Game show video games are fascinating to me. They’re neat ways to enjoy your favorite shows, it can be good practice for how you’d actually do on the show itself, and it’s interesting to see how they adapt certain game shows to video game form. I never understood why some retro gamers balk at these games, a lot of them seem to miss the point why they’re fun.
If you’ve visited the site before, you’ve probably read a few pieces on me talking about game show games in various ways, from comparing game music versions of iconic game show themes to game show-adjacent games. But if you haven’t, let me make this clear: I like game show video games. And once again, we’re gonna talk about them.
For a good chunk of the 80s and 90s, GameTek was the definitive game show game publisher in North America. A subsidiary of IJE Inc, the publisher would license various game show franchises – usually Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, two of the biggest game shows in the USA – and put them out on every platform imaginable. Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, DOS, Windows, you name it, they likely published a game show game on a system you had.
They published other stuff too: They helped publish Frontier: Elite II for instance. Hell, their UK branch helped distributed the work of Capstone, “The Pinnacle of Entertainment Software.” Despite this, they will always be the game show game guys to me.
Unfortunately by the late 1990s, GameTek was struggling, and in December 1997 they had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Some of the projects they were making, like RoboTech: Crystal Dreams, got canceled. But in spite of the bankruptcy, they had one last hurrah, by releasing two games that they were mostly well-known for: game show games based on the one-two punch of one Merv Griffin.
Wheel of Fortune – released around November 1997 – and Jeopardy! – released in February 1998 after Take-Two Interactive acquired GameTek’s assets – are the final two game show adaptations published by GameTek. By this time, GameTek was developing the games in-house, forgoing the early NES/SNES days of having contract developers make the games for them. For a company who had a decade+ of game show games under their belt, having their last games be yet another version of Wheel and Jeopardy! was a sad way to go out.
I remember these games because Nintendo Power had covered both games in different issues of the magazine: Wheel of Fortune in December 1997’s issue, and Jeopardy! in the January 1998 issue, of which I owned. It’s surprising to see these games to get a multi-page spread on the magazine.
Why they decided to dedicate magazine space to these two games is a bit weird to me. I know the Nintendo 64 was struggling for a good while, but to give multiple pages about these games makes me think the system’s library was pretty dire until The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Of course, maybe I’m wrong and they always covered stuff like this.
I’m going into these with the assumption that you know what these shows are and how they play, mostly. If you don’t… well, you might wanna catch up on that first. With that preamble out of the way, let’s give these a shot, shall we?
I’ll start by covering the one that came out first: Wheel of Fortune. This was one of the first games I got for the Nintendo 64, alongside stuff like Diddy Kong Racing and Super Mario 64. Me being a game show fan meant naturally I was gonna have this game in my collection.
Much like most Wheel games until around 2010, our “host” is Vanna White, the show’s co-host and letter turner. Or in this case, “letter toucher,” as this was released just as the new modernized puzzle board was revealed, something prominently shown on the cover.
Like most adaptations, there’s character customization, AI opponent difficulty, even the option to play 3-5 fixed rounds of play, or a “full game” which can go for the maximum six rounds or until the game decides time is up and goes into the Speed-Up portion, complete with Vanna giving the Final Spin of the day.
Wheel‘s core format is fairly simple: A puzzle similar to Hangman is revealed, spin the wheel, land on a dollar amount, call a consonant and hope it’s in the puzzle. Wanna know if a vowel’s in the puzzle? You can buy one for $250. Try not to hit Bankrupt as you’ll lose all your money you’ve earned that round. Highest scorer wins.Continue reading…