Let’s face it; a video game based on a game show will probably never
be a “must-have” title for any console. Unless of course it’s based
upon a fictional game show, like Smash TV. The gameplay will
always be too limited in scope, and the format of a TV show doesn’t
allow for the graphics & sound that will wow gamers playing advanced
consoles. Thus, the best way to develop a game based on a game show
is to focus on emulating it as realistically as possible. Artech
has done just that with Jeopardy!.
For the two of you that have never watched the show before (or seen
the SNL skits) and yet somehow have interest in this game (as shown
by your reading this), the setup of the show is simple. Three
contestants compete over three rounds (Jeopardy!, Double Jeopardy!,
and Final Jeopardy!). Clues are given in the form of an answer, and
the player must respond in the form of a question. For example, the
correct question to an answer of “Term for a legal case whose
outcome is not in doubt” in category “____ & ____” would be
“What is open & shut?”. Money is awarded based on the
value of the answer (see screenshot below). Double Jeopardy!
doubles the amount of money awarded for each answer (up to $2000),
and Final Jeopardy! allows the contestant to bet as much as their
entire winnings on one final clue. The contestant with the most
money at the end of the game wins.
Game modes include Normal Game, Solo Game, Tournament of Champions,
and Contestant Exam. Solo game allows the player to play without
opponents, but the correct questions are not revealed (thus not
ruining the regular game). Instead the game lets the player know
what areas he/she needs to study. The Tournament of Champions is
available only after winning five games or accumulating more than
$75,000 in winnings, which is tracked in each player’s career
statistics. Obviously, the Tournament is more difficult than a
regular game. Contestant Exam allows the player to take a
50-question sample exam, and at the end Alex tells the player
whether he passes or fails. A passing grade is 35 out of 50
correct. Again, correct responses are not given.
Artech has translated this experience to PS2 about as well as can be
expected. With over 5,200 answers, obviously voice recognition
technology hasn’t advanced to the point where it can be reliable.
There are only 89 or so voice-recognized phrases in
Rainbow Six 3, and it has trouble recognizing several of those.
Thus questions must be typed in via the controller, which Artech
makes easy with a wheel letter selector like that found on many
highest score entry screens. It spins fast enough to make entry not
entirely tedious, while not being too fast that it skips over
letters easily. Additionally, Artech uses an auto-fill system that
begins to guess a player’s response after three letters have been
entered. Unfortunately there’s a little too much time given for
correctly answering each clue, which can result in a contestant
getting to try three or four different responses before it runs
out. With some clues, this leaves plenty of time to deduce the
exact answer. Furthermore, when the first word is obvious this
makes it fairly easy to guess the rest. Support for Datel’s
Powerboard keyboard would’ve been nice, but that actually
would’ve worsened the problem of giving too much time and that isn’t
widely owned anyway. I definitely prefer this system to having to
pick every single letter, but it’s not without its faults.
There are a few minor problems that could’ve been avoided. I found
several errors and inconsistencies, such as an answer about the
NBA’s Hornets home city mentioning it being located in North
Carolina. When I guessed Charlotte (the Hornets’ old city), it was
incorrect as they were looking for New Orleans (the Hornets’ new
city). Apparently they updated the correct response when the team
moved, but didn’t bother to update the actual answer. The game
usually accepts numerical & text answers such as 1984, but on
occasion will only accept one or the other. This also happens with
proper names, which will sometimes require the last name only but
other times require the entire name. To be fair the game usually
gives plenty of time to go back and figure out how it wants the
answer, but the player should never have to do that. Finally, in
two-player games the Final Jeopardy! bid for the second contestant
(whichever has more money since the lower score goes first) flashes
on screen when entered and then re-appears immediately following the
first player’s Final Jeopardy! guess for no reason at all, making it
easy for other players to accidentally see it even when not trying.
These kinds of inconsistencies are glaring in a game that relies on
accurate questions & answers, and could’ve been prevented with a bit
more time in Quality Assurance.
Perhaps most important is the number and frequency of clues, and I’m
happy to report that after many games with my wife and alone we’ve
yet to run into the same one more than once. This was a big problem
with previous Jeopardy! games, which had much fewer answers.
Although it’s bound to happen anytime there are a finite number of
them, this game smartly keeps track of the categories and clues
already used and avoid them when possible. Too bad this game
doesn’t support downloadable updates. The A.I. is good, without
being so good that it never misses. Of course a game like this is
best played with other human beings, and needing a multitap to play
three is inconvenient.
Graphically, there’s not a lot a developer can do when making a game
based on Jeopardy!. The video wall is faithfully reproduced,
and the game includes a lot of small details from the show such as
the pan from category to category as each is introduced and the
ability to create a “signature” for each career. Alex appears in a
lot of FMV video snippets, saying things like which player has
control of the board and offering his condolences on an incorrect
answer. While these do add a bit of authenticity, they also appear
too frequently and become annoying over time.
The Jeopardy! theme song and wall sounds are all here, and
that’s really all this game needs in the sound department.
Impressively though, the game also sports a ton of spoken dialogue
from not only the A.I. opponents but also Johnny Gilbert & Alex
(mostly in the FMVs) himself. Johnny reads every single clue (save
for Final Jeopardy!), and the A.I. reads every category & monetary
choice when it chooses. The A.I. voice acting is mediocre, but at
least they attempt to show a little emotion & uncertainty when
Over 5,200 answers with
smart tracking of those already used.
Several gameplay modes.
It sounds and looks
almost as real as possible, and thankfully ditched the lame
avatars of past games.
The auto-fill system for
answering is about as good as a non-keyboard setup can be.
The A.I. is good without
being too good.
Lots of voice
acting, by both A.I. opponents and Johnny Gilbert.
design of the PS2 prevents three players from playing without buying
a $35 multitap.
It’s inexcusable that some answers & questions are faulty, and the
bid glitch should’ve been spotted with any QA time.
Too much Alex with too little of importance to say.
Online play would do wonders for a game like this, particularly if
it picked from a constantly changing pool of answers.
If you’re a fan of the show, Jeopardy! is worth the $30 price
tag as it’s the best video game representation of the show yet. If
you aren’t a fan of the show, Jeopardy! still makes for a
good family game as long as you already own a multitap (it isn’t
worth $35 for one additional player). Hopefully we’ll see some form
of online support in the next one.