Monday, October 4, 2010

NES Month: Jeopardy

  • Publisher: GameTek
  • Developer: Rare
  • Platform/Release: NES: September 1988
  • Genre: Quiz
  • Rarity/Cost: Common (US$1-10)
If there's one genre Seanbaby would call me out on for liking, it's game show-licensed video games. I can understand why people hate the genre; you don't physically win all the money and fabulous prizes you worked so hard to earn, and each game lasts only, what, fifteen minutes at most depending on the game. But whether I like the source material or I'm just a braniac, there are some I just happen to love. The flagship out of them all was Jeopardy! for the NES. It's also the one I have the most nostalgia for, even when I wasn't even old enough to answer the stuff correctly. Could it have been the reason why "jeopardy" was the first word I ever wrote, or was I just a fan of the TV show? Even I don't remember!

The company GameTek published all the major game show licenses up to the late 1990s. This includes Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune, Hollywood Squares, Family Feud, and more. The first wave of their titles was Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, both released in September 1988 and developed by Rare. Yes sir, they did loads of stuff before Donkey Kong Country and GoldenEye 007 made them famous in the 90s. And this, after their ZX Spectrum game Jetpac, was one of the first titles they developed.

Jeopardy! is very straightforward as quiz games go. Players answer questions, based on category and dollar value, given in the form of answers and must respond with their answers in the form of questions. Correct questions earn you money based on the answer's value, and incorrect questions take that much money away from you. If I've lost you already, then you clearly haven't been around for the show's 50-plus-year run. So we'll start with the options available to you during this game's setup.
No Trebek, no problem. [1]
First, you set the number of human players, up to 3. You can choose to fill up the remaining slots with computer players, and set their difficulties. Then, each player takes turns setting their names and which character they want to use as their avatar. You may notice that the host is never shown on screen, but given later, non-Rare-developed Jeopardy! games, perhaps we should be thankful. Now, you may be wondering how they were able to handle three human players with only two controller ports on the NES. There are games out there that let two players pass around one controller, but Jeopardy! handles it a little differently. Players 1 and 3 share the first controller, and player 2 gets the second controller all to his/herself.

As in the TV edition, one player chooses an answer based on category and dollar value, and then the answer appears on screen for (up to) ten seconds. During that time, any of the players can buzz in and give a question. This is done by pressing any direction on the Control Pad (players 1 and 2) or the A or B button (player 3). Whoever buzzed in has to type in their response within 40 seconds. To simplify matters, the game handles phrases such as "what is", "who is", "what are the", etc., so you just have to answer it as if you were given a question in the first place. The game does accept alternate spellings for some questions (e.g. "Henry VIII", "Henry the 8th", and "Henry the Eighth"), but not out-and-out misspellings (e.g. "Yangtze" is accepted, but not "Yangtse").
You don't have to fill in the "what is" phrases yourself. [1]
Once the first board is cleared, the game progresses to Double Jeopardy mode, where all dollar values are doubled. On both boards, there are randomly-placed Super Jeopardy questions where the person who chose it gets to wager any amount of money, up to their current total. And then, once both boards are cleared, the game wraps up with Final Jeopardy. The players are given a category and must make a wager before the answer is given, after which they take turns giving questions. In this version, players have to go by the honor system; everyone who's not writing a question in Final Jeopardy must take it upon themselves to look away from the screen. Once everyone is done, the money is tallied up, the winner is decided, and the game ends. Repeat as often as your interest holds up.

Since Jeopardy! on the NES is a straightforward port of a straightforward game show, there's nothing much wrong with it. The computer's level of challenge is just about right for the difficulty you pick at the start of the game, but instead of giving out-and-out wrong questions, they beef it with garbled versions of the right response. But since you can jump in to answer a question at any time, waiting your turn isn't as much of an issue as in other game show games. Most of the challenge comes from the answers themselves, making Jeopardy! nearly, if not as much fun to play alone against the computer as with others.

Control: 5 questions out of 5
Design: 5 questions out of 5
Graphics: 2 questions out of 5
Sound: 3 questions out of 5
Value: 4 questions out of 5
The Call: 80% (B)
P.S. The Soviet Union still exists in this game, so keep that in mind, Millenials.

[1] "Jeopardy! - NES Screenshots". MobyGames.

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