Thursday, October 7, 2010

NES Month: Wheel of Fortune

Wheel of Fortune
  • Publisher: GameTek
  • Developer: Rare
  • Platform/Release: NES: September 1987
  • Genre: Quiz
  • Rarity/Cost: Common (US$1-10)
Part 2 of my game show mini-series is a home version of the show that's almost always aired with Jeopardy! on TV: Wheel of Fortune.  The two NES games are alike on so many ways.  They were both released in 1988, published by Gametek, and developed by Rare.  Even the pre-game setup is identical (except that no player characters are shown on screen), so I could very well copy and paste that part of my Jeopardy! review here.  But I won't: I'll just yet you scroll down to it or click this link.

But it wouldn't do to just copy the whole review, since the two games play completely differently.  For those of you who have never seen it at all in its 35 years of existence, it plays like a less morbid version of Hangman.  Players spin a wheel with different money values on it and pick letters they think are used in the puzzle.  Consonants can be chosen normally, but vowels must be purchased for $250 each.  The player in control repeats these steps until he or she guesses a letter not in the puzzle, or lands on a "Bankrupt" or "Miss Turn" space on the wheel.  When someone thinks he or she knows the answer, he or she can guess and, if correct, keep any winnings from that round and move onto the next one.

You choose letters from a ribbon going from A to Z.  Letters that were already guessed are blanked out, so you skip over them.  Even though your cursor can wrap around from one end directly to the other, you'll sometimes wish that it would go faster, especially since you're on a time limit for all actions except spinning the wheel.  When you get to spin the wheel, a strength meter starts moving left and right, and you must press A or B to stop the meter and spin the wheel based on the power level.  Apart from the money slots, ranging from $150 to $1,000, there are three special spaces you need to watch out for.  The one marked "B" is Bankrupt, which takes away all the money you earned during the round and ends your turn, the one marked "M" is Miss Turn, which ends your turn and forces you to skip your next turn, while the "+" is Free Spin.  If your turn ends for any reason and you have a Free Spin in stock, you can spend one to keep your turn going.

Watch out for the special spaces on the wheel.1
Games in the NES versions of Wheel of Fortune last for three rounds, plus a bonus round for the winner.  This makes for really short (15-20 minutes) games, especially considering the fact that round 3 is the "Speed-Up Round", where the wheel is spun once and the value is used for all letter guesses in the round.  Here, players only get to guess one letter per turn (vowels are free, but do not earn any money) and choose to solve the puzzle.  If you're not ready to solve, you have to wait five seconds for the menu timer to run out and control to pass to the next player.  Ironically, this makes the speed-up round more tedious than the two normal rounds.  And even then, there's still a lot of waiting in store, especially if your opponents (be they human or computer-controlled) are too good.

There's a *lot* of waiting in this game.1
After the three rounds, the player who has banked the most money gets to play the bonus round.  Here you must pick a prize to play for, then choose five consonants and one vowel to help you in solving one last puzzle.  Win, and you get... bragging rights.  Allow me to refer you to my Jeopardy! review once again, where I talked about the reasons why other people don't like playing game show video games.  And get this - if a computer player goes to the bonus round, the game doesn't stop - you have to watch it play (and likely win).  Of course, you're more than welcome to just turn off or reset your Control Deck at this point.

If for some reason you start having to re-use puzzles too much for your liking, there are a total of four Wheel of Fortune games available for the NES.  The first three - this one, Junior Edition (1989) and Family Edition (1990) are just expansion packs for the same game, apart from color and (in Family Edition) sound differences.  But in 1992, Gametek switched developers from Rare to Imagitec, who made Wheel of Fortune featuring Vanna White.  And let me tell you, this version - at least the NES port - looks UGLY.  But it wins out in the gameplay department, since it bumps up the total round count from four to five.  But, if you just can't stand looking at it, you might as well get one of the other versions Imagitec made, for the Super NES, Genesis, or Game Gear.

Awful graphics vs. better gameplay... which will win?2
Hopefully that last image I posted will help steel you for the third and final game show video game I'll be reviewing for now - because it's a doozy.

Graphics: 2 Free Spins out of 5
Sound: 3 Free Spins out of 5
Control: 4 Free Spins out of 5
Design: 2 Free Spins out of 5
The Call: 60% (C-)

1"Wheel of Fortune - NES Screenshots".  MobyGameshttp://www.mobygames.com/game/nes/wheel-of-fortune_/screenshots.
2"Wheel of Fortune: Featuring Vanna White - NES Screenshots".  MobyGameshttp://www.mobygames.com/game/wheel-of-fortune-featuring-vanna-white/screenshots.

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