspective. Its attempt to capture the zeitgeist is, for the most part, done well. If the game had a less overbearing agenda, and worked properly where it was supposed to, it would be possible to completely overlook its cursory context and concentrate on the gameplay, which is reasonably enjoyable thanks to the variety of minigames designed to stretch the Move's capabilities.