A proper five to eight player mode, a return to general knowledge and a clutch of new rounds mark a return to form for the Buzz! series of trivia party games.
Sometimes a franchise needs a reboot to recover its mojo. Batman Begins and Casino Royale went back to their roots and have both revived their respective series. Likewise Buzz! The Mega Quiz, the fourth iteration of Sony's party trivia franchise, is attempting a similar feat.
Don't fret though, the eponymous Buzz -- voiced again by Jason Donovan -- hasn't gone all dark, brooding and mysterious on us. Instead, he's just returned from his disappointing sojourn into the arena of sports trivia. Banished are the too blokey, too obscure and too poorly localised questions of the Sports Quiz in favour of more crowd pleasing general knowledge trivia.
It's much like the similarly titled Big Quiz -- the instalment before last in the Buzz series -- but with many minor adjustments and updates which, when added up, make it a better game. The biggest improvement over previous Buzz games is the near lack of question repetition. Over two solid weekends of Buzzing we encountered, at most, three repeated questions. This is a several thousand-fold improvement on our experience with Sports Buzz, where we encountered questions repeated within the same game. The developers achieved this minor miracle by making note, on your memory card, of which questions have been asked after every round. We can't believe it's taken them this long.
As with all previous iterations of Buzz, there's a plethora of new rounds, although the basic concept remains the same: using the proprietary Buzz buzzers, players select a correct answer from four, or sometimes two, colour-coded options. Veteran Buzzers will find the Point Picker, Fastest Finger, Pie Fight (Hitman from previous games swaps his bullets for pies) and Point Stealer rounds familiar.
Out of the new rounds, our favourites are Globetrotter and Top Rank. In the former, players answer country-specific questions with the quickest correct given the choice of the next country. In the latter, contestants are given lists or phrases to order; it sounds tedious but with Buzz's snide comments from the sideline and the furious whacking of buzzers, it's infectious fun. Although we think that it would be even more fun if more points were awarded to those who were quicker, sort of like the opening round of, whisper it, Who Wants to be a Millionaire. We also enjoyed the mystery round in the middle of the game; sometimes it's a non-trivia round, like duck shooting, or a believe-it-or-not-style true or false round. And there's also a new final round, appropriately called The Final Countdown -- be still '80s tragics, it even has the music -- where points are converted into time; players lose time while pondering their answers and for incorrect responses, with the last player left standing declared the winner.
The only new round to hit a really bum-note with us was Winner Stays On, where each correct answer earns players progressively more points, but one wrong answer excludes you from the rest of the questions in the sequence. It's a good idea, however most of the questions are of the form "who is older?" or "which album was released first?" so the round degenerates into a test of picking out fashions, or methods of portraiture, from various eras. Additionally, most of the albums are very UK-centric; has anyone outside of the Land of Hope and Glory heard of The Boo Radleys? I didn't think so.
Previously in the Big Quiz, the five to eight player mode was restricted to single round games. The Mega Quiz now allows large parties to compete in a multi-round game, albeit one shorn by about half the rounds in two to four player mode and with a different final round. The inevitable post-game discussions, or arguments, are enlivened by a new range of player stats, including best and worst percentage correct, and fastest and slowest players.
The Sports Quiz was ruined not only by its too narrow focus but also its numerous design glitches. These have all been corrected: time-wasting cuts to the podium are gone; so too are the long pauses between rounds; player scores are now easily readable no matter the size of your TV or the number of players; and Buzz's dialogue, while still full of his unique brand of venom and ego, is no longer as repetitive and annoying. That said we still have some quibbles with the Mega Quiz. The final rounds -- both The Final Countdown for two to four players, and Pie Fight in five to eight player mode -- allow for more come from behind wins but oftentimes make large leads coming into the ultimate round seem inconsequential. Also, the conversion of points into lives in five to eight player Pie Fight takes so long you'd think you were playing a game on the Commodore 64 not the Playstation 2 or Playstation 3, even.
As before, Buzz! The Mega Quiz is available in two flavours: software only for AU$59.95 or software plus a set of four glowing red buzzers for AU$99.95. You'll need to purchase the buzzer edition if this is your first foray into the world of Buzz. You'll also need to purchase a set of buzzers or, better, get a friend to bring their set over, if you're to going to play in the five to eight player mode.