Review: Press Your Luck (Nintendo Wii)

Press Your Luck (aka: Press Your Luck – 2010 Edition)
Developer: Ludia Games
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Game Show
Release Date: 10/29/2009

I’m willing to bet that anyone that was born in North America between the years 1971 and 1983 spent an large part part of their childhood watching game shows. They were glitzy, colourful, had amazing prizes for their time, and best of all, with the exception of Jeopardy!, they were designed so that an average person could play them, leading anyone to watch someone screwing up on TV to go “I could do better if they let me on!”. When you consider a more innocent time (no internet to pre-learn results as if they were Smackdown tapings) and television network choices that seem archaically limited compared to 2009 (cable was in it’s infancy; for daytime television, Americans picked between both national and local affiliates of either CBS, NBC or ABC, whereas English Canadians had CBC and affiliates of CTV and Global. That’s three networks per country, period), it’s no wonder that glitzy game shows were able to draw big ratings, especially with little to no competition outside of public access.

I spent probably more time watching game shows than I would normally admit. Whether they were in the mornings when I was a kid, or in the afternoons after school, I sucked up most game shows. In fact, I have a definitive top five of my favourite game shows of all time, with personal experiences thrown in for good measure. For the record, note that every show aired during the 80s:

5) Double Dare (I remember going to Nickelodeon Studios when I went on a family vacation to Florida, and they had a half-assed version of this show “taped” for a studio audience; it wasn’t the real thing, but it had slime. Both of my cousins were picked for parts of this show, and I wasn’t. It took me an abnormal amount of time to forgive them for that)
4) I’m Telling (a little known show that used to air on the Family Channel in the late ’80s, that is best described as being a Newleywed Game for pre-pubescent siblings with better prizes, that featured something called the “Isolation Zone”. I remember being jealous because I didn’t have my own sibling – my first half-brother wasn’t born until 1991 – so therefore, I couldn’t be on the show. That’s the only reason I wanted a sibling; to be on I’m Telling.)
3) The Price Is Right (notable because a] I remember watching Bob Barker’s first episode with grey hair because I had the flu that week, and b] I wondered when I was very little if the women on the show were Bob’s daughters. I was crushed to learn that not only were they not, but Bob had had relations with Dian Parkinson. I didn’t even know what an “affair” was at the time, but I did know that was not a good thing)
2) Family Feud (This is only the version with Richard Dawson, who was so cool, so collected, and such a pimp that he could make out with your daughter right in front of you, complete with copping a feel, and get away with it because he was so audacious and yet so awesome that all you could do was clap like a retarded seal and say “good answer!”)
1) Press Your Luck

Press Your Luck was literally the best show ever when I was a child. Not only did it have an exceptional amount of 80’s schlock – even in the mid-80s, I knew how awesome the decade was – as well as a great host/announcer combo in Peter Tomarkin and Rod Roddy (before he went to TPIR), an awesome theme song and an ability to turn normally rational people into screaming lunatics that only TPIR matched, but it had the Whammys: cartoon devils that came on screen and did a funny vigniete, all with the end result of the player who picked the Whammy losing all of their money, and being one closer to the four Whammy per player limit that knocked them out of the game. To a six year old, Whammys were Lucifer himself, and I equated four Whammys with death.

As I got older, I grew out of game shows for the most part; I never got into Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, hated The Weakest Link, and can’t stand the fake, overly scripted drama that comes from Deal or No Deal (in addition to the fact that to me, Howie Mandell will always be Bobby from Bobby’s World. Always). However, I always made sure to watch Press Your Luck, if I happened to find a rerun of an older episode while flipping channels. As I aged, it was less a spectacle in the awesome sense, and more of a spectacle in the nostalgic sense – as we separate from the 80’s over time, mullet haircuts for males and shoulder-padded jackets for women become proportionately more funny – but it was still an entertaining thirty minutes. That entertainment factor has only increased over the years, especially with a freeware game from the Windows 98 era adding to the fun.

Alex made a review copy of Press Your Luck for the Wii available, and I jumped on it; I might be the biggest fan of the show under the age of thirty. On the other hand, I remember both the attempt to bring back the formula with the old show Whammy! – which was horrible – as well as Ubisoft’s efforts with the Wii version of The Price Is Right, which was also horrid. I almost always open up games I receive basically asking it not to suck – who knows, it might have actually worked last time – but I can’t remember the last time I almost PRAYED for a game not to suck. “PLEASE don’t suck. Don’t ruin my memories. Don’t chase me back to an eleven year old game programmed by some Christian ministry group. Pretty please!”

Despite a few quibbles, it appears that developer Ludia Games rever their source material almost as much as I do, as they did a very good job of recreating the show.

For anyone that was NOT familiar with the 80’s game show, here’s how the game was played: there are two rounds, split up into question rounds and spin rounds; the question round – a simple quiz round – determines how many “spins” each player gets in the spin round. These spins are then taken on a board where lights flash around screens that are constantly changing; if a buzzer is hit to stop the lights, whatever is illuminated is won, unless it is a “Whammy”, the forementioned devils that result in a player losing all their money at that point. Four Whammys end a player’s game. Players can choose to keep spinning, provided they have spins, or pass those spins to another player, who must take them (unless he or she hits a Whammy), making the end of the game in most cases very tense as spins get passed around; sometimes, epic spin battles would take place.

The first thing that needs to be established is that this game is brought to consumers as an “adaptation” of the original show; there is no mention of Whammy! whatsoever, it’s almost as if it never happened. The number one thing that strikes out is that this really is the 1985 show moved up to 2009, complete with a recreation of the big board, the old set, and all the aesthetics within. I applaud Ludia Games for taking exceptional care in regards to visually recreating the old show’s aesthetics. The #1 thing that has to happen correctly when creating a game that recreates an old game show is recreating the feeling that you’re actually on the old show, right down to the minute, tiny details. The “episodes” even start out the same way the old shows did, with the announcer saying the same opening speal from the 80s verbatim. Old game shows rely on someone’s memory of decades prior, and the video game version of the show that’s been cancelled for twenty-three years pulls it off… mostly.

I say “mostly” because what the game gets right graphically, it goofs badly in the sound department. The first thing you notice when you boot up is the theme song, and if you watched the older show, you notice that it’s decidedly NOT the one that was on the older show. It’s a somewhat close replica of it, but the problem with replicas is that they’re not originals. That’s key when relying on memories, and frankly, it doesn’t matter if the new theme song is the game show ditty equivalent of the White Album; fans are going to notice, and it’s going to sound like nails on chalkboard. I was so thrown off that I had to find old Youtube clips just to get back “into the groove”, so to speak. What’s strange to me is that the song is in the game; it’s just played briefly – and quietly, like it’s washed out – when going between the question and board rounds. I have to wonder if there was a copyright issue in regards to the original song, but that is irrelevant; if you’re going to recreate a 1985 game show, recreate the whole thing.

(Postscript Edit: In Aileen Coe’s review of PYL 2010 for the DS, she confirmed that the theme is actually from the show’s 1983 pilot. Therefore, this isn’t some song they pulled out of their rear-ends, though as a fan, I never watched the pilot, and I’m willing to bet most fans under the age of 50 haven’t, either. I felt that correction had to be stated)

Also, the announcers suck. I’m not asking for Rod Roddy (dead since 2003) or Peter Tomarkin (dead since 2006) themselves, but the announcers sound exceptionally whiny, and the main game host repeats unskippable lines way too often for my liking. There could have been much, much better work done with the announcers, but the rest of the game’s sounds – everything from the board’s sliders to all the other small sound effects of the game – are done perfectly. I just wish the announcers weren’t such ninnies.

With that said, the main part that people remember about PYL – the Whammies – are back, and in full force. They drew new Whammies for this game, and some of the animations are hilarious. They’re definitely more relevant than the old ones are nowadays – they were pretty dated – but older players will enjoy them, and kids will laugh their butts off at some of them. Ludia Games did an excellent job at making sure the #1 star of the show was represented as properly as possible.

I’ll leave the area of presentation after a few more niggles, though these are somewhat small. For one, the contestents are very subdued compared to the people that used to be on the show in the 80s; you can barely hear their voices while they’re calling out for Big Bucks and no Whammies, like every other contestant. This was NOT a problem in the 80s; most contestants would scream, rant and rave like raging lunatics, including the legendary Karen, who sadly was not that much more exciting than your average, everyday contestant. Also, there are some elements that could have been added in, such as “previews” of older “shows” like they had on the originals that showed winners, as well as the last part after the game is over where the winner is told exactly what they won in terms of trips and other gifts, though at this point I’m nitpicking pretty heavily. Rest assured, other than these issues, this is a very faithful recreation of Press Your Luck from the old days.

The question round made it over to the new game, which instantly makes this more desirable than the old freeware game that didn’t have it. The only difference between the old show and the new game is that the player that’s buzzing in gets to choose between one of four answers – before, a player had no choices, he had to know the answer – and a choice is dropped for the other players to choose from for their chance at a spin. Also like the old show, the questions range from very hard to laughably easy. What’s more astounding is that the computer players are just as laughable; they’re retarded in some cases. They know full well who wrote Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt), but get things wrong like “What U.S. state is 48th in land area and is bordered by Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island (my home state Connecticut; forgiveable, except the other choices were Utah, New Mexico and some other Midwestern state), and “What is 8X7?” (I think one computer opponent answered “43”). There’s a random element to the questions that makes you scratch your head, and I’ve had rounds where no computer opponents have gotten anything. Some actual A.I. would be a good idea in this area in the future.

When it comes to the big board, there’s very few board combinations; you see the same prizes/Whammies in the same spots, and there’s very little variance. What’s notable, however, is that the rotation is completely random. The old show had a board that, due to the technology – basically a bunch of transistors – had a limit to the amount of combinations it could have, and there was a finite amount of combinations that were available in terms of where the lights went. Now, it’s completely random, and since the board combinations are also random, it means that a recreation of Michael Larson’s epic game where he memorized the pattern on the board and won over $110K – from my extensive research – cannot be recreated. In all, it’s what you would expect from Press Your Luck; due to the random nature of this board, it’s very risky to take extra spins, and because the lights move so fast, it’s really not possible to time a button press to a space when you see it.

One thing that bothers me is the lack of prizes on the board. I’m not talking about money spaces or even “special” spaces like “Add a One” or “$2000 or Lose 1 Whammy”, I’m talking about the lack of trips and/or special prizes that added a flavour of randomness to the old show. If you watch episodes of Press Your Luck, they used to give away, in addition to cash prizes, trips to places like Hong Kong, or pool tables. In this game, you only get non-specific trips, and they always have the same value; $3000 in round 1, $4000 in round 2, no variance either way. This not only affects the variety of the game, it affects strategy as well; if you’re up by only a few thousand late in the game, knowing that there’s more of a chance someone is going to land on a $4,000 piece makes you think twice about passing spins. Considering the fact that the freeware version has this in all of it’s versions of the board, I can’t really excuse this being excluded from a paid game in 2009. Other than that, this is Press Your Luck at it’s finest.

There’s more to this game than the main PYL game; the first thing you’re able to do is pick an avatar with a combination of faces, clothing combinations and skin colour combinations, as well as one of four personalities. The personalities are a little extreme; I picked a sly type, and it ended up being such an abrasive, arrogant jackass-type that even I was glad when my avatar lost sometimes. Another problem is that some things – like said personality, as well as physical features such as hair colour – aren’t changeable; none of the twelve people you’re allowed to pick remotely look like me – hell, there’s only two white males – so I eventually chose to be the Asian chick with a shy personality; if I’m going to not look like myself, I might as well look like someone I’d have sex with, so essentially, I am playing as Aileen. Unfortunately, if you want to change things that major, you have to create a new avatar, which means you lose your progression through the game. There’s one other thing that *baffles* me about this: where the hell is Mii support!? This would be a game to add Mii support to, but they didn’t do it, preferring you stick to the same avatars that the other versions use. Considering this is $10 more expensive than the DS version and $20 more than the PC version, I’m nonplussed that the extra little effort to give gamers a choice between Miis and regular avatars wasn’t added in.

When I discuss “progression”, I mean that there are different levels – “shows” – that you have to unlock; winning a show unlocks the next one, which just unlocks two more retarded opponents. There’s no difference between the first show and the last one, but it gets annoying having to play the same shows over and over again to advance, especially if you lose a close game by getting a Whammy at the wrong time. It’s necessary to advance because as you advance, more clothing options are unlocked for your avatar, be they hair styles (no hair colour choices, of course, that would make sense), pants, shirts or shoes. It’s possible to unlock more styles by typing in “SECRET” at the password screen – that’s the game’s only password – but they don’t add much. In short, I can understand why an element like this was added – to give the game some variety and personality, and to keep people from being bored by single player mode – but more needed to be done to make these options work.

For multiplayer mode, there’s a “Party Mode” which allows two or three players to play. This is a requirement for any game based on the old show, and it works like one would expect it to work, but the problem comes when only two people are playing; namely, only two people play. Why weren’t we given an option to add in a CPU third opponent? I only live with one other person; if I have a friend coming over, then the three of us can have fun, but not having that third player there makes the game feel empty. This is a glaring oversight on the part of the developers.

Finally, it should be noted that this game – a game based off of a twenty-plus year old gameshow – is $40 for the Wii version. That’s steep! A game like this shouldn’t be going for any more than $30, maximum; $40 is simply too much. I would recommend at least checking out the PC version, but I haven’t tried it, and Ubisoft is known for putting SecuROM in their PC games (it was in The Price Is Right), so beware on that. Full stop, this price HAS to come down.

The Scores
Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Enjoyable
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous: Bad
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME


Short Attention Span Summary

Press Your Luck is as good of a recreation of the 80s gameshow as you’re going to find. It’s not perfect from a gameplay standpoint, and there are presentation niggles that will frustrate old-school fans, but the good outweighs the bad.

However, at $40, the game is way too expensive. I can’t recommend this until it hits the bargain bin, or at least comes down about $10. Once that happens, old-school fans can have a ball.

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