Rare-A-Thon: Jeopardy! Series

I never watched it on TV myself, but I am aware that Jeopardy! has been a very lucrative program. It has over 8000 episodes and spawned a wealth of spin-off series. That a game show so beloved would make its way into people’s living rooms by way of video games was inevitable. That a company as prolific as Rare got to make it happen is a surprise, however. The Jeopardy! games on the NES are no shovelware.

Still, Rare did end up making 3 of these games and I saw no reason to tackle each one individually. Instead, let’s give them all a little mini-review and compare the differences.

First, a quick baseline. Jeopardy! is a quiz game in which contestants earn money by answering questions. Each round presents players with a grid of 6 categories to choose from with 5 questions each, with a dollar value marked on each of them. A contestant chooses one of the squares on the grid, at which point a question is presented to all contestants. The first one to push their buzzer is given an opportunity to answer. Get it right and they both earn that amount of dollars and are then allowed to choose the next question. Get it wrong and they LOSE that same amount of money, before the others are again given a chance to answer it.

A full game is split into 3 rounds. In the second round players are given a new grid of 30 questions, but the rewards are doubled. Then, in the last round, all players with money can wager a part of their earnings on one final question. Daily Doubles are another mechanic that involves staking your score. These are hidden somewhere on the grid and only the player that ends up picking that tile is allowed to answer that question. These are opportunities to score big or lose it all.

Jeopardy! (1988)

The original Jeopardy! was released in 1988 and is a solid adaptation of the game show. You can play with up to 3 players or compete against computer opponents, which can then be set to easy, normal, or hard difficulty.

What I admire most is that the game deals very well with the kinds of challenges that you’d foresee for an adaptation like this. Take ambiguity, for example. In a TV quiz, a contestant could give the right answer in a number of different ways. Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, or Theodore Roosevelt all clearly refer to the same person, and a host would probably accept any one of them. Getting that kind of leniency in a video game requires a lot of effort, but is a must-have. If players give the right answer, but not in a way that the game accepts; that just sucks and sours the mood. Rare accounted for this very well, to the point that it even lets the occasional typo slide. The manual also addresses this issue and gives you tips on how to avoid edge cases that the developers may have missed.

The game also has a sizable batch of questions. Over 1500 by my count. I was afraid it’d be a repetitive game, but I never ran into the same question a second time. The only potential problem is that each grid is entirely preset. So if the game does eventually repeat itself, that’s not just a question or category you’ve seen before; the entire grid is the same. Still, this would require playing the game a staggering amount of times and memorizing all the answers. For a party game that you’ll only fire up occasionally, this shouldn’t be an issue.

A real problem is found in how dated the questions themselves are. It’s not just obscure trivia; it’s what people 34 years ago would’ve deemed obscure trivia. It requires that you load a mental snapshot of pop culture back then, which is assuming that you were even alive in 1988. I had a great time with the general knowledge questions. Categories like history, country flags, fairytales, or where all the answers are horse-themed puns. But for every category like that, there are entire sets of questions whose answers are all C-tier celebrities that history has long since forgotten. I basically got none of those right.

I do like how Rare handled the AI. Obviously the computer knows the answers, but they do a good job of faking it. The difficulty setting determines how quick they are to buzzer in, at which point they still have a chance to get it wrong. They’ll sometimes type in gibberish and lose points as a result, or don’t even buzzer at all. This adds to the feel of this being a proper quiz. Contestants gaining and losing points, or sometimes nobody knowing the right answer. It’s a solid effort. Also neat is that the gibberish answers provide subtle clues for what the answer should be. It’s often hard to decipher, but feels great when you pull it off. Like you seized upon your opponent’s mistake and nabbed their points.

Difficulty doesn’t affect the questions themselves, nor does it seem to affect the likelihood of the AI getting questions wrong. This actually made the hardest mode somewhat easy. Yea the other contestants are fast, but that also means they make mistakes more frequently.

A final point of note is that multiplayer is a bit silly. 3 players can compete with each other, but the NES only has 2 controller ports. To fix this, players 1 and 3 have to share half the controller. Player 1 uses the D-pad to buzzer in, player 3 uses A or B. Then the person that buzzed in takes the entire controller and types out their answer. Player 2 gets to keep their controller to themselves. A rare instance where being player 2 actually feels like a privilege.

Jeopardy! Junior Edition

Jeopardy! is really more of a game for adults, whereas the NES had the image of being a device for kids. So, logically, Rare followed up their first Jeopardy! game with a successor directed at a younger audience. Jeopardy! Junior Edition has all the quiz game fun of the original, but with questions more suited to kids.

While that makes the game somewhat trivial for an adult like myself, it also ends up fixing my qualms with the original. Since the questions are directed at kids, they tend to focus on more general knowledge. Even those questions that still revolve around pop culture center more on timeless media. Licenses like The Wizard of Oz, Hanna-Barbera cartoons, or Disney. This, honestly, makes the Junior Edition more fun to play for me. Especially in multiplayer where the difficulty isn’t a problem, since you’ll be competing against other players for who can answer the fastest.

The Junior Edition also has even more questions than before. Adding several hundreds more to the total count.

My only complaint is that the art took a serious step back. Jeopardy! wasn’t exactly a pretty game, but it had some fun characters to play as with neat animations. The characters in the Junior Edition look hideous by comparison. They have an almost bootleg feel to them, owing to weird, colored outlines and the jarring differences in style from character to character. Their animations also look terrible, so I wasn’t a fan of that.

Jeopardy! 25th Anniversary Edition

Releasing 2 years after the original game, Jeopardy! 25th Anniversary Edition doesn’t really innovate much. It’s the exact same gameplay with recycled art assets and music. What it lacks in novelty, however, it makes up for with the staggering amount of content.

Unless you want the easier questions from the Jr. Edition, there really is no reason to consider any other version of this game. Jeopardy! 25th Anniversary Edition has almost triple the amount of content. You can play this game for hours upon hours before ever running into a repeat. I do have to say that—of the selection of questions I got—many felt particularly hard or unclear. A lot more questions about contemporary celebrities or trivia that felt particularly biased towards Americans. Not to an extent that it became too hard, but I certainly struggled to beat the AI at times.

It was also somewhat disappointing that the game recycled the art from the Jr. Edition as opposed to the original. It’d be fine if we could choose from a mix of both, but instead you only get the ugly kids’ characters to play as. A strange decision for what is supposed to be a celebration of the normal TV series.

That brings Rareware’s Jeopardy! trilogy to a close. It was a series of very strong quiz games. The prospect of having to answer open questions on an 8-bit console seemed daunting, but Rareware tackled it phenomenally. These are well-designed games that only occasionally refuse to parse an answer that a real TV host would’ve accepted. Combine that with the large amount of content and you got a series of excellent party games.

Honestly, you could reasonably challenge a friend to a round of this game today! It’s held up specularly well.

One thought on “Rare-A-Thon: Jeopardy! Series

  1. Pingback: Rare-A-Thon: Anticipation | Legacy of Games

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