Several years ago, I did a post where I compared game show themes to their NES counterparts. It was one of the more unique posts I’ve done, and I teased about making another part sometime. Well, that time is now.
Like part one, we’re sticking with GameTek’s output. This was originally gonna cover the rest of the NES games, but it would’ve been a bit unwieldy compared to the last one, so I trimmed it down considerably.
The earliest game show games published by GameTek were developed by Rare, as it was likely cheaper to get a contract developer to make your adaptation compared to doing it in-house. By 1990, Rare had moved on to other projects with other publishers, most notably Milton Bradley and Tradewest. But GameTek was the leader of making game show video games, and naturally they needed to keep publishing games based on hit game shows, thus they soldiered on with a bunch of different game studios tackling the other game show licenses.
This time around, we’ll cover the last few game show games published by GameTek. Two of them are shows we’ve seen on here before, but the remaining three are all new, and have their own unique little tales to each. Let’s get started.
Wheel of Fortune featuring Vanna White (1992)
The NES version (composed by Barry Leitch):
“Changing Keys,” Wheel of Fortune’s theme from 1989-1992 (composed by Merv Griffin):
Our first game is naturally the biggest. Wheel of Fortune really needs no introduction, though this is the fourth Wheel game on the NES. Though I can understand why they did this, which I’ll explain in our next entry.
This one is honestly the best of the bunch. Multiple rounds, actually increasing dollar values, even gets the bonus round right with giving RSTLNE for free. A shame the game looks like… this.
This is a bit complicated. For one, the game is credited on most places (including MobyGames) to be developed by Imagitec Design, a small development studio who did occasional contract work. However, the game shares the graphical style with Talking Super Jeopardy!, which was done by people at Imagineering. If I had to guess, Imagineering is the actual developer, with music contracted out by Imagitec. Or in this case, Imagitec’s sole employee: founder Barry Leitch.
Leitch composed the music for this game, and it’s somewhat unusual for an NES game. While the theme is pretty close to the show’s theme – albeit a bit too fast – it eventually segues into this breakdown with a distinct arpeggio sound that reminds me very much of MOD tracker music, or something I’d hear on a Commodore 64.
Even the other incidental cues, one of which is a rendition of the four chimes to introduce a new puzzle, has that distinct arpeggio sound. It sounds a bit unusual for a game based on an American game show.
Though, in reality, this isn’t that weird. This is fairly common for European composers who did music for the NES. Listen to anything from Neil Baldwin, Jeroen Tel or even Tim Follin, and this music would fall right in line. Since Barry Leitch was based in Scotland, it all makes sense.
Leitch would also do the music for the SNES and Genesis adaptations of Wheel of Fortune released in the same year, so imagine this guy having to adapt Merv Griffin’s iconic theme song to three different sound chips. Quite impressive, really.
Talking Super Jeopardy! (1991)
The NES version (composed by Mike Pierone):
“Think!”, Jeopardy!‘s theme from 1984-1991 (composed by Merv Griffin):
I’ve covered Talking Super Jeopardy! in the past, so I’m not gonna go too much into the game that I didn’t already cover there. But I figure this was released alongside Wheel of Fortune featuring Vanna White just so they had a more recent consolation prize for the contestants compared to last year’s 25th Anniversary Edition. I can imagine Johnny Gilbert talking about this game alongside the Jeopardy! Challenge as parting gifts.
Imagineering is credited as the lead developer, which was basically Absolute Entertainment when they were developing games they weren’t publishing. A weird case of living a double life as a publisher and a contract developer at the same time, something you don’t see much of these days.
It’s surprisingly a good rendition of the theme, as far as NES adaptations go. This time it just uses the more iconic portion of theme rather than the build-up portion of the original like in previous installments, though it ends differently than the show’s does. It does feature a rendition of the think music, as well as a bunch of incidental cues that play during right and wrong answers. Oddly, those tracks also appear in the Game Boy and Game Gear versions of Jeopardy!, which I’ve actually talked about in the past as well.
I’m not surprised, considering the music’s done by Mike Pierone, an audio designer for a handful of games, including the aforementioned Game Boy and Game Gear Jeopardy! games. This is getting into some serious ouroboros territory, so let’s move on.
Family Feud (1991)
The NES version (composed by Tania Smith):
“The Feud,” the theme from Family Feud from 1988-1994 and 2008-present (originally composed by Walt Levinsky, Ken Bichel and Robert Israel for Score Productions, arranged by Edd Kalehoff):
Family Feud makes its only NES appearance, during the middle of the second series with Ray Combs. Produced by Australian-based Beam Software, this is not one of the better versions. The graphics look poor, the characters are not well drawn, and the host looks nothing like Ray. In fact, I’m pretty sure they confused them with Richard Dawson, because the host will kiss every female avatar, something Ray never really did during his run.
Beam only had a handful of musicians and sound designers, and according to someone asking ex-Beam employee Gavan Anderson, he confirmed Tania Smith was the composer.
Alas, the music is in the same mediocre quality as the rest of the game, of which it keeps a steady tempo, uses some of the bars from the faceoff/intro, but then using a portion of the main theme towards the end before it loops.
Even the music sounds too fast. I wonder if this is a similar situation to Back to the Future, another Beam Software project where the music was accidentally sped up.
Since the game came out in 1991, I assume they were using the 1980s arrangement of the theme with the synthesized drums, the one the show still uses today. It’s close, but not exact. Much like the rest of this game. I guess you could do worse for a Family Feud game.
Classic Concentration (1990)
The NES version (composed by Rob Wallace):
The intro theme to Classic Concentration (composed by Paul Epstein for Score Productions):
Okay, this is arguably the anomaly in the GameTek catalog. So far we’ve had Beam Software, Rare and Imagineering do adaptations, developers with pedigrees of making lots of different games for various publishers. However, this one was developed by Softie, a small studio that also did contract work but more for the personal computer side of things. They were Sharedata’s go-to developer for a lot of their PC game show adaptations, and it’s weird to see them make an NES game. Wouldn’t be their last, as they’d bring a game based on the Harlem Globetrotters to the NES as well.
As for how close the adaptation is, it’s a bit weird. Wild Cards are prevalent, but oddly no Take! cards. First to solve two puzzles wins the game, which was the rules by this point in the show’s run. And the car game is still the normal 35 seconds needed to win. Oh, and no Alex Trebek.
There’s no visible credits for the NES version, but it’s been confirmed from composer Rob Wallace that it was “the first thing he worked on” with sound designer Bruce Sandig. His work is mostly licensed stuff, like the abysmal Wayne’s World DOS adventure game and surprisingly, Monster Bash.
This is one of the rare cases where the game doesn’t use the theme song in any capacity. The title theme song is clearly not even a soundalike of the catchy horn-driven theme song of the TV show, it’s an original composition. Though, on Wallace’s website (Archive.org mirror), he gave an explanation:
Concentration is a Merv Griffin television game. Merv Griffin’s production company granted rights to game play but not the original music.
This makes sense. Even though he mentions the wrong production company – Concentration was produced by Mark Goodson Productions, not Merv Griffin.
So, original compositions are what we’re stuck with. On their own, they’re surprisingly catchy tunes. One plays during the intro (with a man playing piano on it for some reason), another during the process of choosing a player, during the game itself, when a match is made, the works. There’s more music than there’s actual sound, which is a bit weird for an NES game.
One track I will highlight is the music Wallace made for the game’s car bonus round. While the show didn’t use music – just a beeping noise – the music used here gives the right amount of tension and suspense, and admittedly it put me on edge even for a bonus game.
I’ll give this game the award for “Best original music for a game show game.” Probably the best thing about the whole game, really.
American Gladiators (1991)
The NES version (composed by Leif Marwede):
The American Gladiators theme from 1989-1993 (composed by Bill Conti):
Ah, American Gladiators. Probably one of the most enjoyable sports “game shows” out there. I use the term loosely here, as the show is more of a sports competition, but I’m counting this one because I’d get chastised by some if I didn’t.
Like Classic Concentration, this one was developed by someone not from the common pedigree of Beam Software or Imagineering. The game is one of the rare NES contributions by developer Incredible Technologies. They’re better known these days as the main developers of Golden Tee Golf, that one golf arcade game that’s in every bar in the world at this point.
The game itself is a bizarre one: Instead of doing a straight adaptation of the show, the player must complete five of the game’s events before moving onto the next level with harder opponents. The games themselves are loose recreations – Joust and Human Cannonball play more like an action platformer, whereas the Wall is a more intense version of Crazy Climber. Even The Eliminator, one of the show’s highlights, only appears once the player’s gotten past level 5 in everything, which is a herculean task for sure.
The theme to American Gladiators is probably in the god-tier of game show themes. Composed by Rocky theme and one-time James Bond film composer Bill Conti, it’s got the right mix of hard rock mixed in with a triumphant horn section, which are staples of Conti’s music. It’s great, and it’s a shame it’s never really been heard complete and in the clear. (The version featured here is compiled from various sources.)
The music in the game, however, isn’t anywhere near that. Leif Marwede does a fairly loose recreation of Conti’s theme, which is okay but not remarkable. The rest of the game uses completely original compositions, some of which has a lot of DAC samples everywhere.
The music using a lot of DAC samples reminds me more of the later 80s Konami games on the NES, which were heavy on using that particular part of the RF2A03 sound chip for improved percussion beyond using the noise channel. While the music itself is not anywhere near the quality of Konami’s NES output, it is certainly unusual for a game made in the US to use the 2A03 in such a complex way.
I honestly recommend giving the NES version a try. While I like the SNES and Genesis versions for being more faithful to the show, the NES version is such a bizarre adaptation of the show that it might as well only be tangentially related to the show it’s based on. It’s not a good game, but it’s an interesting curiosity.
So, that’s all of GameTek’s NES game show output. They moved on to the SNES and Genesis not long after, with the obligatory Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune adaptations, with an occasional Family Feud for good measure.
However, that’s not all the NES game show games. I skipped a few because this article’s fairly long enough as it is, but also because the last couple are somewhat infamous. A friend of mine in the game show fandom once said “If it’s not made by GameTek, stay far away.”
Whenever I do the final part, we will be covering Hi-Tech Expressions’ three game show contributions. And they’re… not very good, I’ll leave it at that.
(Update: That whenever is now! Part 3, covering the rest of the NES game show games developed by Hi-Tech Expressions, was published on November 2020. You can check it out here.)
Some information courtesy of the Video Game Music Preservation Foundation and the Game Developer Research Institute, two wikis for preserving old game development. Thanks to MrNorbert1994’s NSF Archive (CW: flashing images) for having the NSF file for Classic Concentration.