To shamelessly steal the ever-perceptive Mr Gillen's intro for his review of Buzz! The BIG Quiz, the first Buzz was a great game. No, shuddup.
There's no doubt that it wasn't a gamer's game, but it never set out to be a gamer's game. It was an extremely competent, well-executed quiz game, with a solid set of questions and cheesy presentation which managed to be self-referential and knowing rather than annoying. Crucially, it had a single master-stroke: a set of buzzers with satisfyingly large buttons and pleasantly ludicrous noises, which made it accessible to non-gamers in a way which a joypad-controlled game could never be. It got entire families together after Christmas dinner, from grandparents to young 'uns - that alone makes it into a Great Game.
The follow-up, The BIG Quiz, should by rights have been better again. It expanded the focus of the game beyond music, turning it - on paper- into a vastly more accessible experience. In reality, some pretty dodgy questions, weak balancing and hit and miss humour meant that the game felt rushed and somewhat disappointing. It was still a party favourite, but not the game which the Buzz concept deserved.
There have been a few instalments in the Buzz franchise since then - popping into HMV revealed a kids' version, a sports version, and a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire title using the buzzers - but another general quiz title has taken a year to emerge. The good news, then, is that it has been a year very, very well spent for the masters of social gaming at Relentless Software.
The Strongest Link
Buzz! The Mega Quiz is everything which The BIG Quiz should have been, and more besides. The core aspects of the game remain largely unchanged, of course; you are asked questions in a variety of rounds, and you answer using the buzzer and the coloured face buttons. Often, the speed of your answer is a key factor; other times, only getting it right counts. The buzzers themselves are one of the biggest boons to the game - they make the whole thing accessible and interesting, and for a princely fourteen pounds ninety-nine of your English pounds, you can buy a second set to plug in for eight-player fun.
What The Mega Quiz gets right is, well, everything else. At the heart of any quiz game are good questions, and Relentless has clearly learned from the criticism of The BIG Quiz in this regard. The Mega Quiz offers superbly well researched, well pitched questions, with tons of pictures, music and video clips to keep things varied. The difficulty levels in the game are surprisingly well-balanced, given how tough it must be to balance a quiz game - after all, the only difference between a hard and an easy question is whether you, personally, know what the answer is. Despite this, The Mega Quiz does a sterling job of providing a tougher challenge on hard difficulty - as well as more cutting put-downs from the eponymous host, Buzz himself.
Better, too, is the selection of rounds, and the composition of a standard game. While previous games in the series stand accused of getting the balance wrong in some of their rounds, The Mega Quiz does a great job of ramping up the difficulty as the game proceeds. The first round of a standard quiz sees contestants being allowed to pick categories for each other, which is straightforward enough and pretty easy. By halfway through, you'll be facing elimination from an entire series of questions in Winner Stays On. At the end of the game, all of your scores are converted into precious seconds on a timer which trickle away as you answer questions - with the timer only stopping when you get correct answers, and only granting you extra time when you're the fastest to answer correctly. It's tense, slightly silly, and extremely good fun.
Occasionally, you'll find a round which doesn't do much for you - Buzz' Mystery rounds in the middle of the standard game are a good example, as they're sometimes entirely random in their allocation of points, often have nothing to do with general knowledge, and don't do much to make the game fun. However, you can skip them entirely by simply creating a custom game and unticking the rounds you dislike - or play a really straightforward test of general knowledge by setting how many questions you want, and simply accruing scores for correct answers.
Who Wants To Be A Million-Seller?
Realistically, we could probably stop writing right now. Buzz! The Mega Quiz gets the questions right, and it gets the rounds right. End of story - it's a fantastic quiz game, and richly deserves to sit near the top of the pile of party games and family fun games which lurk in close proximity to many of the nation's televisions.
However, that would be short-changing the game, because it's also worth mentioning the ultra-slick presentation. The developers have worked, er, relentlessly (don't shoot me please) on tightening up the scripts for the game's presenters, and it shows. Buzz - voiced by none other than Jason Donovan - is cheesy enough to top a dozen pizzas, but damned funny at the same time. Some of his put-downs for players who get wrong answers have real bite, and there's something wonderfully juvenile and hilarious about hearing a videogame slag off your friends in this manner.
The player characters, too, are amusing enough - without having the "straining to be funny" feel that many other games end up suffering from. Buzz' co-host, Rose, even gets a few moments in the limelight, particularly when you choose to skip her (helpfully clear and well presented) descriptions of how to play each round. Rather than merely skipping forward, you get a little comment on the way - some of which are funny enough to induce a genuine laugh. It all contributes to a great atmosphere; the little sarky comments, jokes and humorous digs are perfectly tuned to ensure that the experience is fun and irreverent.
The little extras in the game are fairly sparse, admittedly, although we did note the addition of one very useful mode - one in which a player holding a PS2 joypad plays the quizmaster, while those with the buzzers play contestants. In this mode, there are no questions, the idea being that you supply your own questions and answers. The game merely keeps score and provides an interface for the whole affair, which could be pretty good fun if you've got a quiz book or suchlike gathering dust somewhere.
There's absolutely no doubt that The Mega Quiz is the strongest instalment in the Buzz franchise to date. Ever since The Music Quiz appeared in late 2005, we've known that the buzzer hardware made for a fantastic quiz experience - but The Mega Quiz is arguably the first time that the balance of questions, rounds and presentation has been so close to perfection.
Buzz is, as mentioned before, not exactly what you might call a gamer's game. On the other hand, it's a rare gamer who doesn't have any non-gamer friends, relatives or even flatmates - and it's this factor which is at the heart of the whole social gaming movement. More than even SingStar or the Wii, Buzz is hugely accessible and incredibly enjoyable no matter how much (or how little) gaming experience you have. With almost every concern we had about previous iterations in the series ironed out, it's hard to think of any reason not to have this gem tucked away in your collection for party-gaming goodness.