You’re the Next Contestant on… – A Look at NES Game Show Titles

Game Show Header Image.jpg

Let’s talk trivia.  

I love trivia nights at bars and restaurants.  When a friend recently showed me HQ Trivia, a free twice-a-day game show app on iOS and Android, I immediately became hooked.  Heck, I was even jealous of showed like Nick Arcade and Video Power because I would have loved (and still would love) to host some kind of video game trivia show.  For a chunk of my life, game shows were a big deal.

When I was growing up, I started enjoying game shows through being babysat by my grandmother.  Family Feud, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune were big on her television, as well as with most of my family that I spent extended amounts of time with.  I blame most of these for my love of esoteric trivia and pop culture know-how.  Game shows have been a pretty large staple of television culture and that was apparent even back in the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System.  If there was a chance to capitalize on the popularity of a piece of broadcast media, some company usually found some way to jump on the chance to seize the opportunity.

Two companies seemed strongly involved in translating game shows to the small pixelated screen: GameTek, who made their start from making adaptations in the late 1980’s and closed in the 1997 after making a number of licensed games, and High-Tech Expressions, who had a reputation for making children oriented games after their founding in 1988 and also closed their doors in 1997.  While neither of them are around anymore (though some of GameTek’s assets have been brought over to Take Two Interactive Europe), they left a potpourri of game show related works across not only the NES, but also on a few other systems.

Given that these game show related games don’t particularly have the substance to warrant a full review each, I’ve decided to dive into some of these- a whole bunch of which I remember- and throw together some mini-reviews to see how these game stand up as entertainment.  I’ve broken them down into categories to help limit the guidelines of what they are being judged on, since there’s obviously no plot, leveling systems, or anything else of the sort to dissect.

In this first entry, I’ve checked into four game show adaptations, two from GameTek and two from High-Tech Expressions: MTV’s Remote Control, Double Dare, Win Lose or Draw, and the classic Jeopardy.  If you’re interested in seeing how some licensed games are torturing me or fulfilling my old-school gaming habit, come on down!

Remote Control Title

MTV’S REMOTE CONTROL
High-Tech Expressions
1990

Players: 1-2 players (there will always be at least one CPU contestant)

Play Time: I spent about 15 minutes for a full game single-player, and I can’t imagine adding another player would do much to the time involved.

Remote Control 1

No way could I pass up a question involving Jason and Friday the 13th

Premise
Three contestants sit in giant comfy chairs while the host asks them questions related to entertainment, almost entirely focusing on television.  In the middle of the second round, the contestant with the lowest score is eliminated.  The remaining two contestants will play until a lightning round where they have to match one concept with the correct other concept (i.e. matching a list of movie titles to a short plot description given).
While the game’s original spirit is captured in how this plays, it sounds like there is a lot lost in the translation from screen to system.  Reading Wikipedia about the original game, aside from questions there were questions based on comedy skits, points could be lost unless contestants wanted to endure some ‘unpleasantness’, and there were other features that would have been hard to include in a Nintendo game without losing a lot of the ‘oomph’ that playing in a studio would bring.

Remote Control 2

But- but this- this isn’t how you eliminate contestants from a game show!

Accessibility
Well, if you watched American television in the late 80s or you’re well versed in programs that were on then, you may actually be able to have a good time.  With categories like “Gilligan’s Island”, “Prime Time”, and “Beauties and Assassins” (where you have to answer with the correct actress and killer), the game stays fairly accessible but like all games that rely on topical knowledge, the game’s mileage can vary from person to person and generation to generation.

Presentation
The game’s not super pretty, dripping with pastels and a palette that screams clashing late 80s.  While the colors can be looked past for the most part, the character models are unattractive and when they answer correctly or incorrectly, their facades change.  This would look better if it weren’t one tile of the model changing, making the effort cringy rather than thoughtful.  There’s also only one song to speak of.  Hope you enjoy it.

Remote Control 3

Sure.  Thanks, man.

AI
Pretty abysmal.  The game makes no allusions that the CPU contestants’ answers are randomly selected, and I watched a couple of times as I answered incorrectly to a couple of questions which the CPU then repeated the answers to.  There’s absolutely no challenge.

Overall
If you enjoyed MTV and the 1980s in television and entertainment, this could be a fun game to kill some time, but I wouldn’t put any money behind hunting this down.  The games are short, and this was clearly made to grab some cash off of a popular game show.
Double Dare Title

DOUBLE DARE
GameTek
1990

Players: 1-2 Players

Play Time: Seemed to be able to play a full single player game in about 20-25 minutes

Double Dare 3

The challengers do sometimes pass on easier questions

Premise
Two teams of two kids answer questions about a variety of subjects for money.  If a team gets a question they don’t know, they can ‘Dare’ the other team to answer it for more money.  If that team doesn’t know it, they can ‘Double Dare’ the question back, raising the stakes even further.  If the original team still isn’t sure of the answer, they can accept a ‘Physical Challenge’, which is usually a messy or high coordination task to try to win money.  The team with the most money at the end of two rounds gets to go to the Obstacle Course of eight challenges to win prizes and, with any luck, the grand prize.
The game stays really faithful to the source material, as you play as a pair of kids, choose a team name, and compete intellectually and through challenges to get the most money and make it to the obstacle course.

Double Dare 1

Take that, Cooties!  I love those angry faces when a question is missed.

Accessibility
The game has three difficulty levels- easy, medium, and hard.  Being the overconfident trivia geek that I am, I chose hard.  I was not disappointed, as I only turned out a victory on the very last question.
The game’s questions aren’t terribly dated, though some of the trivia was obscure, even for me (wait, Daisy Duck has nieces named after months?).  When I was stumped on a question, though, I genuinely didn’t know the answer.  The questions ranged from historical to pop cultural and none of them suffered from this game releasing nearly thirty years ago.
I don’t think I won a single Physical Challenge, though, so the difficulty may have been alluding to that, as well.  Maybe with some practice, I could get better at them, but in the length of a single game, I whiffed on every one.

Double Dare 2

Thanks for the vote of confidence, game, but I’m only walking away with a watch and a walkman after this…

Presentation
Double Dare isn’t gorgeous, but it gets the job done.  The characters models are cartoony, which is perfect for a Nickelodeon branded game.  The challenges, while disproportionate, look like a decent rendition of the studio and set pieces- though one challenge found me shooting my fellow contestant from a cannon at a board with spaghetti and meatballs on it, which feels implausible.  The sound ranges from atrocious to epic with the title song being near unrecognizable at first.  The music for the Obstacle Course, though, sounds like an action movie rendition of the usual theme, but it’s probably the most palatable sound you’ll hear from the game, as the sound effects are grating and obnoxious.

AI
On Hard difficulty, the AI was pretty on point.  They got enough questions wrong and right to feel natural, but the challenges in head to head games were pointless to try in.  The game lived up to the difficulty level I set.

Overall
True to its word, Double Dare brings the experience home as far as it can.  I much rather would have played with the sound off, but if you are looking to relive the old days of Nickelodeon through an 8-bit prism, this is not the worst way to do it.
Win Lose or Draw Title

WIN, LOSE, OR DRAW
High-Tech Expressions
1989

Players: 1-2; sadly, there doesn’t seem to be an option for a CPU opponent, so you have to play against a friend or by yourself

Play Time: As a single player, the game lasted 5-10 minutes

Win Lose or Draw 1

Despite my best efforts, Road House didn’t fit.

Premise
Two teams of celebrities and one contestant comprised of men and women take turns drawing on a board from clues so that their teammates can guess what they are trying to depict.  Each team gets three rounds, and then the team that wins the most money from those rounds go on to a speed round to solve as many pictures as they can before time runs out.
The game follows the format closely, as you can set up the teams at the beginning, the difficulty, and you can even use a password to replay past puzzles.  It seems that in the game show, you could pass during the bonus round, which I couldn’t find a way to do and could have been really useful.

Win Lose or Draw 2

You may have, like I did, thought this was Alien.  Fun fact: the answer was Ghost.

Accessibility
The game’s topics are somewhat dated, but they are still not entirely kind to anyone born outside of the game’s timeframe.  With answers like “The Graduate” and “Wall Street” for movies, they were movies I had heard of but had a hard time summoning up when given the clues to guess off of.
The game is not very kind to the single player, though.  Again, with no instructions to be found in the game or otherwise, I found no way to have a CPU contestant, and there doesn’t appear to be a way to draw unless you have a second player.  While this all makes sense, it relegates the game to requiring two players to be any fun or to access most of the features of the game.

Win Lose or Draw 3

A more hollow victory has never been had.

Presentation
While Win, Lose, or Draw is simple in its premise, the presentation is simple but effective.  The colors aren’t garrish, the animations are simple, and the pictures drawn are pretty well done, whether you get the answer right or not off of them.  The music can be a little abrasive, but it changes up enough so that no track overstays its welcome.  At the very least, there is music throughout the entire game, so the upbeat ‘friendly competition’ feel is at the forefront.

AI
There’s none to speak of, so- no real point to talking about it, I suppose.

Overall
This is probably a fun game to play with friends, as it’s short and definitely requires a number or interested parties to enjoy.  If you’re a single player looking to invest in a game show experience, this game is a five minute glorified game of Pictionary.
Jeopardy Title

Jeopardy!
GameTek
1988

Players: 1-3; I’m not sure how, but the option to have three players is given in selection

Play Time: 35-45 minutes for a single player game

Jeopardy 1

Tricia needs to calm right down or I’m calling an exorcist.

Premise
Three contestants are given six categories with five questions each, different dollar values assigned to them in accordance to difficulty.  The first round has $100 to $500.  The second round has the dollar values doubled.  There is a Final Jeopardy round, as well, where each contestant can wager as much of their money as they want on a final answer.  The gimmick of Jeopardy is that you are given the answer and have to respond in the form of the question that the answer pertains to.
GameTek has given the Jeopardy experience to a tee in this game.  Each round ends when the questions are completed from the board, so there is no time limit for choosing your category and question.

Jeopardy 3

I know where my strengths lie.

Accessibility
In the game that I played, all of the questions and topics were still pertinent, which is kind of the beauty of Jeopardy in general.  Provided with three difficulty levels, the questions most likely adjust toward whichever option is selected.  The categories also ranged from “Children’s Classics” to “Civics” and “Man’s Best Friend”, so the focus of the answers given were just as varied as the show offers.
The real issues seem to come from input time for answers and potential for spelling issues ruining answers you might know.  Each answer gives you sixty seconds to input your question, which is easy when the answer is “Brazil” but becomes a concern when you need to type in “Cabbage Patch Kids”.  Also, when you get to type in something like “Chihuahua”, the pressure is on to make sure you know how to input what you’re meaning to say.  I didn’t run into any spelling issues, but I’m also a pretty spot-on speller most of the time.  Overall, though, the game seems to give enough leeway so long as you know what you’re trying to answer when you buzz in.

Presentation
Everything is given accurate representation from the game board to the contestant podiums and the answer screens.  The character representations are relatively grotesque caricatures, and once they animate, it doesn’t tend to do any favors.  They are definitely people shaped, though, so that’s a plus.  The familiar Jeopardy theme resounds during the title, and the only other sounds are of success or failure at questions or the sound of the timer ticking down during each question.  This can be irritating after a while, given how often you hear it.  Everything about the front-end of this game is average, if not just below.

Jeopardy 2

I mean- I did an okay job, I guess.  Thumbs up, indeed!

AI
CPU opponents are actually pretty sharp, even on Intermediate difficulty (which I chose due to learning my lesson playing Double Dare earlier).  They gave me a good run, and there is a strange way that they ‘fail’ at giving the right question- when an opponent messes up, their answer comes out as a mix of symbols, spaces, and the occasional correct letter for the answer.  This can sometimes give a hint as to what you should be answering, and you’ll know almost immediately if they are getting the answer wrong.

Overall
Jeopardy, much like a good amount of GameTek’s offerings, is a strong representation of the real deal.  Everything is accurate from the Daily Double’s of the show to the style of questions and answers.  With the focus on information and trivia, the flaws in graphics are forgivable.  If you enjoy the game show, you’ll definitely enjoy the Nintendo offering.

To think that this is just the first haul of game show based video games I wrangled up from my memory.  Like I mentioned before, there are plenty more and I will most likely try to explore more of them in the near future- the video game historian and game show nerd in me won’t let me stop at just these four.  Did you ever play any of these when you were a kid (or even more recently)?  Do you have any memories of battling it out with friends on game show related media?  Let me know in the comments!

Needless to say, if you’ve got a hankerin’ for more cheesy hosts, shoddy AI, puzzle solving, and loads of useless minutiae, tune in to the next entry exploring some of these licensed fortunes or flops here on 3PStart!

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