Inside Pulse 12

Review: Press Your Luck 2010 Edition (Nintendo DS)

Press Your Luck 2010 Edition
Developer: Ludia Inc.
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Trivia/Game Show
Release Date: 10/27/09

I’ll kick off this review with an admission: I’ve never seen the original show, due to the fact that I wasn’t even alive for much of its run (and would you look at that, I just dated myself). In fact, the closest brush I’ve had with this show prior to receiving this game – if you want to look at it through a six degrees of separation lens – was the fact that I grew up watching The Price is Right, as Rod Roddy hosted both shows. So it was a bit of a surprise when I found this game in my mailbox, as a good number of my fellow writers would have been around to see it in its heyday. But I’m always willing to tackle anything that comes my way, so tackle this I did. Thanks to the wonders of Youtube and the internet, I was able to acquaint myself with the show enough to have some semblance of a basis of comparison to use with this game – and also to realize what I missed while being a gleam in my mother’s eye.

So how well did the show fare in its transition to the video game medium?

You play as a contestant who’s out to earn big bucks on the show (bet you didn’t see that coming). There are a total of twenty games to go through in campaign mode. You start off by creating a profile (there’s four slots available) and designing an avatar for yourself by picking out a name, gender, hairstyle, clothes, and attitude. Even once you’ve created your avatar, you can still change everything but gender and head shape should you want to mix things up. Each show has a description of the players you’ll be facing. They make for mildly amusing little characterizations of your opponents, but don’t affect the game itself other than what attitude they have. Winning the game will net you the clothes or hairstyle the player of the same gender as your avatar has.

Naturally, there is a multiplayer mode that gives you the chance to go toe to toe with up to two other people. The good news? You only need one DS and one copy of the game. The bad news? Things can get cramped, especially when buzzing in to answer questions. Player one buzzes in by pressing the left trigger, player two by tapping the big red button on the touch screen, and player three by pressing the right trigger. If you do play this with two other people, I hope you all get along really well and that no one will want to stab anyone in the eye with a stylus, because you’ll be getting cozy with each other crowding around one DS (and we all know how big those are). At least you can just pass around the DS to spin the big board.

The character models are far from the prettiest ever. Their arms look rather spindly and blocky, and during their victory and losing animations their arms and part of their body sometimes go right through the frame. At times there seems to be broken polygons, and some hairstyles look like there’s thinning/bald spots. The selection in head shapes, clothes, and hairstyles are varied enough that you could create a reasonable approximation of whatever you have in mind. However, some of the clothes are just the same item in a different color, and the only options for build are small, medium, and large. On the other side of the coin, the stage and board are fairly accurate recreations of those on the show, which may induce a bout of nostalgia in those who grew up watching the show. The Whammy animations resemble the ones used on the show and are amusing to watch, even if the fact that you’re viewing them means you’ve just lost everything you earned thus far.

The show’s theme introduces each game and plays in the menus, though the version used here is the one from the pilot episode rather than from the one from the regular show, which might grate on some. Considering the creators were ostensibly aiming for a faithful recreation, it’s bizarre that they would skimp on the theme of all things. It’s the only tune in the game, so you’ll likely either be OK with (maybe even like, depending) it or turn down the music volume to avoid hearing it. The announcer and host are both energetic in the way you’d expect game show people to be, if somewhat hammy. Of course, it’s kind of hard to top the originals, but seeing as how both are now deceased, that can’t really be helped. Their lines start to become repetitive a while, and you’ll probably find yourself hitting the skip button through most of it – I certainly did, though not being able to skip Whammy animations also means not being able to skip those lines. On the other hand, the contestants get no voice acting whatsoever, which is a contrast with the actual show considering there were a number of…lively contestants during the show’s run, as chronicled here. Considering the lack of variety in the announcer and host’s lines, though, this is probably a good thing. The sound effects, like those for the board, do reproduce the general mood and charm of the game itself, and the Whammies emit occasional bits of cackling as they make off with your hard earned cash. The audience reacts to what’s happening on stage, cheering when you’re doing well and groaning when you hit a Whammy, which immerses you a bit into the experience.

The stylus is your only method of input in this game, and during games you use it to select answers and press the big red button, which is used to buzz in during the Question Phase and stop the board during the Big Board Phase. For those new to PYL or those needing a refresher, here’s the rundown: each game consists of two rounds, which in turn has a Question Phase and a Big Board Phase. During the Question Phase, a question is presented. If someone buzzes in, four choices are shown and they’re given the opportunity to answer. This is a slight change from the show, where the contestant buzzing in had to provide their own answer and no answer choices were show until they did. After they select their answer, one of the wrong answers disappears and the other two contestants take their turns answering. If no one buzzes in, only three choices are shown. There’s a time limit of ten seconds to input an answer. A correct buzzed in answer is worth three spins, and other correct answers are worth one. These spins are used in the next phase.

After the Question Phase comes the Big Board Phase. The board is a square formation of spaces (hi department of redundancy department) that constantly change. Most of the squares will have dollar amounts. “Add 1” squares, like the name implies, adds a one to your total, meaning that, for example, $100 becomes $1100. An arrow pointing in two directions lets you choose between the two squares flanking it. A double headed arrow nets you the prize contained in the square two spaces away in the direction it’s pointing, and a big arrow grants you the prize directly across from it. Squares with one dollar sign net you an amount from a square of the same color, while those with two dollar signs on them double your current winnings. Finally, there’s the square you never want to land on – the notorious Whammy, those devilish money grubbers. When you hit a Whammy, you lose all your money. If you hit a Whammy four times, you’re eliminated from the game. The only way to shed a Whammy is to land on the, “$2000 or lose one Whammy” square and opt to lose the Whammy. Another effect of hitting a Whammy is that your passed spins turn into earned spins. You have to take passed spins, but you can choose to pass earned spins to another player. Knowing when to pass spins onto your opponent is key, as the more spins you pass on to them, the more chances they have of hitting a Whammy. But do make sure you’ve earned scratch before passing them on lest it backfires and they bolster their winnings instead, like in this epic spin battle. Naturally, the one with the most money at the end of the game prevails.

Once you’ve gone through all twenty games, that’s basically it, though you can always go back to previous games and keep trying to beat your old record if such a thing entertains you. You could also go make a profile of the opposite gender to unlock everything there if you’re compulsive about unlocking everything. Other than that, there’s not much else to do, though the game is decently fun in short bursts, especially if you can find someone to play with that you don’t mind sharing a personal bubble with. Despite playing through some games multiple times (mainly because of those accursed Whammies), I never saw any questions appear twice, which indicates it’ll be a while before they start to repeat. Oh, if only the same could be said for the announcer’s and host’s lines – and the prizes. There’s not much variety in prizes, as the only things on the board are varying amounts of cash and trips (which all have a value of $3000 in both rounds).

The AI in this game makes some, to put it nicely, decisions of questionable wisdom. It will sometimes get questions pertaining to things which should be common knowledge (such as, “What shape is in the middle of Japan’s flag?”) and questions that practically telegraph the answer (like “What is an object measured in three dimensions of length, width, and height?”, with the answer choices being something like three-dimensional, two-dimensional, and five-dimensional) wrong. On the other hand, going with the flow when the other two contestants pick an answer often seems to yield you the right answer, which is especially handy if you know squat about the subject matter. The questions do cover a wide variety of topics, so the times that you get a question in an area you’re strong in and the times you get one you have no clue about balance each other out.

At times there seems to be a delay between when you hit the button and when the light actually stops, which sometimes results in you hitting a Whammy. It gets rather frustrating to hit a Whammy after you’ve accumulated an ample amount of money, especially since the AI seldomly even hits a Whammy, and I can only recall one instance of it ever Whammying out. Much of the time, it felt like trying to time button presses right did about as much good as looking away from the screen and randomly pressing it. Though for kicks I did try watching to see if the pattern Michael Larson memorized (and which was demonstrated in a special about him), and alas (though expectedly) it was not.

Although there was a remake of the show that came out in 2002 and ran for a year, the game seems to be based on the original 80s version, as it uses the board, setup, and rules from there. Considering the remake flopped, this was probably a smart move. However, it remains to be seen just how many people who were fans of the show would be interested in playing a video game adaptation. Still, nostalgia can be a powerful thing and does help move copies even when the product itself is subpar. At $30, however, that would be a bit of a pricey trip down memory lane. Even without the pull of nostalgia, the game would be enjoyable to people who eat up anything involving quiz/game shows, even with the shoddy layout of the multiplayer controls in this game (there should’ve been an option to play with multiple DSes and carts for those who prefer not to have to crowd around one little system).

Overall, this game looks and plays like a relatively faithful recreation of the beloved show. I’d heard the expression “No Whammies!” before, but I never saw the source of said quote until now, so this proved to be a bit of an educational experience for me. This is the first commercial video game adaptation (besides the freeware version) this show has received besides the one released back in 1988 for the Commodore 64 and IBM PC compatibles, so in that sense it’s original. Considering how much of a following the show still seems to have despite being off the air for decades (unless you count the revival attempt), I’m sort of surprised there wasn’t more released sooner. It was an interesting adventure trawling Youtube for old clips of the show, both for the entertainment value of glimpsing back at the game shows of yore (up there with watching clips of Family Feud during Richard Charles Dawson’s time) and for purposes of this review in a (perhaps vain) attempt to become familiar enough with the source material so as not to end up falling flat on my face in the process.

The Scores
Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Below Average
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:
Press Your Luck 2010 Edition is an enjoyable and faithful recreation of the show it’s based on. People who grew up watching the show might enjoy the experience, if not the aural aspect, as the version of the theme differs from the one they know, and the voiced lines get repetitive. At $20, this would be a definite buy, especially for those who loved the show. At $30, however, only fans of the show (or of quiz shows in general) would really go for it, as the name would have little meaning to those who weren’t at a cognizant age when the show was airing and the price is a bit steep for what’s here, as there’s not many incentives given for replaying once you’ve beaten the game.

  • Oh my God. I never saw the pilot! I never knew that was an actual theme!

    And I consider myself a fan! Good catch, hon!

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  • Rob

    Can you use the A button to stop the board instead of having to use the touch screen?

  • Aileen Coe

    Rob – Nope, the buttons get no use in this game except in multiplayer mode.