There’s two things that I love fondly that I grew up with: Video games (natch), and game shows. I’m not exactly sure what gravitated me towards game shows: Could be the flashy sets, the catchy themes, the thought of people winning $25,000 in mere seconds; but whatever it was, I was hooked. I still enjoy the classic game show every now and then, even though my interest in the genre has waned in recent years.
Since I like game shows and video games, having the two come together sounds amazing. It’s my version of a peanut butter cup. There were a whole bunch of them on the ol’ NES, almost all of them published by GameTek, a US-based software company. I think the game show games were their only hallmark, though they did publish games like Frontier: Elite II and Corridor 7: Alien Invasion, as well as working on publishing Robotech: Crystal Dreams before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1999. There were some NES game show games published by other companies, such as Hi-Tech Expressions, but the less said about those games, the better.
Now, there’s a fair share of game show games on the NES by GameTek, including four different editions of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, as well as Double Dare, Hollywood Squares and many others. What most people don’t know is that some of these were developed by Rare. Yes, that Rare. Donkey Kong Country Rare. Banjo-Kazooie Rare. Kinect Sports Rare. For those who don’t find that as surprising as I do, Rare is a games company based in Twycross, England. All the game show adaptions that they had made weren’t being broadcast on British TV at the time, so to have a company based in England to do American TV game show video games is funny. I would assume the production companies would send them episodes of the show as well as the rules of the game so they understand what they’re trying to make.
Since Rare was a small skeleton crew throughout the ’80s, they only had one composer: Dave Wise (pictured). Wise pretty much composed all of Rare’s games solo up until the early ’90s, and seeing him try to recreate some of game show’s iconic themes on the NES sound chip sounds intriguing. Let’s see how well he did on each of them…
Jeopardy! (1987 NES)
The NES version
The TV show theme (from 1984-1991)
The theme to Jeopardy! is undeniably the most well-known and iconic game show theme. Merv Griffin’s little think tune eventually became the show’s hallmark theme since the show’s revival with Alex Trebek. Being one of the earliest Rare/GameTek collaborations, this is probably one of the closest. However, the intro – used during the contestant selection in the game – goes up three keys rather than two like the actual theme does.
There were two later releases of Jeopardy! by Rare, a Junior Edition in 1989, and a 25th Anniversary Edition in 1990. There’s no changes music-wise, outside of 25th Anniversary adding a little ditty during the copyright screen, which would reappear in Wheel of Fortune: Family Edition (see more information below)
Wheel of Fortune (1987 NES)
The NES version
The TV show theme (from 1983-1989)
Wheel’s theme was another Merv Griffin-composed tune called “Changing Keys,” which was made to replace the original theme composed by Alan Thicke when the show entered syndication. The theme was modified a few times over the years, before being completely replaced with a Steve Kaplan-composed tune in the late ’90s.
In the NES game, however, Wise used the bridge that usually appears during the show’s credits as the theme, rather than the introduction that was associated with the show at that point. It’s only something the game show die-hards like me would notice, but it’s close enough to the main theme that it’s not a bother. Plus you’re likely only gonna hear a few seconds of this before you go into the game itself anyway.
Like Jeopardy!, Wheel had two additional releases done by Rare: Junior Edition in 1989 and Family Edition in 1990. Oddly, Family Edition completely changes all the music to completely original compositions like this. It sounds okay, but for a Wheel of Fortune game to lack the famous theme song is a strange omission, especially since the show had its theme song changed by the time Family Edition was released.
Double Dare (1988 NES)
The NES version
The TV show theme (1986-1988)
Anyone who was a Nickelodeon kid probably remembers Double Dare, especially Edd Kalehoff’s hi-octane uptempo track that got your blood pumping as kids tried to make human spaghetti to win cash and prizes.
Compared to the original theme, the NES version sounds way off. Wise nails the dramatic intro, but then the tune goes into something that sounds like the theme, if it was made by somebody trying to remember a tune by ear. Not only that, the rest of the action-packed cues from the show are completely missing here, replaced with random tunes that have nothing to do with Double Dare. I’m guessing these were all random music tracks Wise made that they threw in just to have music for the game. Even the iconic Obstacle Course tune is missing from here, replaced by something fast-paced, but not nearly as exciting as the TV show’s.
Granted, the music on the NES Double Dare isn’t terrible – all of Wise’s NES output had some catchy tunes, even for stuff like Time Lord – it’s just weird to see this as the “worst” when it comes to adapting its music in video game form.
Note that I used the original Double Dare theme for comparison, which had an organ as the lead instrument, rather than the version that’s more well known which is heavy on the brass. This is because the NES game is based off the original show, rather than the later “Family” versions, which used the brass version of the theme exclusively.
Finally, I saved the best for last:
Hollywood Squares (1988 NES)
The NES version
The TV Show intro from 1988
I grew up watching the John Davidson-hosted revival of Hollywood Squares from the 1980s. While it got frequently zany and had such wonderful stars like Joan Rivers and Jim J. Bullock, I still found some enjoyment in it as a kid. Though I could see why people were pining for Peter Marshall’s return, especially if they grew up with that version more.
Stormy Sacks composed the saxophone and keyboard-heavy theme song – and it’s one of my favorite game show themes from the 80s – so I was worried Wise wouldn’t be able to replicate it as well, repeating what he did with Double Dare. I was wrong. Dead wrong.
Out of all the Rare-developed game show NES games, Hollywood Squares is the most accurate. The NES theme does deviate from the original theme slightly, but every other small cue from the show is replicated almost perfectly with the NES sound chip. Hell, Wise even re-created a cue from the show that doesn’t even appear in the game itself! (You can read more about this on The Cutting Room Floor’s entry on the game here.) I don’t know how he composed them perfectly – maybe they gave them the master tracks, who knows – but he made Hollywood Squares sound pretty damn awesome on the NES.
Granted, the NES game isn’t perfect by any means – certainly better than the other attempts to make a Hollywood Squares video game – but to go from Double Dare to this is a surprising 180.
Alas, Gametek started looking to other developers to make their game show games by 1991, so this was all of Rare’s output. I was only aiming to compare Rare’s games to the actual themes because having a British developer make games based on American game shows is funny to me. However, if you guys liked this, I could make another one featuring the other NES game show games. Though, that would mean I’d have to get games like Fun House, and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that kind of hell yet.
If you wanna give these game soundtracks a listen yourself, you can get the soundtracks here. These require a player that plays NSF sound files. If you’re a dinosaur like me and still use Winamp, I recommend NEZPlug++, but there are alternatives for users of other media players like foobar2000, or for those who just want a dedicated music player.
(Updated September 4, 2014: Updated information, and replaced unreliable YouTube videos with MP3s instead.)