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I'm not sure when it happened, but quiz shows are cool again. Whether it's the steely tension of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, or the tongue in cheek entertainment of The Weakest Link, we have all warmed to a format that many a producer had resigned to the has-been bin.
What do these programs have over long gone quiz shows of old? One thing: personality. These modern shows don't have a particularly new game idea - in fact they usually distil old ideas down until there is just the merest thread of an idea left. But each of them have been re-invented around an existing personality and are stylised within an inch of their life.
With all this in mind, it's no surprise then that each of the consoles now have a quiz show game. Buzz has long proven (in European shores at least) that the PS2 has an audience for family game show fun, and Scene It on the 360 is looking to do the same. And now we have Smarty Pants on the Wii, coming slightly late to the party (see how we avoided the obvious joke there?).
Unlike the 360 and PS2, the Wii already has its own buzzer styled controller. The Wii-mote turns out to be an ideal contestant stick, so although Buzz and Scene-it each push their bespoke controllers, Smarty Pants has no need to provide proprietary hardware. During the game you simply press the A button and gesture your Wii-mote to answer a question; with the B button being reserved for playing wildcards.
You can team up with members of your family to try and answer the most questions you can between you.
The game sticks to covering the basics of the genre rather than looking to provide too much innovation. That's not to say there are no new ideas here, just that the overall feeling is a solid rather than revolutionary release. Three game types are offered; solo, friends and family.
The Solo game effectively functions as a training mode. You simply try and answer as many questions as you can in a set amount of time. This game doesn't accrue points to your overall score, and you can't select your own Mii. As such it doesn't really feel like a proper game option, and gives away the fact that this is a game for multiple players.
The first multi-player (and proper) game mode is friends. In this mode you and up to three friends battle it out to answer the most questions correctly in a number of question rounds. This is where some of the best and innovative ideas are to be found. Before you start a round you need to spin a umm spinner that determines the category for the next round. You can use the Wii-mote to first spin, and then nudge the wheel towards your desired set of questions. Before the round starts a mini-shooting-game is played by all players to determine the value of each question. This is great fun as those who don't like the category try and shoot the question value down, whilst those who feel more confident try and bump it up. Once the round starts, you also have the option of playing wildcards to change the question set. Whereupon another shootout mini-game is played to determine which questions will be answered, again great fun.
The final game mode is the less competitive family game. Here you can team up with members of your family to try and answer the most questions you can between you. This mode has some annoying aspects, such as the need to perform random gestures to slow the clock. But in the main there is some good clean fun to be had.
Any good quiz show obviously stands or falls on its questions. And Smarty Pants seems to fare pretty well in this respect. Questions are both varied and up to date and incorporate topics ranging from UK, Science and Nature, Art, Books, Entertainment and Games. The questions are drawn from a pool of 20,000, and better still are filtered by age. Once you have setup you player profile by selecting your Mii and inputting your age, you will suddenly find more appropriate questions start to appear. It's a shame this age-gating of questions only applies on the family mode, but as such it makes a real difference and enables players of all ages to compete against each other. This may seem like a minor point, but it is a significant advantage over a traditional board game.
Once you have setup you player profile by selecting your Mii and inputting your age, you will suddenly find more appropriate questions start to appear.
The questions themselves are all of the multi choice (Who wants to be a millionaire) variety, and unfortunately don't take advantage of the other multimedia features of the Wii console. Very little imagination has been applied here, as without too much head scratching you could quite easily dream up all sorts of weird and wonderful uses for the Wii-mote speaker and gestures.
To return to our opening thought however, we find the Smarty Pants becomes a lot less appealing. There is just very little personality or style here. Compare to the exuberance of the likes of Buzz with its wonderfully over the top host, and Smarty Pants starts to look like a rather staid experience. This is a real shame as much of the rest of the game is good solid fun. The problem is you just don't feel very encouraged to keep playing for all that long.
Overall, this is certainly a game that will get the family playing together this yuletide, but it is unlikely to see very much action on into the New Year. There just doesn't seem to be enough here to really justify the GBP 40 price tag, particularly when this is compared to the new bunch of traditional boards games. We suggest you either plump for something more interactive, along the lines of Big Brain Academy, or pop down to Smiths and grab yourself a real life boxed board game. Apparently Monopoly has an excellent multiplayer mode!
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: