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.
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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.
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.
Lately I’ve been on a kick of looking at old DOS game show games. There were a lot of official game show games of the 80s, from the greats like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune to lesser-known classics like Now You See It, Fun House and Remote Control. But what I was really interested in were the game show games made by hobby programmers.
I remember seeing this in a Micro Star shareware compilation disc. I wonder if I still have it…
I was looking for Wheel of Fortune clones, but I could only find two. VGAWHEEL (or EGAWHEEL, I’ve seen both names online) is a no-frills version of Wheel that has probably the prettiest wheel made for DOS. Oh, and it has a cute little theme that plays on the PC speaker. Alas, there isn’t much to say about VGAWHEEL, other than Russell Mueller made a pretty good Wheel clone for DOS.
However, the other one I found is most intriguing. This was made by someone with a rather… silly sense of humor.
Man, this guy even had a BBS line! I wonder if there were aliens on it.
Tommy’s Toys was a garage developer who made games “designed by aliens from outer space.” They made a lot of games throughout the ’80s and ’90s. We’re talking about hundreds of them released over ten years. Tommy’s Toys pretty much disappeared by the time Windows became super popular, and the designer stopped making games to write books. At least that’s what Mobygames tells me, anyway.
You know it’s a DOS classic when you see that smiley face in there.
The reason I mention this developer is because they ended up making their own spin on Wheel of Fortune. Made during the peak of “I’m a Wheel Watcher” mania, Tommy’s Toys brings from “outer space” clone called Tommy’s Wheel of Misfortune. So let’s dive into this alien-made Wheel of Fortune clone, shall we?
Off the bat, there are a few changes from the classic game show. You can have anywhere from 2-6 players, more than the three from the actual show. The manual states you can play against the computer but I’m not sure how. After that, it’s standard Wheel of Fortune, except with a few twists.
Now that I think about it, this reminds me more of another game show…
You can see that the Wheel is not a fixed pattern. It has the common Bankrupt, Lose a Turn and Free Spin spaces that you’d associate with Wheel of Fortune, but they’re shuffled around the board at random each round, making the wheel more devious at times.In a sense, it feels like a hybrid between Wheel of Fortune and the other notable luck-driven game show, Press Your Luck. Thankfully there’s no sign of the whammies anywhere.
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.
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:
“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:
“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…