Jeopardy! the gameshow has been around since 1964, is internationally syndicated, and has its own locally-produced versions in countries across the world. So chances are pretty good that I don’t have to tell you the basic premise. As expected, this is the Gametek home version for the NES, and even today it remains an excellent interactive replication of the show.
I’m actually surprised that I haven’t thought to review this earlier, because Lil’ J Man, his father, and his older sister were known to play this frequently and to the death. In fact, I remember a particular incident where I rang in, answered incorrectly, and then muttered aloud “oh, well then it must be [insert other answer here].” I did this knowing full well that A) what I had just announced was bullshit and B) my father was going to capitalize on my “slip up.” He took the bait magnificently and lost his money as well. When he realized he’d been had, an amusing lecture on sportsmanship followed.
The NES game expertly recreates all three rounds of the show. After setting up the parameters of your game and selecting a character to represent you (in true Gametek fashion, they’re all hideous trolls), you’re left to select from six categories of five questions each. This is not a specialty version of the game with a specific theme, so the questions are varied and pulled from general knowledge. They generally break out into some aspect of science, history, or popular culture.
That last one may be an issue, because this is not a children’s game any more than the TV show is. So this is adult popular culture, written for people who would have been about 30 in the late-80’s. There’s a fair chance that same culture won’t be so popular as you read this. I mean, you all remember Luke and Laura don’tcha? No? Well you remember that Lil’ Abner lived in Dogpatch, right? Or that Phil Silvers played Sgt. Bilko? How about an entire category dedicated to Warren Beatty? No idea what I’m talking about? Well then, I guess you’re fucked.
The game is designed for three players, with a computer player automatically filling any open slots. The AI offers a decent challenge, and a difficulty level determining how frequently they ring in and how often they make mistakes. These mistakes are handled interestingly, as Gametek didn’t waste space by giving the computer characters fake, incorrect answers. Instead, they type out gibberish. But if you look closely, you’ll note that it actually is the correct answer, with random letters masked out by other characters. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find enough of a clue in their “wrong answer” to get it correct yourself, or at least offer assurance if you’re on the fence.
Ringing in is accomplished by pressing any direction on the D-Pad for Player 1, any face button for Player 2, and the D-Pad on the second controller for Player 3. It does mean that the first controller must be shared by the first two players, and I can confirm from experience that it opens up the possibility of physically blocking your opponent from pressing the buttons, or ringing in for them while presenting them with a smug, challenging look. Answering is done by moving a cursor across a letter grid with the D-pad, and building your response letter by letter. Spaces are generally ignored, but your spelling has to be pretty much exact. Any errors, like flipping or missing letters, stand a good chance of being rejected.
It seems a little unfair considering you don’t know how to spell to win at the show, but there’s no way around this on the NES. Shortcuts generally are considered, so “Schultz” and “Sergeant Schultz” are both valid answers. You have only 40 seconds to construct your answer, which is enough only if you don’t make a serious mistake. Struggling around on long answers is an occasional problem, and I remember a few times where I wasn’t able to finish building the response. The game considers this an incorrect answer, and you lose the points.
Another bit of cheating can be pulled off by simply ringing in as soon as the question appears. There is no “lock-out” time for everyone to read the question, so frequently my father would just ring in instantly and THEN read the question – taking a (usually correct) gamble that he would know the answer. To this day it remains one of the most dickish moves I’ve ever seen. It’s also kind of sad that half the review is telling you how to cheat, but that’s how my family did business.
Gameplay continues through Double Jeopardy where point values are doubled, and finishes with Final Jeopardy. The contestants are given a single category and the chance to bet their current winnings on their confidence in being able to answer whatever the question may be. After bets are placed, the players are each shown the question in turn while the others are expected to leave the room or turn away. The interface here is identical to answering a question elsewhere in the game. After everyone has answered, the scores are tallied and the winner is named. The game resets and you can start over again.
It’s a nice looking game, with blues, blacks, and browns recreating the set well. Alex Trebek, or any host at all, are excluded from the game, thankfully. Judging by how thoroughly they biffed the characters that are in this game, any attempt at Alex would be a total embarrassment. There’s a nice rendition of the Jeopardy! theme at the title and Final Jeopardy screens, as well as a few little musical stings for correct and incorrect answers, and ringing in. They add some activity to what would otherwise be a game entirely made of beeps and boops of a cursor moving around, but do tend to get a little annoying after hearing them 60 times per game at the very least (one for each question).
The cart does suffer from limited memory, and so you will see questions recycled rather frequently. It also doesn’t help that every category will always contain the same five questions. You’ll probably get a repeat category by the fourth or fifth game, but only really have trouble around the twentieth. At the very least it can give you an edge against older or more triva-savvy opponents by allowing you to remember or learn the answers.
Looking back, I suppose this is a title that I’ve had the longest continuous history with. I owned the cart and played it when it was released, stuck the game and emulator on a floppy disc (and later a USB key) when I should have been working at whatever job I was in at the time, and just recently played it again for this review. So about every four years, I find myself playing this same version of Jeopardy. I’d make some snappy little wrap-up-the-review statement, but the previous fact alone probably says more about its lasting replayability than anything I could put into words.
Nice version of Jeopardy!, good for groups and worth playing; provided of course that you like trivia games.
Limited questions quickly grow stale, “honor” system is open to easy abuse by the dishonorable.