Movie fans get another interactive dose of trivia with Scene It? Box Office Smash (for Xbox 360, from Microsoft Game Studios, rated T for teens and older, $59.99).
Based on the popular DVD home entertainment series, this latest version is a puzzle-rich challenge compiling hundreds of questions on cinematic history and great movie moments to test visual and memory skills.
Unlike the board game version that's mired down by using a DVD controller and actual die (ugh!) to compete in a party setting, Box Office Smash comes with four wireless big-button pads to give up to four players a game-show-style experience.
Players won't find the presentation very exciting — there's just a narrator and a limited selection of avatars. Supposedly Microsoft's upcoming version of a Mii creator will allow a more robust development of personalities.
However, the payoff is, of course, the hundreds of movie clips and the clever assortment of more than 20 puzzle varieties used to complement the game's basic multiple-choice format. Each contest consists of four rounds, with the first three rounds mixing in three to five puzzle variations, depending on the length of game chosen.
A timer starts at 2,000 points for each question and works its way down until all of the players lock in answers. The last round, called Final Cut, involves four questions of 2,000 points each, and a multiplier is added to enhance totals for consecutive correct answers. The player with the most points wins.
The puzzles are the best part of the action. Be it watching a gooey face slowly coming into focus to determine its identity or naming films by slogans, musical score, props, pictograms, sound clips or even a poster that slowly reveals itself, the mix is excellent.
The questions accompanying the film clips aren't simply "name the film" questions; they also require a player listen and observe while being asked such specifics as "How many buttons were on the shirt of Pinocchio?" in a scene from "Shrek the Third."
However, I do have problems with the game.
First, hard-core players will find questions begin to repeat pretty quickly after about four extended games. It's a near fatal flaw considering there's an Xbox Live world out there filled with downloadable content. Microsoft promises to add question packs for purchase, and the sooner the better.
Next, it's hard for any player to clearly dominate a game. That's fine when everyone is in the same room in a party atmosphere, but when playing online against random opponents (new to this year's release), I want blood. I kept ending each round with a huge lead, only to see my opponents get thousands of extra points for silly stuff such as being the slowest to answer or — are you kidding me? — having the most incorrect answers.
Finally, Box Office Smash pales in comparison to Sony's trivia epic Buzz! Quiz TV. Almost every element, except the puzzle assortment, felt lacking, from the uninspired, unfunny narration and limited avatar choices to the less than stellar choice of films used. (Do I ever really need to analyze a clip from "Superstar" or "Xanadu"?)
Learning time: The potential for studying the finer points of movies as well as honing of memory skills makes the challenge slightly educational.
To make the game an even a better learning experience, Microsoft easily could add, for example, the best of John Ford or Alfred Hitchcock question packs to further immerse the cinema connoisseur or add common movie-making definition questions to some of the rounds.
Clever parents also can supplement classic clips from movies such as "Miracle on 34th Street" or "Spartacus" with actually renting the full feature for an extended movie night curriculum for their teens.
Age range: A varied selection of movie trivia and film clips span the ages with segments from "Transformers," "Rocky Balboa," and even this year's "Tropic Thunder" included in the questions. Basically, anyone in the family with decent reading skills can take part in the action, thanks, in part, to the big-button controllers.
Final advice: Box Office Smash is the best social trivia game in town for the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, it still feels as if it is in pre-production stages and could offer so much more.
Here's an abbreviated look at some multimedia titles for the DS owner in the family.
Star Wars The Clone Wars: Jedi Alliance (for DS, LucasArts, $34.99) — The latest episode from the continuing war between the Separatists and the Republic moves from movie and television screens to Nintendo's hand-held console for a lesson in teamwork.
A new story about the hijacking of a shipment of precious light-saber crystals sets the stage for the third-person action that requires a player to pair some of the galaxy's most famous Jedi. Legends to choose from include Anakin Skywalker, Mace Windu and Kit Fisto, along with newcomer Ahsoka Tano. Once characters are selected for a level, they sort of work together (one basically covers the others' tails) on missions.
Game mechanics involve exploration, puzzle solving, collecting and combat with such foes as buzz droids, Sith, Magna Guards and the mysterious Nightsisters.
The DS' stylus controls nearly all of the action and, more importantly, the light saber. A tap on an opponent sends the Jedi swinging at him while tapping on the hero can deflect enemy fire. For a powerful Jedi attack or complex maneuvers, drawing lines in tandem with onscreen movements leads to a flurry of Force power.
The three-dimensional adventure looks great, has loads of items to unlock and displays all of the visual and aural nuances of the "Star Wars" universe, down to a booming score and hefty voiceover work.
Avatar: The Last Airbender, Into the Inferno (For DS, THQ, $29.99) — Action from the third and final season of the popular Nickelodeon cartoon translates into a third-person adventure game as players help Aang and his friends save the world and defeat the Fire Nation.
As in Jedi Alliance, teamwork exists and is even more essential as a pair of characters such as Aang and Katara band together to navigate mazelike environments, collect White Lotus tiles in every level and use complimentary powers to survive.
Control of the four elements (water, air, fire and earth) is vital to success and the player uses the stylus as sort of an eyedropper to collect material into a ball and toss it around the environments.
He can break items, knock out foes and even trip switches. A second level of powers for each character can be used to create tornados, ice bridges and a wall of fire
The DS' touch screen and stylus carry the workload as touching the screen leads the heroes around the 3-D worlds and bends the raw elements into weapons.
Onscreen design offers humorous, big-headed versions of the characters (familiar to fans of Japanese animation's "super-deformed" style), but the cut scenes are very mediocre.
Unlike the "Star Wars" game, characters can work independently to solve problems and help one another. Better yet, a cooperative mode is available, delivered via the DS' wireless connection (both players need a game card for the full experience).
Those tired of fighting and exploring will find respite in a goofy volleyball game that can be shared as a download between players (only one card required).
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