Tagged: Nes

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.

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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.

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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.

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Super Jeopardy! for the NES: Just as fun as the real show!

Game show video games are still one of many genres I’m fascinated by. While Jackbox Games are still plugging away with twice-yearly Jackbox Party Packs, the competition has mostly dried up. Hell, we haven’t had a proper Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy! game since the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era. (No, those crappy freemium mobile apps don’t count.)

So I tend to go back to the glory days, when GameTek was still around making loads of these games as probably their #1 source of income. I already covered the Game Boy and Game Gear versions of Jeopardy! in the past, and thought, might as well come back to the well once again.

Surprisingly, for the NES, there were four versions of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune on the system. It honestly would’ve done fine with just two, but it must’ve been a huge cash cow for them to keep making. Either that or being given away as consolation prizes on the show gave them a good reason to do the equivalent of a “roster update” for those games.

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This time, I’m covering a fairly obscure one from the Jeopardy! collection: Super Jeopardy!. Released around 1991, this was based off of the fairly short-lived version that actually aired on primetime TV.

I’m going to assume my audience knows Jeopardy! the game show (here’s the Wikipedia page if you don’t), so I’ll talk about what Super Jeopardy! was.

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The Super logo for this super special.

Super Jeopardy! was a 13-week special Tournament of Champions featuring the best players of the current version of the show at the time (plus one champion from the Art Fleming era because the first Tournament of Champions winner passed away) playing for a whopping $250,000. Instead of playing for cash, they were playing for points in the main games.

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4 player Jeopardy! sounds rather chaotic.

Oh, and the quarterfinals featured an unprecedented 4 contestants playing. Wowzers!

In reality, this was only made as a complementary show for Merv Griffin’s other show, Monopoly, based on the board game. Both shows didn’t last long, because they aired on a Saturday evening on ABC. Saturday is basically the kiss of death for anything on American television, so it along with Monopoly were in-and-done after 13 weeks. Though I bet had Monopoly lasted another season, maybe we would’ve gotten a season of Super Wheel of Fortune or something else instead.

Gametek made two Super Jeopardy! video games. One of which is on the PC, and I almost considered that version, but this video proved me otherwise.

CONTENT WARNING: THE VIDEO FEATURES EXTREMELY LOUD, NOISY PC SOUND, LIKELY DUE TO BAD EMULATION. MAKE SURE YOU TURN YOUR VOLUME DOWN (OR MUTE THE VIDEO) BEFORE PLAYING. I WILL NOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR BLOWN SPEAKERS OR DAMAGED EARDRUMS.

So instead, I’ll play the “Talking” NES release. This, along with a Wheel of Fortune game featuring 8-bit Vanna White, were the first Gametek game show games on the NES not developed by Rare, so it’ll be an interesting experience compared to those.

Super Jeopardy! (USA)-0

I’d say he looks more like Christopher McDonald than Alex Trebek.

First off, no Alex Trebek. We wouldn’t see him until the SNES and Genesis era, so we’re stuck with a host that looks like a slimy used car salesman than a game show host.

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Game Show Themes vs. Their NES Counterparts.

Woflogocomparison

Okay, it doesn’t fit one-to-one, but you get what I’m going with this, right?

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.

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The rare sunburst logo. The common white and blue logo wouldn’t show up ’til the 1990s.

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 as well known 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.

David Wise is one of my favorite European composers, next to Tim Follin, Richard Jacques, and Simon Viklund. You could consider this post part of the “David Wise Appreciation Station,” if really you want to.

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! (also includes Jeopardy! Junior Edition and Jeopardy! 25th Anniversary Edition)

Guys, the globe goes *behind* the logo, not under it!

The NES version:

COMPARED TO: 

“Think!”, Jeopardy!‘s theme from 1984-1991 (originally composed by Merv Griffin):

There really isn’t much to say about Jeopardy! as a show. Surprisingly, there were several NES adaptations by Gametek, with new editions out about a year apart from each other.

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.

Mutant David Letterman faces off against two random ladies in this exciting game of Jeopardy!

The rest of the game has random little ditties that play throughout, and none of them resemble cues from the show. The theme is the closest they get, and it’s surprisingly passable.

Now who ever seen a kid with a beard? Especially on Jeopardy! of all shows…

The two later releases of Jeopardy! by Rare, 1989’s Junior Edition, and 1990’s 25th Anniversary Edition, have the same exact music. 25th Anniversary adds a little ditty during the copyright screen, which would also appear in Wheel of Fortune: Family Edition.

There really isn’t much difference between the three editions besides new clues — the Junior Edition might be even harder than the other editions unless you know a lot of 50s-60s stuff — even the 25th Anniversary edition recycles the contestant sprites from Junior Edition, except giving one of the kid models a mirror-universe beard for some reason.

These are alright versions of Jeopardy!, especially by 80s standards. You could do much worse.

Wheel of Fortune (also includes Wheel of Fortune Junior Edition)

This title screen looks so… plain, even by late 80s standards.

The NES version:

 COMPARED TO:

“Changing Keys,” Wheel of Fortune‘s theme from 1983-1989, originally composed by Merv Griffin:

While Jeopardy! is a fairly straightforward game, Wheel of Fortune is a bit more elaborate. Spin a wheel and play hangman, and try to win cash. The 3 (!) versions GameTek released are identical in every way, and are particularly backwards by not having prizes on the wheel, the top dollar value never going higher than $1,000, that sort of thing. Otherwise the game’s pretty spot on to the nighttime “playing for cash” format that started becoming the show’s standard by that point. (Sorry, no shopping for ceramic dalmatians here.)

Welcome to the *WHEEL VORTEX*. Don’t ask what the Boo and Moo spaces are.

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 in 1983. The theme was arranged a few times over the years by Griffin and later Steve Kaplan, before being completely replaced with a Kaplan composed tune in the early 2000s. A shame, as the later themes are rather generic-sounding.

This is where most of the action takes place. Rather simple looking these days.

In the NES game, Wise opted to use the bridge that played 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 diehards 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 such as 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 still had Changing Keys as its theme by the time Family Edition was released. Maybe this was music for an unfinished Rare game that they didn’t want to go unused? It definitely matches the sound of later Rare NES titles like Cobra Triangle and Battletoads

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