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Jeopardy! (Wii) artwork

Jeopardy! (Wii) review

"Fortunately, you can avoid the issues with the various difficulty presets by choosing the hidden “Custom” difficulty option and tweaking each setting as you see fit. In that manner, it’s possible to introduce near-perfect balance to a game that very much needs it. The developers could have saved everyone a lot of grief if they had just put those options on a startup screen ahead of each competition, but apparently the sort of audience that enjoys answering obscure trivia questions isn’t ready for something so mentally taxing."

Sometime around 1990, an older woman named Alma moved into the house across the road from my house. She and her husband Tom were both neighborly folk and they got along great with my mom, so a few evenings each week my mom would take my sister and I across the street to visit Alma and we would all sit down on the couch to watch television. Mostly we caught up on sitcoms, but sometimes we would also watch “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!”

I was in fourth and fifth grades during the time my family counted Alma as our neighbor, and my knowledge of the world wasn’t as significant as it is now, but I enjoyed squinting at the fuzzy television set and watching people try to provide the questions that led to the answers that led to a lot of money. The game show format offered an intriguing twist on the standard trivia formula and I loved it when Alex laid the smack down and told a contestant to phrase his or her response in the form of a question. I realized that I was quite smart but not especially athletic, so it was nice to imagine that someday my brains would get me somewhere that my inability to hit a home run would not.

Eventually, I discovered that someone had made a Jeopardy! game for the NES. Space constraints typical of the 8-bit era meant that Rare’s attempt to give the television experience an interactive twist was only partially successful, but the game worked great as an occasional rental in spite of its limitations. My friend Nathan and I played through many grueling matches over the course of the next summer or two. He was two or three grades ahead of me but more athletically-minded and I still didn’t even know what algebra was, so that dynamic led to some of the closest competitions that we ever had. I grew to anticipate our mental clashes the way kids today look forward to rounds on a Call of Duty map.

Those days couldn’t last, of course. Alma moved away and the regular television viewing stopped. Nathan spent more time with athletics and girls while I spent my time playing more video games and wishing that I didn’t live in the boonies. Eventually, I stopped thinking to rent Jeopardy!, and not long after that I didn’t even have the option because the rental place sold it to make room for newer games with explosions, angry toads and girls trapped in mansions. Over the years I sometimes thought about picking up a newer Jeopardy! release (after all, there have been so very many of them), but I never got around to doing so until this last November when I finally settled on the new Wii version from THQ.

When I purchased Jeopardy! for Wii, I was naturally hoping for an experience that would in some ways replicate the one that I had as a child. At the same time, I knew that many elements would have changed. I promised myself that as long as the new game made the right few subtle adjustments and implemented some obvious improvements, I would be content. I wasn’t ready to give the game a free pass, in other words, but I set the bar appropriately low.

I’m glad that I lowered my expectations appropriately, because that mostly prepared me for the final product. I was prepared for Alex Trebek without the moustache (not a big deal anyway, since the original Jeopardy game for the NES didn’t show the host at all). I was prepared for a glitzy stage that looks sleek but lacks the early 90s sensibilities that I found comforting as I watched from my place on Alma’s couch. The changes to the show since the early 90s are all properly reflected--good and bad--and I wouldn’t dream of complaining about their appropriate reflection in the game. There are other aspects to the game, however, that can’t be so easily dismissed.

My main gripe is that Jeopardy! on Wii is apparently content to assume that players need a few handicaps. You’ll set up a character profile the first time you play and then, unless you specifically choose to do otherwise, you’ll play a match on “Easy” mode.

If you do go with that default, you may be insulted to find that you’re not even required to come up with the correct response on your own. Instead, three potential answers are provided and you simply must choose between them. If you take a while to answer or you decide that you simply have no clue, your computer opponent may then make a guess and answer incorrectly, leaving you with a 50/50 chance of choosing the desired response. For that matter, your AI opponents may both guess wrong and leave you with only one possible answer left. You’d have to be a complete dolt to guess wrong at that point.

If you choose the next difficulty setting, the game will at least make an effort to provide a challenge. You will have to enter the first three letters of your answer and then a list will appear so that you can choose the response that you were going for rather than trying to enter every letter (more on that in a moment). Frequently that setup works fine, but you’d be surprised how often it’s possible to enter just three letters and have the correct answer fed to you when you were about to answer something else entirely.

There’s also a “Difficult” setting, which definitely lives up to its name. Questions and answers are precisely what the name suggests and your opponents suddenly have morphed into trivia gods who also are blessed with a bit too much good fortune. In my first game on that difficulty setting, I only got a question or two wrong and I answered quite a few others. I was within $1000 of my competition until around five questions before the end of Double Jeopardy, at which point my opponent found both Daily Double opportunities. Suddenly, her cash total went from $12,500 to $25,000 after providing one correct question, and then she added $15,000 to that not 20 seconds later. Everyone headed into Final Jeopardy and the computer-controlled opponent showed uncharacteristic restraint by wagering next to nothing. It felt like a thief had stolen my wallet, then come back a day later to bitch slap me and call my mama fat.

Fortunately, you can avoid the issues with the various difficulty presets by choosing the hidden “Custom” difficulty option and tweaking each setting as you see fit. In that manner, it’s possible to introduce near-perfect balance to a game that very much needs it. The developers could have saved everyone a lot of grief if they had just put those options on a startup screen ahead of each competition, but apparently the sort of audience that enjoys answering obscure trivia questions isn’t ready for something so mentally taxing.

Interface issues continue throughout the experience, as well. Unless you’re using Wii Speak hardware, which presumably lets you easily give your answers using just your voice, providing the correct response is a real hassle because you have to move the Wii Remote cursor around the screen and select letters from the on-screen keyboard. Unless you keep your hand extremely steady when you work to input your answer (a skill that my wife lacks and that I imagine many children also will find beyond their capabilities), you’ll quite possibly find yourself entering the wrong letter as often as not while your precious time slips away and your anxiety worsens. Old games had a much smoother interface that anyone could easily understand and master. It would have been wonderful to see d-pad support included here beyond the multiple choice screens.

Although Jeopardy! messes up in some fairly fundamental ways, know that the game isn’t a total dud. The developers included more than 2400 questions and answers, with tons of voice work provided by Alex Trebek. Practice and familiarity will help you to grow comfortable with the game’s shortcomings and then you’ll likely have a great time playing it with friends and family members. Just don’t expect to instantly love the package the way I did the old NES title. Like Alex Trebek’s smooth upper lip, some things take some getting used to.

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 06, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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