Version tested: Xbox 360
Without the benefit of copious downloadable content, quiz games have a finite shelf life. It's just a matter of how long you can play before you run out of questions you've not seen before. The most pressing issue, therefore, is how many times you can expect to play any new quiz game before you start seeing repeated questions.
In the case of Box Office Smash, the answer is less than five. Play more than ten, and you'll be getting serious déjà vu every round.
In many respects, this sequel to last year's buzzer bonanza is a marked improvement. The game moves faster, there are more open rounds where everyone gets a chance to score and there's a greater variety of round types - twenty-one in all. The long-winded banter between rounds has been trimmed, and while the new voiceover is every bit as unfunny as before, it's brief. There's even online play, an extremely welcome addition for film nerds desperate to escape the monotony of thrashing family and friends every time, and a much-needed option following the robust network options in rival quiz goliath, Buzz!, in its PS3 debut.
Although it lacks the option to create your own quiz, Box Office Smash does contain some decent options tucked away in the Custom Game menu. You can set the game to subtract points for incorrect answers, for example. There's also a Continuous Mode designed for party amusement, where the game fires a constant stream of trivia questions at the screen with no interruptions. If you're all on your own, there's a dedicated Solo Mode that uses an escalating multiplier system to create a reasonably compelling high-score game.
Unlike Buzz, online play is exactly the same as offline, with short and long modes available. As the game shuffles the rounds randomly it also keeps things more interesting during a long session than Buzz's fixed round order. You can't use your Avatar offline, though, which seems very strange. If your console isn't connected to Xbox Live, you can only pick from a pre-rendered Avatar - or ask the game to randomise one for you.
The questions are generally well-chosen, and skew the game in favour of reasonably well-informed film fans. Many of the incorrect multiple-choice answers have been specifically chosen to trip up those taking an educated guess and, as with the previous edition, it draws from a commendably eclectic selection of films across all genres and decades.
There's just no getting away from the repetition, though, and it seems especially obvious alternating between offline and online play, as if the mechanism that tracks the questions you've seen isn't used for Live games. Within four games you get the same clips and questions, and after ten it's almost guaranteed that at least a quarter of the content will be familiar. On one occasion I got the same anagram question twice in the same round during an online game.
It's not just that the questions themselves are repeated, since licensing issues mean that the game's repertoire of clips, images and soundbites is limited by necessity. If you're a fan of films such as Overboard, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Hot Fuzz or Little Miss Sunshine then you'll see plenty from these. I had the same clip from Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid three times, albeit with occasionally different questions, while the same scene from Paper Moon turned up in two successive Xbox Live games. Bearing in mind that this was after ten games, and assuming you're likely to at least play a couple of short games per session, even the most casual player is going to start getting repeated material sooner rather than later.
There are also some very sloppy mistakes, which are just frequent enough to make you wonder whether the game was proofread and fact-checked. Maybe only a tedious movie nerd like me would take umbrage at a question that says Casey Affleck played a cop in Gone Baby Gone (he was a private detective) but most people will be able to spot howling gaffes like "Micheal Douglas" and "Will Farell".
Then there's the question of balance. Bonus points are dished out to the players between rounds, but the game has a weird - and very annoying - habit of rewarding bad players more than good. Numerous times I saw my hard-earned lead chipped away as the game boosted my opponent's score by over 3500 points for achievements like "Slowest Buzzer" and "Most Incorrect Answers". Presumably this is to keep average players in with a fighting chance, but it feels like the wrong way to do it.
The same is true of the climactic Final Cut round, which offers four questions and a score multiplier to increase the odds of a last-minute upset. Get lucky with the choice of clip, or get every question right quickly enough, and you can win an extra 20,000 points, more than enough to completely reverse the game in the last minute. For the player who has led in every single round, and only dropped their multiplier after one simple mistake, losing under these circumstances is more than a little unfair. (Yes, that was me and, yes, it still stings).
Still, when it gets things right, this second slice of Scene It is a compelling quiz game, with questions that show a genuine understanding and appreciation of the subject matter and not just a desire to shovel trivia onto a disc. When it gets things wrong, however, the flaws immediately and irrevocably chip away at the game's longevity. Obviously the problems are amplified binging on the game for a review, but even played at a more casual pace there are enough problems to reduce Box Office Smash to an entertaining short-term prospect at best.
6 / 10