Version tested: PlayStation 2
What with all the blathering about how the Wii has broadened the gaming demographic, it's easy to forget there's another console out there which also appeals to kids, families and people who wouldn't normally play games. In fact, there are 100 million of them out there. Even Nintendo can't boast figures like that just yet.
So with the PS2 still going strong, it's no surprise to see both Sony and third-party publishers still churning out titles for the machine. And with Christmas less than two months away, it's no surprise to see a lot of them are aimed at the more casual market. In this roundup, we take a look at some of the latest PS2 games to hit the shops - two quizzes, a collection of mini-games for kids and the latest instalment in the SingStar series.
Cheggers' Party Quiz
When we interviewed Keith Chegwin recently, he told us he'd never played any of the Buzz! titles. We're willing to bet the developers behind his new quiz game have, probably quite a lot, with pen and paper in hand.
Yes, Cheggers' Party Quiz is a lot like Buzz!. That said, it's like Buzz! in the way Lidl is like Waitrose. There are some key differences. The game is played with ye olde DualShocks rather than special buzzer controllers, for starters. This is at a good thing if you want a quiz game without having to invest in the whole Buzz! package. However, the controllers are a big factor in how enjoyable Buzz! is. Pressing L1 just isn't the same as bashing a big red flashing button.
As with Buzz!, Cheggers' Party Quiz lets you choose a short, medium or long game, but you can't customise games to include only selected rounds. There's no sign of any stupid computer-generated Australians or unfunny character animations - players are identified on-screen by a simple icon. This is one area where Cheggers' Party Quiz is better than Buzz!. Our hero pops up only briefly between rounds, and you don't have to sit through tedious point-counting or the Australian's sub-Jimmy Carr stand-up.
The questions are based on TV, film and music. They're not very difficult if you've been paying attention to pop culture over the last two decades, but the timespan they cover means both younger and older players are likely to be flummoxed at some point.
There's a decent variation of rounds but many feel a bit budget. Some use photos of celebrities, but others just show their names. In the slow reveal round, question marks turn into letters rather than pixellated pictures turning into recognisable images. There are some nice ideas here though, such as the Channel Hopping round - once everyone has picked a multiple-choice answer, you get a second to see what they've picked and change your selection if need be.
The star of the game, of course, is Cheggers. Or rather the CGI version of Cheggers, who is a bit frightening. He's all shiny and pink, like he's just been boiled, waxed and dipped in varnish. He shrieks, he whispers, he laughs, he growls. It's like playing a quiz hosted by a cheery Gollum - "Player one is in the lead, mastaaaa!" Except with rubbish lip-synching. But Cheggers' interludes are short and he doesn't repeat himself too often.
Overall the game is nothing special, but it's not bad. The biggest plus points are the swiftness with which you move from one round to the next and the quick loading times. Things progress at a healthy pace, unlike with many quiz-based videogames.
Cheggers' Party Quiz will do for Boxing Day if you just want something cheap and simple to entertain the family, but it'll be gathering dust by New Year. If you're after a more long-term experience and a game with enough options to make it suitable for post-pub sessions too, you're better off investing in Buzz!.
Alan Hansen's Sports Challenge
Alan Hansen's Sports Challenge is just like Cheggers' Party Quiz except the questions are about sport and it stars Alan Hansen. Alan Hansen told us his favourite thing about the game is "the questions". Our favourite thing about the game is the in-game Alan Hansen, who has pointy shoulders and fish finger fingers and a forehead which never moves.
When you get questions right Alan Hansen says things like, "Great touch, fantastic finish." At the end of rounds he says things like, "It's all about tactics," and you think, no it isn't, Alan Hansen, it's all about answering multiple-choice questions. How much is the BBC paying you to say things like that on television anyway?
Alan Hansen's Sports Challenge is not as good as Buzz! but it is not completely rubbish. It's not as good as Cheggers' Party Quiz if you don't like sport, but it's better than Cheggers' Party Quiz if you don't like TV or music or film.
Buzz! Junior: Monster Rumble
Unlike most other games in the Buzz! series, Monster Rumble is a collection of mini-games rather than a quiz. As the title suggests, it's aimed at the younger end of the market and has a spooky theme. Spooky in a Disney/Pixar rather than a survival horror way, so expect more brightly coloured cartoon characters and less nurses with no faces.
The game's visual style is highly appealing. Cut-scenes are of a high quality, and players have a variety of fun options to customise their monsters. The stupid Australian from the quiz game is gone, and replaced by a much less irritating and insulting mad professor-type. The set-up is similar to the quiz games - you can choose the length of the game, the rounds you want to play, the difficulty level and so on.
But once things get underway you're competing to win mini-games rather than answer questions. As you'd expect some of the games are more fun than others, but overall they're of a good standard, simple to pick-up-and-play and nicely balanced.
Some mini-games are plain old button-bashers, like the one where you have to hammer the buzzer to smash up pumpkins. Others rely on quick reactions, such as the shooting range game where you have to shoot coloured monsters using the relevant buttons. There's also a simple golf game where you time your shot using the buzzer and a racing game where you're running down a sewer on a barrel, amongst plenty others.
Monster Rumble doesn't quite match the quirky charm of Wario Ware or the challenge of Big Brain Academy. However, the style of the game should still appeal to kids. The rounds are varied and entertaining enough to appeal to adults, too, or drunk ones anyway. There might be better post-pub games out there, but Monster Rumble strikes a good balance if you're also looking for a game kids can also enjoy.
What on earth has happened to SingStar PS3? Has Sony run out of disc labels? Who knows when it'll turn up, but at least they're still churning out PS2 instalments in the meantime. The latest of these is SingStar Bollywood, which features 36 songs from Hindi-language movie musicals.
The drill will be familiar if you've played SingStar before. You sing into a microphone and score points according to how well you perform. There are solo, pass the mic, duet and battle modes to choose from. SingStar Bollywood doesn't muck about with the formula one bit.
So the question of how much appeal it holds, as with all the SingStar spin-offs, comes down to the track listing. You can view this for yourself on Wikipedia - yes, we checked it's accurate. Eurogamer's knowledge of Bollywood is entirely lacking, so we asked a friend whose isn't for their thoughts.
"The tracks are all hits from modern Bollywood classics, from this decade and the '90s. Not all of the songs are great, but some of them are modern classics," he said, citing Nazar Ke Samne from the film Aashiqui as a highlight.
"The list could have been better; it could have contained songs that are far better and more memorable," Our chum went on. "Some of these songs are not that famous."
It's a criticism which could be levelled at most instalments in the SingStar series. None of them feature a dream tracklist where every song is a winner. But they're all slick, polished and great fun if you're a karaoke fan. SingStar Bollywood is no exception - assuming, of course, you're also a Bollywood fan.