Concentration: A casual adaption of a game show.

Sometimes when you’re like me, sifting through thrift stores and finding unusual stuff, you sometimes find things you remember hearing existed, but didn’t know if it was real.

I’ve written about game show games in the past, from portables to knockoffs. I try my best to keep up with the current game show-related merchandise, and that includes games. Yet, this was one I wasn’t expecting to find.

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Welcome to the Concentration Hellzone, human.

Concentration: The Classic Game of Mix and Match, based off Concentration, a show you might’ve heard of if you’re as old as I am, or know a lot about game shows like I do. Developed by casual game developers Freeze Tag and published by Mumbojumbo, this came out around 2007 for PCs, and is something I honestly forgot existed until I picked this up and talked about it on a recent post.

For those who never saw the game show, I’ll give a brief explanation since there are better places that explain the show in more detail: Concentration was a game show that aired on television throughout the 1950s all the way until the early ‘90s. It first aired on NBC from 1958 until 1973, being a daytime staple for the network. After being canceled, the show was revived two times: Once as a syndicated show from 1973-1978, and once more back on NBC from 1987-1991; this time under the name Classic Concentration and famously hosted by Alex Trebek. Classic’s last new episodes aired in 1991, but it aired in reruns until 1993.

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A sample board, from the later 1970s revival.

A combination of the board game Memory with rebus puzzles, players tried to find matches to earn prizes and eventually win them by solving the mystery rebus puzzle beneath. There were changes and rule adjustments throughout the 35 years the show was on the air, but that’s the general gist of the game.

So why I am surprised this exists? Well, Concentration is slowly becoming one of those shows forgotten by the general populace. The last time it aired anywhere in the US was in 1993, when NBC reran Classic Concentration.

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From Classic Concentration, a player found a red TAKE! and a Wild Card, giving them an opportunity to steal an opponent’s prize.

Unlike other classic game shows, it never reran on USA Network’s game show block, or even on Game Show Network. This is because NBC bought the rights to Concentration back in 1958 from Barry-Enright Productions, a TV company who was a part of the big quiz show scandals at the time. Even though the later revivals were produced by Mark Goodson and Bill Todman’s production company – producers of Match Game, Family Feud, and The Price Is Right – the show was still owned by NBC. Presumably NBC was asking too much for rerun rights, hence why the only places you can watch Concentration is YouTube videos of old VHS recordings.

(Update 9/30/2018: It seems pigs are flying and the impossible is now possible, as Buzzr, FremantleMedia’s game show channel, is now airing Classic Concentration on their network daily. For historical purposes, I’ve kept the out-of-date information so people are aware of what once was.)

Through various acquisitions and mergers over the past sixty years, Concentration is now pretty much under the arm of NBCUniversal. Make note of this, as it will come up later.

Now that I’ve given the refresher course about the show, let’s talk about this game, shall we?

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It certainly looks pretty… simple. The logo looks better than other ones I’ve seen for this game, though…

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Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku: I’d like 3 big ones…

Over the many years I’ve been collecting games, I’ve always found particularly unusual game show games. Besides the common Jellyvision/Jackbox collective, I’ve found stuff like Outburst, a board game that decided to become a poor man’s You Don’t Know Jack; Another Jack clone that was endorsed by MTV’s TRL… I even have Pat Sajak’s Lucky Letters – I’m probably one of the 34 people who bought a physical copy – which I might write about sometime. But this one’s a bit different. It comes from across the pond, and features one of the most notable fad games of the mid-2000s…

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It’s Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku. A somewhat obscure Sudoku game, this came out courtesy of Secret Stash Games, a weird Eidos Interactive imprint. Though Empire Interactive is also credited on the box and in the game itself, which mostly published games in the UK (and were the original distributor there, presumably).

So you’re probably asking: Who the heck is Carol Vorderman, and why is she endorsing a Sudoku game?

I’m going to assume the people reading this post are not from Britain and/or game show nuts, so I’ll give the skinny on who she is: Carol Vorderman is a long-standing television host, being the co-host for a British game show called Countdown.

Countdown is a fairly simple game show where players either try to come up with the longest word from a semi-random pick of letters, or solve a mathematics puzzle by hitting a target number with six randomly chosen set of numbers.

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Carol solving a particularly devious numbers round.

Vorderman was well known especially for the latter, sometimes getting solutions to the math problems that even the players couldn’t figure out. She was on the show for a very long time, from the show’s early beginnings until 2012. She’s almost like Britain’s Vanna White, but with much more to do.

As for Sudoku, it’s a little more complex. A long standing game that got an unusual resurgence around the mid 2000s, the game involves placing the numbers 1 through 9 on a 9×9 grid split into 3×3 subgrids. The goal is to make it so each row, column, and subgrid have one of each number without any duplicates. It’s a nice mental puzzle that gained traction in unusual ways, and it’s one of the mini-games in Nintendo’s then-popular Brain Age games. It’s certainly more enjoyable than Jumble or Crossword puzzles, anyway.

So here’s the first problem I have with this game. Carol Vorderman doesn’t have the name recognition that someone like Gordon Ramsay or James Corden has outside their native England. Had I not told you who Carol Vorderman was, you would probably assume she was a fictitious entity a la Mavis Beacon. But I assure you, she’s a real person who endorsed a Sudoku game, and for some reason somebody thought it was fitting to bring it here without any context of who she is or where she’s from.

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Super Jeopardy! for the NES: Just as fun as the real show!

Game show video games are still one of many genres I’m fascinated by. While Jackbox Games are still plugging away with twice-yearly Jackbox Party Packs, the competition has mostly dried up. Hell, we haven’t had a proper Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy! game since the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era. (No, those crappy freemium mobile apps don’t count.)

So I tend to go back to the glory days, when GameTek was still around making loads of these games as probably their #1 source of income. I already covered the Game Boy and Game Gear versions of Jeopardy! in the past, and thought, might as well come back to the well once again.

Surprisingly, for the NES, there were four versions of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune on the system. It honestly would’ve done fine with just two, but it must’ve been a huge cash cow for them to keep making. Either that or being given away as consolation prizes on the show gave them a good reason to do the equivalent of a “roster update” for those games.

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This time, I’m covering a fairly obscure one from the Jeopardy! collection: Super Jeopardy!. Released around 1991, this was based off of the fairly short-lived version that actually aired on primetime TV.

I’m going to assume my audience knows Jeopardy! the game show (here’s the Wikipedia page if you don’t), so I’ll talk about what Super Jeopardy! was.

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Super Jeopardy! was a 13-week special Tournament of Champions featuring the best players of the current version of the show at the time (plus one champion from the Art Fleming era because the first Tournament of Champions winner passed away) playing for a whopping $250,000. Instead of playing for cash, they were playing for points in the main games. Read More »

This! Is! JEOPARDY! On handhelds!

One idea I had during my game show research was to cover most of the notable adaptations of game show games, such as Jeopardy! There’s one problem, though:

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There are a lot of Jeopardy! games. I mean a lot of them. MobyGames doesn’t even list all of them. Plus for a game as simple as Jeopardy!, there isn’t much to say about each one. So I decided to go smaller. Much smaller.

I kinda loved that starburst GameTek logo more than the later one...
I kinda loved that starburst GameTek logo more than the later one…

Today, I’m gonna talk about Jeopardy! on the Game Boy. Jeopardy! was one of the few game show games that made it to Nintendo’s greenscale handheld in 1991, alongside Wheel of Fortune. Naturally GameTek published this outing, and it boasted “Over 1,500 new questions!” on the box. Though technically they’re answers, but I’m not gonna get too nitpicky here.

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I remember getting both Jeopardy! and Wheel in a combo pack at Target for about $10 each. This was the mid-90s, and Target was chock full of excess copies, so selling one to a young budding game show/video game nut like me was a treat. It also helped during vacation trips, such as the one time I went to a resort cabin with my family and was happily having fun with this, and probably Pokemon Red. There wasn’t much to do in the times before everybody had the internet in their pockets. 😛

But enough reminiscing. Let’s play Jeopardy! on the Game Boy.

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Tommy’s Wheel of Misfortune: A strange Wheel of Fortune clone for DOS.

Lately I’ve been on a kick of looking at old DOS game show games. There were a lot of official game show games of the 80s, from the greats like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune to lesser-known classics like Now You See It, Fun House and Remote Control. But what I was really interested in were the game show games made by hobby programmers.

I remember seeing this in a Micro Star shareware compilation disc. I wonder if I still have it...
I remember seeing this in a Micro Star shareware compilation disc. I wonder if I still have it…

I was looking for Wheel of Fortune clones, but I could only find two. VGAWHEEL (aka EGAWHEEL, I’ve seen both names online) is a no-frills version of Wheel that has probably the prettiest wheel made for DOS. Oh, and it has a cute little theme that plays on the PC speaker. Alas, there isn’t much to say about VGAWHEEL, other than Russell Mueller made a pretty good Wheel clone for DOS.

However, the other one I found is most intriguing: Tommy’s Wheel of Misfortune.

Man, this guy even had a BBS line! I wonder if there were aliens on it.
Man, this guy even had a BBS line! I wonder if there were aliens on it.

Tommy’s Toys was a garage developer who made games “designed by aliens from outer space.” They made a lot of games throughout the ’80s and ’90s. We’re talking about hundreds of them released over ten years.  Tommy’s Toys pretty much disappeared by the time Windows became super popular, and the designer stopped making games to write books. At least that’s what Mobygames says, anyway.

So let’s dive into this alien-made Wheel of Fortune clone, shall we?

You know it's a DOS classic when you see that smiley face in there somewhere.
You know it’s a DOS classic when you see that smiley face in there.

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Game Show a Go Go: TRL Trivia.

Game Show a Go Go is a series where I look into game show video games, and games that are game show-like. Today, we travel back to the year 2001 as we remember the days when MTV still played music videos at a reasonable hour, and quiz ourselves on the pop culture that we know from the late ’90s to early 2000s. Hope you know your Blink-182 trivia.

Let’s talk about MTV. Go ahead, make the “Remember when they used to play music videos?” jokes, get it out of your system. That said, MTV was a cultural revolution back in the day. Seeing lots of quirky music videos, then it slowly started expanding to general purpose music programming, such as Beavis and Butt-head and game shows like Remote Control. Eventually MTV’s various TV shows eventually got video games of their own in varying levels of quality, most of them bad.

Remote Control the game show is awesome. Remote Control the video game, however, is not.
Remote Control the game show is awesome. Remote Control the video game, however, is not.

Alas, as we entered the internet age, music videos became infrequent, and we were subject to various shows like Celebrity Deathmatch, punk’d, Jackass and webRIOT. These shows went further and further past the original “Music Television” concept and ended up being more about general pop culture. Nowadays we’re subjected to reality shows involving teen moms and people from the Jersey shore, with maybe some music videos in the middle of the night. But let’s forget about today and travel back to the year 2001, when times were much simpler, and it was more about the music.

Total Request Live, or trl for short, was a show that was part music videos, part talk show, and part “random teenagers screaming over the music video telling us how this Christina Aguilera song is their favorite song of all time.” It lasted several years on MTV before finally ending in 2008, which is surprising considering the state of the network at that point. TRL was where Carson Daly got his start, and he now hosts a podunk late night talk show on NBC that no one watches unless they fell asleep after The Tonight Show and forgot to turn the TV off.

In 2001, Take Two Interactive decided to cut a deal with MTV and make a game based on trl for the PC audience. Enter TRL Trivia. (or as it’s stylized on the box: MTV trl trivia.) I’ll give you three guesses which game this is meant to be like.

If you guessed this game would be a You Don't Know Jack clone, congratulations, you win this old HitClips thing I found in my bedroom. Enjoy the terrible sounds of *NSYNC's It's Gonna Be Me.
If you guessed this game would be a You Don’t Know Jack clone, congratulations, you win this old HitClips thing I found. Enjoy the terrible sounds of *NSYNC’s “It’s Gonna Be Me” through a tinny speaker!

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Game Show a Go Go: Outburst

I mentioned this in the past, but there’s two things I have an unhealthy infatuation with: video games (natch) and game shows. Naturally since I like both of them, I’ve amassed a bunch of game show video games over the years. So I thought, “let’s talk about game show video games.” Because what better thing there is to write about than the 20 different versions of Jeopardy! that I own.

Though, this won’t exclusively cover video game adaptions of game shows, no sir. Naturally there are video games that try to simulate the feel and entertainment of a game show, and I’ll cover those as well. Such as our inaugural entry….

I always wondered what those circles meant…

Let’s jump back to 1995. Hasbro, wanting to get in on the burgeoning video game market, formed Hasbro Interactive that year. Most of their output was games based on their various properties, including Monopoly and Scrabble. Oh, and taking over the Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! games when GameTek went bankrupt. The company basically stayed on this path until Hasbro Interactive was bought by Infogrames in 2000, though Hasbro would eventually buy back the rights to make video games based on their various franchises.

Fun Fact: This version of Monopoly was made by Westwood Studios. Yes, Command & Conquer Westwood Studios.
Fun Fact: This version of Monopoly was made by Westwood Studios. Yes, Command & Conquer Westwood Studios.

Cut to 1998. This was around the time when Jellyvision’s (now Jackbox Games) You Don’t Know Jack was immensely popular, and naturally any Tom, Dick and Harry game publisher wanted to cash in by making You Don’t Know Jack-likes for the PC market. Either they tried to make a trivia game styled like Jack, such as TRL Trivia and Austin Powers in Operation Trivia, or they tried to copy the goofy “adult humor” and make their own game show-like game. Enter Outburst.

Remember Outburst? It’s that one board game where you shout out as many answers to a category as you can. It’s not a classic, but it’s one of those party games that gets thrown in along with Taboo and Catchphrase. Hasbro enlisted the development of Outburst by a small games company known as CyberDice. Not to be confused with the company that pumps out Battlefield games every two years, CyberDice was a development studio that only made a handful of party games. From the brief research I did, they worked on this game and Super Scattergories. I’m going to hazard a guess the developer folded shortly after the dot-com bubble burst.

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A sample round of play. Clearly I wasn’t thinking like the writers of this game were.

Outburst the computer game is stylized much like a TV game show. You can play by your lonesome or with other players, online or off. The game has multiple rounds of play, all based on the general theme of giving as many answers as they can within the time limit. After some rounds, you can earn bonus points by having the randomizer hit an answer you gave (Shown above). The team with the most points wins after seven rounds wins.

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Game Show Themes vs. their NES counterparts.

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There’s two things that I love fondly that I grew up with: Video games (natch), and game shows. I’m not exactly sure what gravitated me towards game shows: Could be the flashy sets, the catchy themes, the thought of people winning $25,000 in mere seconds; but whatever it was, I was hooked. I still enjoy the classic game show every now and then, even though my interest in the genre has waned in recent years.

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Since I like game shows and video games, having the two come together sounds amazing. It’s my version of a peanut butter cup. There were a whole bunch of them on the ol’ NES, almost all of them published by GameTek, a US-based software company. I think the game show games were their only hallmark, though they did publish games like Frontier: Elite II and Corridor 7: Alien Invasion, as well as working on publishing Robotech: Crystal Dreams before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1999. There were some NES game show games published by other companies, such as Hi-Tech Expressions, but the less said about those games, the better.

Now, there’s a fair share of game show games on the NES by GameTek, including four different editions of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, as well as Double Dare, Hollywood Squares and many others. What most people don’t know is that some of these were developed by Rare. Yes, that Rare. Donkey Kong Country Rare. Banjo-Kazooie Rare. Kinect Sports Rare. For those who don’t find that as surprising as I do, Rare is a games company based in Twycross, England. All the game show adaptions that they had made weren’t being broadcast on British TV at the time, so to have a company based in England to do American TV game show video games is funny. I would assume the production companies would send them episodes of the show as well as the rules of the game so they understand what they’re trying to make.

Since Rare was a small skeleton crew throughout the ’80s, they only had one composer: Dave Wise (pictured). Wise pretty much composed all of Rare’s games solo up until the early ’90s, and seeing him try to recreate some of game show’s iconic themes on the NES sound chip sounds intriguing. Let’s see how well he did on each of them…

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