Category: Game Show a Go Go

This is about Game Shows and Video Games together. Usually covers individual games, but sometimes the two cross together in different ways…

Pat Sajak’s Lucky Letters: A crossword game by the Wheel of Fortune guy.

Late last year, I had written about Interplay and Platinumware’s attempt at trying to make a fake game show, Lexi-Cross. It was surprisingly interesting if a bit flawed. At the end of that article, I was reminded of a similar crossword-puzzle driven fake game show. This one came out during the big casual games boom of the mid-2000s, and actually featured someone that until recently, was rather elusive to the world of video games.

He looks… rather airbrushed here. (Cover courtesy of Mobygames.)

Pat Sajak’s Lucky Letters is an interesting breed of game. Developed by Playtonium Games and published by Uclick, it’s a crossword puzzle game stylized like a TV game show, and features an actual host: Pat Sajak, the famous host of Wheel of Fortune. Originally released as a digital game with a trial mode, a later physical “Deluxe” release published by Atari came out in sometime in 2006 on bargain bin shelves everywhere.

I got my copy of this many years ago back in Year One: From a (now-defunct) Value Village in Seattle while I was visiting PAX West – then known as PAX Prime – that I also got complete-in-box copies of The Colonel’s Bequest and Police Quest II: The Vengeance. There were several copies there, one of which had been price-marked down from its normal $20 price down to $1. Knowing my love for dumb game show games, I couldn’t resist the $3 price tag.

I can’t assure you if this is actually on the set of the show or if he’s behind a green screen.

Before I continue, I should clarify a bit who Pat Sajak is for those unaware: He’s the host of Wheel of Fortune, one of the more popular game shows in the United States. Taking over from previous host (and future die-hard conservative Trump supporter) Chuck Woolery in 1981, Sajak has been hosting the perennial game show ever since. Sajak currently holds the record for longest-running tenure of hosting the same game show in the United States – 39 years, beating out the late Alex Trebek’s 36 years on Jeopardy! and Bob Barker’s 35 years on The Price Is Right, respectively – and shows no signs of retiring any time soon.

“And now, here’s your host… Vanna White?”

But interestingly, he never did video games. Like most game shows, there’s been an absolute glut of video games based on the famous puzzle game. But for a good long while, most Wheel of Fortune adaptations usually featured co-host and puzzle board operator Vanna White as host instead, even some of the later games featuring announcer Charlie O’Donnell. But no Pat to be seen, something he’s even pointed out on the show in the past.

In the mid-2000s, he started a puzzle game brand called Pat Sajak Games that briefly existed to sell puzzle books featuring him and his likeness, but it would also branch out to something that until then had been rather elusive to him: the burgeoning video game market. Which leads us to Lucky Letters.

It’s almost like I’m on an actual game show!

The game has three modes of play, all around the concept of crossword puzzles. One is the main Lucky Letters mode, which is the meat of the game. The others, the Lucky 10 and Lucky Players we’ll get into in a bit. But how does Pat Sajak’s Lucky Letters play?

Excuse me, Pat, am I supposed to be seeing the circuitry on this podium?

The rules go a little something like this: There’s a crossword puzzle based on a theme (TV shows, locations, current events, etc). When the game starts, the player can choose a few letters randomly chosen to fill out the board. After that, the game will randomly pick a word out of the crossword, and give it a cash value from three slot machines of various values. The goal is to fill in the crossword clue by selecting correct letters from a pile of random letters. Each correct letter gives you money, but you lose money if you pick a letter not in the word, which will also end that turn.

Continue reading…

Candy Crush: From mobile game phenomenon to short-lived game show.

As someone who loves the world of game shows, I’m honestly amazed that there haven’t been many game shows based on video games. We have game shows based on board games – Monopoly, Scrabble, Scattergories, stuff like that. We had game shows that used a bunch of video games as its base like Starcade and Nick Arcade (ugh). But rarely one adapted from a single video game.

There’s only been one other attempt to make a video game into a game show, and that was the rather short-lived adaptation of You Don’t Know Jack way back in 2000. Cut to 2017, where a major television network greenlit a game show based on a video game property that, while still big, was well past its prime. And it floundered for nine weeks in primetime.

No “saga”s to be found here.

For a brief period in the summer of 2017, CBS aired a game show based on the hit mobile game franchise Candy Crush Saga. Called simply Candy Crush, it definitely fulfilled my curiosity of “what would a game show based on a popular mobile game be like?” But does it actually work as a game show? Judging by how short-lived it was, the answer is “probably not.” Despite that, I’m still curious about it. I’d seen an episode before when it was still new, but I needed to refresh my memory on whether or not it was any good, or if it deserved to be sent to the trash.

Since this game show is based on a hit mobile game, naturally I had to play a bit of the game show’s inspiration first.

A sample Candy Crush Saga game in action.

Candy Crush Saga, the first in a long-running franchise by King Games, has a fairly simple premise: Using a board of various pieces of candy, one must try to match three of the same kind of piece by swapping two pieces connected to each other. Every level has a goal: hit a score threshold, eliminate a specific number of pieces, etc. Failure to do the challenge gives you the option of either spending gold bars – the game’s premium currency – to get extra turns, or losing a life and starting the level over. Each level introduces new hurdles to the gameplay, and there’s really no end goal, the levels keep going until you get bored or bother to complete them all, of which there’s over 1,000 levels worth.

I’m familiar with match-3 puzzle games – Bejeweled was played many a time in my high school years – but the sickly sweet style of Candy Crush Saga was a bit off-putting to me. It doesn’t help that a lot of the time the game often played itself, where I’d make one move and suddenly set off massive chain reactions for big points. But I understand the game’s addictive appeal, including how friends talked about the progress they made back in the day.

Hearing some guy go “Tasty” when I do big combos is rather offputting, combined with the ’70s looking font being used everywhere.

Fun fact: Until this article, I had never actually played any of the games in the Candy Crush series. Mobile and Facebook games are not something I dabble in too much these days – save for the occasional blog post like the most recent post about Bingo Story’s cross-promotion with The Price Is Right – but I figured it would be wise for me to finally get in on the game just for a better frame of reference on what the show was about. It was alright, but I stopped at around level 147 due to the game constantly losing connection and making it difficult to make progress. I wonder how far my friends ever got.

But enough about Candy Crush the video game. How the ever loving heck do you make a game show out of it? Let’s find out.

This article was originally up on Patreon one week early. If you wish to see this article before everyone else, you can pledge to my Patreon here. Just a buck will get you a chance to see it before everyone else.

I mean, you’re certainly not getting someone like Todd Newton to host your big money game show.

This show was hosted by actor/TV personality Mario Lopez. Getting a somewhat-notable TV personality to host your game show is the expected for game shows in the modern age, and does surprisingly well despite not having a lot to do. Naturally, there’s a bit of post-production voiceover in spots, but otherwise he seems nice, friendly, and genuinely wanting to be there. He gets a B+ in my book.

Shockingly, this is not Mario’s first foray into game shows, as he hosted the second season of the oft-forgotten, yet fascinating Masters of the Maze in the mid-1990s. Now that’s an interesting kids game show that nobody really remembers.

Continue reading…

Game Show Themes vs. Their NES Counterparts Volume 3: The Sludge of Hi-Tech Expressions.

Several years ago, I had came up with one of the silliest music-related posts yet: Comparing iconic game show themes to NES versions of the same. Since there were a lot of game show games on the NES, I figured it would be an interesting little thing to write about. In addition, it was an exercise to see how composers took the Ricoh 2A03 sound chip on the NES and make good tunes out of them, while also seeing how accurate their arrangement of the show’s theme was.

Volume 1, published back in 2013, covered most of the first wave of GameTek game show games, which were all developed by Rare. David Wise, who at the time was Rare’s sole composer, did a fine job in most cases, even if it felt like he deviated from the source material in some cases, like with Double Dare.

Volume 2 was published several years later in 2019, and covered the post-Rare era of GameTek game show games from 1990-92, where various companies such as Softie, Incredible Technologies and Imagitec were now developing the games. In that post, we had we had fairly notable composers like Barry Leitch and Rob Wallace, to lesser-knowns like Leif Marwede and Mike Pierone give their own unique spins of the likes of stuff like American Gladiators, or in the case of stuff like Classic Concentration, completely original work.

But GameTek wasn’t the only publisher of game show games for the NES. There was another. One publisher that was known rather infamously for their average to poor quality games. As someone I know from the game show community once said, “If the game features this logo, stay far away.”

The bane of many a licensed game from the 80s to the mid 90s…

Hi-Tech Expressions is a fascinating publisher. They never created any original works, they were strictly a company who licensed existing properties and had contract developers make those games for them. The modern equivalent these days would be someone like GameMill Entertainment: Their bread and butter strictly making games based on existing licenses from TV shows or movies, rarely if ever making original IP of their own compared to similar publishers who’d go on to do bigger things, like THQ.

Most of Hi-Tech Expressions’ games were mediocre-to-bad, and their NES output was no exception. They graced us with three NES game show games, all in varying levels of quality. But we’re not really here to gauge if the games are any good, we’re here to see how accurate the composer’s tunes were to the theme song the show was based on. Let’s get to it.

This was available a week early to people who subscribed to my Patreon. If you wanna see posts like these before everyone else, you can support my Patreon here.


Fun House (1990)

If only the game was as cool and flashy as this title screen was.

The NES version (composed by George “The Fat Man” Sanger):

COMPARED TO:

The Fun House theme from 1988-1990 (Composed by an unknown composer at Score Productions):

Fun House on the NES is a rather… bizarre beast. Rather than taking the Double Dare approach of trying to translate the action-filled gameplay of the kids game show to the NES, they opted to make a completely different game entirely. In Fun House for the NES, your character rollerskates around arenas while grabbing tokens and avoiding obstacles under a stringent time limit. It takes some of the elements of the TV show and slaps it into something that is only tangentially related to the source material. It’s the most oddball out of all the game show games I’ve ever played, that’s for certain.

This game wreaked havoc on my thumb for the brief amount of time I played it.

Lennard Feddersen of Ironwind Software came up with the original concept, and this game really feels like a reskin of an existing idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hi-Tech just took his proof of concept, slapped in 8-bit J.D. Roth and called it a day. (Feddersen would later make a spiritual successor to this game on the Game Boy a few years later called Out of Gas.)

It’s a funny coincidence that I get to cover another game composed by George Sanger, aka “The Fat Man.” I liked his music in the recent entry I made about Lexi-Cross, and he doesn’t disappoint here either. It’s clear Sanger wasn’t given the theme to adapt to the NES sound chip, so he opts for original tunes instead. It doesn’t resemble the rockin’ theme song from the show, but it’s a good tune in its own right.

8-bit J.D. Roth is… weirdly smiling at you.

The rest of the soundtrack has a fair share of catchy tunes, but they do sound a bit loud and shrill in spots. Most of the time, the music is overshadowed by the obnoxious sound effects. For a game released in 1990, it’s rather disappointing. The music’s probably the only good thing about it. Then again, I can’t think of a game where The Fat Man’s music was actually really bad.

Surprisingly, Fun House’s composer credit is currently unknown, as of 2020. A majority of the other Score Productions themes over the years now have proper credits, of which I’ve been using for the past “Game Show Themes vs. Their NES Counterparts” entries. I have an inkling that the composer might be Michel Camilo, Paul Epstein or even Edd Kalehoff, but until someone has proof, this will go uncredited for the time being.

Continue reading…

Lexi-Cross: A futuristic game show game from the past.

Game show video games are a fascinating genre to me. Often criticized rather poorly by gamers who quite don’t get it, these sort of games are a fun little piece of entertainment for me. Some of the ones I like are straightforward adaptations of Jeopardy!, Concentration and High Rollers. They may have their own quirks, but they’re enjoyable well enough.

I even like the ones that aren’t based on standard TV game shows. I’ve written about ones using licensed properties like Outburst or MTV’s TRL, for example. But the ones I’m most interested by are the ones that aren’t based on any particular property or license, yet are clearly taking a few ideas from contemporary game shows. This one’s no exception.

Sadly, the host is not a female murder-cyborg who looks like a reject from Rise of the Robots. (Cover courtesy of Mobygames.)

Lexi-Cross is one of the rare video games that’s influenced by game shows, but is not based on a game show or an existing non-game show property. Published by Interplay and developed by Platinumware – mostly consisting of ex-Cinemaware employees – this game came out around 1990 and had been mostly forgotten. Unless you’re like me and you roamed Home of the Underdogs.

Yep, much like Blood II: The Chosen, Strife and several other games I’ve written about on this site at this point, that abandonware website rears its head once again. Home of the Underdogs made me aware of this game back in the late ‘90s. Considered a “Top Dog” on the website, given to games that were highly recommended by the site’s curators, combined with its game show sheen, made me incredibly interested in it.

Before finding it on Home of the Underdogs all those years ago, I had played a demo of the game on a Windows 95 machine. Since Windows 95 machines were just a pinch more powerful than 1990-era DOS machines, in rare cases the game would act rather strange, where the game’s “cursor” would act up and get stuck in a loop before crashing. Even when writing about this game for this article, I still worried of that particular bug occurring again, yet it never did in my several playthroughs of this game through DOSBox.

This was available a week and a half early to people who subscribed to my Patreon. If you wanna see posts like these before everyone else, you can support my Patreon here.

She’s so… angular. and robotic.

The world of Lexi-Cross takes place in the distant future of 2091, and there isn’t much of a plot to go on. You meet up with a contestant coordinator as you put in your credentials – your name, date of birth, preferred board colors and your home planet. While I decided to be a smelly human being on Earth for these screenshots, there’s nothing stopping you being an alien from any of the other eight planets in the solar system. Afterwards, you’re whisked out of this room, switching to a camera of the game itself.

It’s just like cyberpunk! Except it looks particularly more dated here somehow.

Our host is Chip Ramsey, and for the most part he just interjects once in a while and gives a brief rundown of the game and not much else. I can’t blame you if you forget that he’s there while you’re playing the game. To me, he looks like a cross between a Terminator and one-time Wheel of Fortune host Bob Goen. Considering how Wheel of Fortune was pretty big by 1990, this makes perfect sense. I’ve seen some people compare Chip to Chuck Woolery, but I’m not seeing it. I even made this joke image to prove my theory:

Seriously, I can’t be the only one who sees the resemblance.

There’s even a small robot model named “Robanna,” who doubles as your cursor in-game. This, combined with the host, shows that Platinumware was clearly influenced by the famous game show involving wheels and letters.

Continue reading…

Game Show Themes vs. Their NES Counterparts Volume 2: GameTek’s leftovers.

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)

That’s one colorful wheel.

The NES version (composed by Barry Leitch):

COMPARED TO:

“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 is a downgrade compared to before, even with those ugly avatars.

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.

This looks a lot less crowded, which is a bit of an improvement.

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.

Continue reading…