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Jeopardy!
Review By: Jared Black
 
Developer:  Artech
Publisher:  Atari
# Of Players:  1-3
Genre:  Family
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card, Multitap
Date Posted:  12-17-03

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 guessing.

HIGHS:

  • 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.

LOWS:

  •  The 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.

FINAL VERDICT:

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.

Overall Score: 7.0

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