Version tested: PlayStation 2
Let's face it, quiz games to date have been utter mind-numbing cash-in rubbish. Take the most popular to date, which is "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" - the UK's first million-selling game, fact fans. The problems here were that a) Chris Tarrant benefited from every sale and b) there just weren't enough questions. An hour or so into proceedings and you could practically guarantee that everyone - including Harry the dog - knew the answers to even the most obscure poser, and started getting really irritated with Tarrant's smug rubber face. Activision's The Weakest Link wasn't much better, and let's not even mention Sky Sports Football or ChampMan Quiz. Oops. Too late.
Thank goodness for Sony, then. Having managed to get a nation of non-gamers to happily make complete tits of themselves in front of the telly with various incarnations of Eye Toy and SingStar, the company has now turned its attention to rescuing the quiz genre from the depths of hell with Buzz. And it has done a damned fine job of it too.
The first thing Buzz gets right is to bundle four 'buzzer' controllers with the game, ensuring that it can't be held back by the user not having enough control pads (in fact, the game doesn't even work with the standard Dual Shock 2s at all). This is perhaps more important than you might think, as it means that the game has been designed from the ground-up as a simultaneous four-player experience that plays out just like a real TV game show.
Never mind the Buzz
The controller in question is an odd little beast that sports a big red blob of a buzzer on the top, with four horizontal colour-coded buttons descending down the front of the device. Comfortably controllable one-handed, it feels a little on the flimsy side, so we'd definitely advise resisting the temptation to smash it on your opponent's head when they've just won the game with a fluky guess.
Bereft of any other buttons, and unable to use the normal PS2 pad, you're forced to use the buzzer controller for literally everything - including a counter-intuitive name entry system that seems designed to trip everyone up the first time they use it. But once you're familiar with the unusual user interface and controls, you select your 'contestant' from a pool of music-related caricatures (including Elvis, Geri Halliwell, Billie Joe Armstrong, and 13 slightly more generic stereotypes) and get on with testing the depths of your musical knowledge.
Cunningly, you can tailor the game length to your requirements so that you can have a short, medium or long game, as well as being able to select what era the questions are from. For example, if you're an old fart like yours truly, you might want to stick to the older era, or the young 'uns might prefer to stick to the modern stuff. Or - to make things fair - you can mix both up randomly and then bleat heartily that a) they don't make 'em like they used to or b) you weren't born during the war, and no, you have no idea what it was like loading from cassette.
Nice to see you...
Generational gap fisticuffs aside, the game proceeds in a delightfully over-the-top, self-mocking style that reproduces all the TV game show clichés with aplomb. Anyone who grew up in the pre-satellite-era, force-fed on a diet of Gambit, Bullseye, Winner Takes All, Play Your Cards Right and Family Fortunes will immediately know where Relentless Software's coming from (check out ukgameshows.com for unlimited cringe-worthy nostalgia). Yes, Buzz's presentation is cheesier than post-Glastonbury underwear, and the host is more annoying than the bastard mutation of Chris Evans and Dr Fox, but somehow it all works out.
As such, you'll be treated to the sight of the effervescent, spiky-haired Buzz jazz-fingering his way through round after round of quizdom, and wasting no time in introducing his improbably proportioned hostess to explain the rule of each round. Typically, no one can be bothered to listen to the explanations and skip to the start of each round, and we expect your attention span will be no different here. Remember: Page Down is your friend.
But if you're still with us, you might be interested to know that the game's stitched together with various rounds that vary in terms of whether you need to be quickest out of the blocks or not. Certainly, in the first round, Point Builder, the idea is simply to select the right answer by pressing the right button before the time runs out. Other rounds, though, like Snap and Fastest Finger require lightning reactions. In the case of the former, you must select the answer before your opponents to bag all the points, while Fastest Finger gives the player with the quickest reactions the most points, with other getting progressively less points.
Get your own back
As you progress through the rounds, the game involves a little more risk, and consequently a lot more reward. For example, the Offloader round tasks you with trying to work out who doesn't know the answer to a question, while Pass The Bomb is a nasty little git of a round, where you must answer a question right to relieve yourself of being blown up and robbed of points. Perhaps even more vindictive is the Point Stealer round, whereby you can choose who to nick points off - especially satisfying if you feel the need to get revenge on those who've been mean to you in past rounds. The Look-Before-You-Leap round is a particularly fraught one where the game s-l-o-w-l-y asks the question by gradually revealing itself, along with the multiple-choice answers. The risk-reward factor is particularly tense here, with the temptation to buzz in first and claim all the points being offset by the possibility of losing points for guessing wrong. If the game's all square at the end of all that, then you progress to the all-important Tie Breaker, with the winner being awarded something as glamorous as a... Dart Board. We were hoping for a Speedboat, Bully-style. Look what you could have won.
Having managed to test the game in the boozed-up environment of a real party over the weekend, we can definitely vouch for its entertainment value and ability to drag everyone to crowd around the TV. It's one of those games that truly brings out the competitive nature in everyone, although we'd advise that you buy some gags and attach them to anyone not playing the game. As with real TV game shows, everyone's natural instinct is to bellow the answer out to prove how clever they are - spoiling the finely balanced contest that's playing out.
There were slight problems, though, mainly relating to the fact that none of the 1000 or so music clips in the game were sourced from the original recording artists, meaning that some weren't immediately recognisable. Some were pretty obvious, but the consistency wasn't as good as it could have been and left many of the contestants complaining that certain clips didn't sound anything like the originals. It's understandable from Sony's point of view: the licensing/royalty fees involved in officially licensing thousands of songs would have been a massive hurdle to negotiate, and to be fair, it has done the best possible job given the circumstances and limitations.
It's also questionable whether the game really has enough music clips to stand up to repeated play. 1000 might sound like a lot, but it won't take long before you're starting to recognise the clips through repetition - as opposed to the depth of your stunning musical knowledge. In the future, this is one game that would definitely benefit from an online component that can access clips directly from massive database stored centrally. On that basis it'd feature almost limitless replayability, but for now it's going to be one of those games that you'll get a good few sessions out of over Christmas and then pick away at on the odd occasion. We're slightly doubtful it'll stand up to extensive play, but it gets away with it by being so damned fun while it lasts - and such a novelty for that matter. There's something peculiarly exciting about simply playing it with a real buzzer. Call us demented, but this sort of thing matters.
As a side note, the end credits reveal that Sony is planning Sports and Movie versions of the game for release next year, so it's clear we've got a SingStar-style re-release scenario on our hands. One day, Sony will probably be able to combine all the various subject matters into one gigantic Buzz fest. Only then will we be able to host the kind of quiz nights that used to look so glamorous back in our youth - and only then will we be able to suss out who really is storing the most amount of useless information.
For a first attempt, Buzz is a great new addition to Sony's fast-growing range of family-friendly releases. Although the reliance on (a limited number of) non-licensed tracks does detract slightly from the scope of the game, and the complete non-appearance of music video clips is a disappointment, it's still a wonderful little package that will liven up many a Christmas get-together later this year. It's the best quiz game ever released by a mile, but there's plenty of room for improvement before it becomes utterly essential.
8 / 10