High Rollers: A DOS game of CGA high stakes.

When it comes to video games based on existing TV shows, game show video games rarely ever get talked about. If they do, they’re often relegated to brief blurbs with ridiculous arguments like “why play this when I could watch the show?”, missing the whole point.

There’s been several dozen versions of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune – most recently for the Switch, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 – with Family Feud not too far behind. There’s been a handful of games based on The Price is Right, Deal or No Deal and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Speaking of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, I’ve actually written about some Jeopardy! games, such as the Game Boy/Game Gear installments, as well as Talking Super Jeopardy! on the NES. Surprisingly, when it comes to Wheel, so far I’ve covered only a knockoff: Tommy’s Wheel of Misfortune. Give those a read if you wanna see more game show-related stuff.

But then there’s shows that somehow got 1-2 games, despite not being that well-known. Now You See It, Win Lose or Draw, Fun House… Even 1 vs. 100 got a few games, which as time went on has been remembered more for being an interactive Xbox Live experience more than being an Actual Game Show.

One of these lesser-known game shows that got the video game treatment is High Rollers.

I’m more a fan of Hair Rollers, myself…

High Rollers had a few runs over the years: Fairly popular runs from 1974-76 and 1978-80 with a pre-Jeopardy! Alex Trebek, and a short-lived revival from 1987-88 with Wink Martindale. Created by Merrill Heatter and Bob Quigley, who had done similar gambling-like game shows such as Gambit. Oh, and a little-known show called Hollywood Squares.

While there are more comprehensive places on the internet that’ll cover all the rules, the game basically goes like this: Two players compete to answer questions to roll a pair of dice, and knock numbers off – one each of 1 through 9 – to win prizes while avoid getting a bad roll. Winner of the match plays the Big Numbers – where there’s no questions, only dice rolls – for a chance at $10,000 big ones. It’s basically the classic board game Shut the Box but with gambling and quiz show elements.

For being called “Box Office,” they weren’t a big success.

Box Office, a budget publisher of computer games, developed and released this game. They didn’t do very many computer games, the only other standout games are A Personal Nightmare, a horror game featuring Elvira; and games based on ALF, The $100,000 Pyramid and, surprisingly, Psycho. Lord knows how making one of Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic films into a video game even works, but that’s not the weirdest “movie into a video game” I’ve ever seen.

Wink looks a bit… concerned here.

There are multiple versions of the game, but for the sake of this article I’m covering the DOS version. You’ll see why in a moment.

After being flooded with a litany of PC Speaker sound effects at the main menu, the visage of host Wink Martindale appears, in all his CGA glory. His smiling mug is on the box and in all versions of the game, but the DOS version here has the best one because of the CGA color scheme. This is the only time you’ll see Wink, as you only see his back during actual gameplay. After seeing a very plaintext menu option,  you’re whisked away to start buzzing in and rolling dice.

The gameplay is faithful to the TV show. Players buzz in, make guesses, roll dice to knock numbers off. Playing a solo game will make the human player the challenger, thus using the player two controls of L or / to buzz in, whereas a two player game will have player one use A or \, which is very awkward on most keyboard setups, even of the time period.

The computer player can be adjusted to be the smartest, quickest guy an AI can be; or be so dimwitted that they’ll roll when there’s only a 5 and a 9 remaining on the board rather than pass it to their opponent.

Whoever controls the dice can then roll to knock numbers off just on the show, with a clunky interface of inputting each number then hitting spacebar.

No prizes, no font variants in the numbers… what are these shenanigans?!

Visually the game looks passable for a game released around this area. It’s not in the upper-echelon of CGA graphics, but I’ve seen much worse on the system. Since it’s a game show, graphics aren’t really important, gameplay is. Box Office nailed the gameplay on that front, but there are a few caveats.

Weird bit of trivia: This “Doubles” graphic was never used on the actual show, except for the show’s pilot. Guess they thought it was too obnoxious?

For one, the game doesn’t show off any prizes, the three columns just have random cash values attached to them. This was a bad idea, as this was a prime opportunity to use fake prizes. If the Price is Right game from a few years later could do it, this game should have. So it feels like you’re playing for cash rather than luxurious prizes like a limousine ride to a fancy restaurant with a diamond ring as a prize package.

Second, it’s just the base game. The 1987 revival of the show added mini games where players would roll the dice and win bonus prizes, like trips, appliances, even a new car. None of those are featured here in this version. This could be considered a blessing, since those were often time-wasters that slowed a fairly fast game down to a screeching halt. But to me, a video game adaptation of a game show should have every little facet of the show, no matter how much people remember it.

Apparently it’s identical twins week on High Rollers. Also, what’s a “Hagen Das”?

The other major problem is well, the sound. The PC speaker was never a good audio device – though once in a while a game like The Secret of Monkey Island would use the PC speaker pretty effectively – but Box Office opted to make it the most bleepy, obnoxious sounds ever heard. Don’t expect to hear a rendition of the show’s theme song here. The closest compliment I could give is how some of the sounds are almost like the TV show’s, but that’s not really praise. Thank god they can be turned off.

Admittedly, there’s not much else for me to say here. High Rollers is a fairly simple game show, and what is here is a fairly passable attempt. It’s worth a try, and since Box Office doesn’t exist anymore, this game has pretty much been made abandonware. It’s worth a shot if you decide to play it in DOSbox, though be forewarned: The game runs super fast, so I recommend setting DOSbox to about 300-400 cycles so the game doesn’t run at breakneck speed. Some versions also come with the Mo’Slo utility, which might help as well.

There hasn’t been many High Rollers games after this licensed one. The show’s been off the air for 30+ years and hasn’t been revived or reran much since then, but there was a fan game many years later – also made in DOS – that felt more like the game show than the official release did.

Sadly, the game locks up DOSbox randomly, so I can’t really get much in terms of screenshots besides these. Oh well, maybe one day DOSbox will play them, or someone will find a way to make them work.

I’m going to leave you with CGA Wink Martindale one more time. Because I like it. It’s so goofy. Someone went through all this effort to make something as silly as

CGA

Wink

Martindale.

My apologies for any nightmares I might have caused.

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B.J. Brown

B.J. Brown is the creator and sole writer on You Found a Secret Area. Casually writing since 2010, I'm fascinated by dumb things like game shows, music, and of course, video games.

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