The first Buzz was a great game. No, shuddup. It's the only game my parents played last year. It's the game which people - even more so than Singstar - turned up at my house, stinking of booze, and demanded an opportunity to play. Hell, I spent the last six months in an increasingly estranged relationship with my girlfriend, but no matter how bad it got and how the hatred simmered, we could always play Buzz silently until it lightened our mood. When I finally got around to returning the game to the person I borrowed it from, we split two weeks later.
Don't dismiss Buzz. It serves its purpose well.
Buzz! The Big Quiz continues to serve the purpose. Just not quite as well.
Its primary virtues remain identical. Foremost is the hardware with the game, the specific controllers immediately democratising the experience for anyone who's vaguely aware of the concept of a buzzer. Multiplayer centric, a gloriously awful host [think Dr Fox in Muppet form - Ed] asks questions in a variety of rounds and you answer. Cue fun.
Starting with its most positive attribute, you can integrate another set of Buzz controllers into it, and play eight-player. Which is good, no matter how you look at it. Let's give it an unreservedly positive paragraph, eh?
The main change is the topics. Where the first was centred on music, this takes a more general quiz topic in a similar approach. With the success of the last, clearly a little more money has been spent this time around. For example, characters are better animated, with more dynamic actions and more elaborate hit-and-miss-comedy. However, despite this, the general impression is actually one of cheapness. Rather than being based on universally iffy-to-okay snippets of pop songs, this is primarily picture-lead, with what look like random images torn from a clip-art CD anthology. A question, which barely has anything to do with the image, just looks ludicrous sat next to it. This reaches a nadir with the video-clip rounds, which make you watch a bit of random stock footage while running a random question. And it really is random. The cavorting of the stoat with the question like, "What is this animal known as?" ("Ah - the Stoat of the Animal Kingdom... the Stoat") or a Walrus playing a musical instrument with the question "Paid in..." (Answer: Fish).
Which is the problem with the whole Big Quiz - while some questions are extremely playful, others hit harder topics. It's not really a game where the "There are no hard questions" maxim works, as some are about on the level of the questions for pay-per-minute phone-lines and others are far more esoteric. It ruins any sense of challenge when it mixes it up so much. Old Buzz had the option of allowing old or new music, and something to weight the questions between "Serious", "Light" or "Both" would have added much.
Other areas of customisation are better. Rather than being stuck with a standard long/medium/short game, you get to create a custom game, adding and dropping rounds depending on your inclination and tastes. On the surface, it's a great change - but it's not all that we could have hoped. For a start, rather than Buzz where you'd happily play all the rounds, here there's things which you just simply eject as quickly as possible as they're no longer as much fun - either in terms of altering mechanics or just the change from answering questions on music to general knowledge. Take the bomb-passing round. Always tense, now seems actively unfair. With full voice-overs reading the questions and a sizeable delay until the answers even appear, rather than a hurried back and forth as people lob the bomb as quickly as possible you're left twiddling your thumbs until the bomb counts down. While previously you could pass a bomb along the entire row several times, mostly we see it blow up before it loops even once - and almost always immediately on the last person to get it, which is just unfair.
Similarly, there are rounds entirely thrown by the use of pictures. Most noticeable is when they lob four pictures in a grid and ask you a question of a, "Which one of these is most related to..." manner. Problem being, on a standard-sized television and playing sitting on the sofa, the main challenge is straining your eyes to even see the things.
There's a couple of game modes hidden away in the Extras menu, which seems a little like keeping them at arm's reach because they're not quite part of the central game. And that's what they feel like - evolutionary experiments that they may as well have lobbed in, because it seemed a good idea at the time. The team mode is welcome, and something that you're surprised they didn't try and push further. It's a one-round competition where questions are asked to each team of players in turn. Get it wrong, you lose a life. Lose all your lives, and you're out. It lacks the glitz of the game proper, and shows a worrying lack of thought. Players who went last actually had a considerable advantage, as rather than a penalties style system where the victor is only called after everyone has taken equal shots, losing all lives means equal disqualification. So if there were two players, both with one life left, and the first player had answered incorrectly, the latter would win, despite not having answered the same number of questions.
And that's the sort of thing which causes faces to be torn off by grandmother's curled fingertips round our way. In the second mode, Quizmaster mode returns, where you can ask questions and merely harness the buzzing hardware to judge who pressed the button first. Which is nice to have. There's also a handful of party games, which strip out the presentation and allow you to answer a set of questions out of context. Fun, albeit minimalist.
Booting it up, I tried it with my Buzz-o-chums.
What mark am I going to give this game?
"Three," speaketh videogames journalism's answer to Al Qaeda, Stuart Campbell.
It's good, but it's not right.
"Seven," interrupts Eurogamer's very own John Walker, smitten with it.
Our survey says... EH-ER.
The answer I was looking for, which balances its small improvements, regressive steps while still admitting it's a bit of a giggle with your mates is...
5 / 10