Christmas time is upon us! Time for family gatherings, parties with friends and turning our collective eyes to the ritual butchering of Englishmen on the cricket pitches across our great brown land. So there's no better time to launch the latest in the Buzz! series of party trivia games. And it's an Australian sports edition to boot.
AU$99.95 will get you Buzz! The Sports Quiz with a set of four glowing red buzzers to call your own or, alternatively, you can shell out AU$59.95 for the game alone. This option, however, is only for those already with a set of buzzers, as the game can't be played without them.
Back are Buzz, the ebullient and eponymous host voiced by Jason Donovan, and his rule-explaining sidekick Rose. There's a a clutch of new rounds and appropriate sports themeing for Buzz and his coterie of contestants. Oh, and a reported 5500 sports questions, but graphically and structually it's much as it was from the Big Quiz and Music Quiz.
As before, players duke it out for trivia supremacy over a series of eight to ten rounds, ranging from multi-choice and fastest finger to more complex rounds, like World of Sport and Estimator, more on those later. The biggest improvement in the main game is that, for the first time, up to eight players can participate in the normal game -- assuming you've got access to two sets of buzzers. Annoyingly though, the scores displayed on the players' podium are so infinitesimally small that they are nearly illegible, even on a 32-inch TV. Making a welcome return from the first installment, Music Quiz, is the ability to choose between short, standard and long games, roughly equating to 10, 20 and 40 minutes.
There are some hits and misses with the new rounds. On the plus-side are: World of Sports, which pits contestants in a race around the world answering exotically themed questions (start swotting up on Peruvian athletics and Congolese football clubs); and Estimator, where players place guesses on a sliding scale to a series "how many/much" questions -- the real fun here is tricking less knowledgable friends with the two card trick, as well as picking the right person to mooch off when you've got no idea yourself. However, other new rounds like Finish Line and Spin are bogged down by tiresome, drawn out cut-scenes which detract from the rapid-fire action. Thankfully, if a round really gets on your nerves, you can give it the flick by customising the game.
All Buzz games have to be localised to some extent. Given Australia's enthusiasm for an eclectic sports mix (name me another country that treats rugby league, union, Australian Rules, swimming, cricket and, sometimes, soccer as religions), the job ahead of the British developers Kuju must've seemed overwhelming. Unfortunately it seems they didn't hire a single Aussie for the task, with the mix of local questions skewed heavily towards the SBS-set, which is fine for soccer nerds like me, but will mean that Aussie Rules and league fans finally have something they can feel mutually aggrieved about. League fans will feel the most put out; in a solid weekend of wall-to-wall Buzzing, there was only a solitary League question. At least Aussie Rules questions occurred once per game, although the majority were of the "which team is playing here" or "identify this player" variety.
The poor localisation is compounded by poor randomisation of the questions. In one game there were twelve-straight "what are the home colours of this team" questions! By the second game, repeat questions began appearing and on one occasion, a question was repeated within the same game. Additionally, there's little discernable difference between the easy and hard modes.
Like previous installments, after two or three games people were in need of some fresh gaming air. Played back-to-back with previous Buzz games, it's evident that the Sports Quiz hasn't been given the same level of spit and polish, with several minor but horribly irritating faults appearing. The host Buzz, who is an amalgam of Eddie, Larry and Bert, has up until now trod on the right side of the divide between in-your-face and gratingly annoying. His segues to questions now seem limited to generic statements like "get ready for another cricket question" or "it's time for another sporting question, but which sport?" which are repeated ad nauseum. Taking the gloss off further is the fact that some of Buzz's dialogue is so poorly lipsynced that it would put a Chinese movie to shame.
Torn as we are each night between Toyota World Sports and Temptation, we had high expectations that Buzz! The Sports Quiz would be our entry to gaming nirvana. While the sports edition of Buzz proved enjoyable for both confirmed sport tragics and those with more a passing interest in sport, it proved to be less memorable than previous editions. This may be down to the problems highlighted above but may also have to do with the possiblity that sports trivia is just less interesting than other forms of trivia. Think about it, if you're not interested in basketball you really wouldn't give two hoots that the Utah Jazz's home colours are navy blue, ice blue and silver or that they moved to Salt Lake City from New Orleans in 1979. Hopefully the Movie Quiz, due out in early 2007, will fix the Sports Quiz's multitude of annoyances and be of interest to people who aren't regular viewers of At the Movies.