Peripheral-based games can be a mixed bag. For every success story -- your SingStars, Dance Dance Revolutions, or Nintendo Wiis -- there's a boatload of light guns and goofy cannons that never caught on. Over in the United Kingdom -- and to a lesser extent, the United States -- the videogame quiz show franchise known as Buzz has caught fire and torn up the sales charts with its five-button controller/buzzer. The line of games has spawned movie-themed installments, sports-based iterations, as well as mini-game compilations, and a lot of that success comes down to how much fun it is to sit in your living room with a buzzer in your hand and compete head-to-head with your friends.
Buzz! Master Quiz throws that formula out the window, but pump your brakes; Buzz! Master Quiz doesn't suck.
When I heard Sony announce that it was bringing the franchise to the PSP, my first thought was "train wreck." I've had the pleasure of reviewing a few of the PlayStation 2 Buzzes, and I've come away with a positive impression of the series. However, asking me to suspend my disbelief and imagine a world where a multiplayer-based, peripheral-anchored game could come to a fledging portable and succeed exceeded my mental capacity. However, with weeks of gameplay and in-game trophy-chasing as evidence, I can tell you that Buzz! Master Quiz is a solid game worthy of any quiz junky's time.
There are two general portions to Master Quiz -- single-player and multiplayer -- that pull from a pool of more than 3,000 questions about TV, music, sports, nature, and more. Of course, these questions aren't always just flat-out asked; Master Quiz features nine kinds of quizzes for your noodle-scratchin' pleasure. Top Rank quizzes have you ordering things such as "The," "Strikes," "Empire," and "Back" to form a Star Wars title and four actresses from the oldest to the youngest. Meanwhile, a Picture This quiz will show you a portion of a picture -- the game has more than 1,000 licensed images, videos, and tunes -- and ask you a question based on it. So, if you can identify David Bowie's chin from a reveled tile, answering a question about who sang "Fame" will be that much easier.
Solo Quiz Challenge splits up six types of challenges into a 15-game quiz tree. See, each one of these stops on your educational journey has a category. The first Snapshot Challenge will always give you one minute to answer questions for a chance to see another portion of a hidden, bonus photo; and the first Quickfire Challenge will always be about movies, and so on. Mind you, these aren't the same questions every time, just the same subject matter.
Anyway, you choose one of your three possible profiles -- each storing your name and character of choice -- and head off to make your way through the challenge tree that's broken up into an alternating pattern of a three-quiz column and one-quiz column. When you start, you'll only have access to the first three challenges. Best them, and you'll open up the next tier. From there, the pattern repeats until you've unlocked every quiz and thus can play whatever you want whenever you want.
Now, I'm sure 15 quizzes sounds disappointing, but it's not thanks to Master Quiz's medals and trophies. Every time you set out on a quiz -- whether it's trying to answer as many questions as you can in a Time Challenge minute or score as many points as you can while passing time eats away at your total in Virus -- there's a meter at the bottom of the screen tracking your progress to a bronze, silver, or gold medal. These medals then get recorded along with your high score so that as you scroll through your tree you can see your stats at a glance. The medals provide that extra incentive to dive back into 15 Quickfire questions about music or what have you, but they also have a few trophies attached to them.
No, sadly, Buzz! Master Quiz isn't the first PSP game to incorporate PlayStation Network Trophies, but the game does employ 15 in-game trophies that reward you for answering a question in less than half a second, getting a silver on every quiz, and having a perfect game in Picture This. I realize it might not sound like much, but the trophies actually are quite challenging to nab and have kept my attention for quite some time now. Whenever I'm waiting for a ride, killing time, or just in the mood to fiddle with my PSP, I find myself reaching for Buzz. Although I'll get the occasional repeat, I really haven't seen the same stuff again and again; most of the solo quizzes are done in a flash; and I'll be damned if I'm not going to get that award for 20 correct answers in a row.Keeping true to its PS2 roots, Buzz! Master Quiz actually puts a pretty heavy emphasis on multiplayer. Pass Around lets you and one to five friends choose characters and square off in an easy, standard, or hard game of single-system head-to-head play. See, Buzz pops up, randomizes the order, asks a player a question, and then instructs the person holding the PSP on whom to pass the game to.
Now, a lot of these challenges you'll be familiar with thanks to your solo romp, but there are a few twists and turns. For instance, Picture This -- the one where you get to see a section of a photo and answer a related question -- pops up in multiplayer, but this time you select the part of the image your next opponent will see. Weak Spot gives you the next question and then let's you pick who will have to answer, and if the opponent you select gets the question wrong, you get the points. Similarly, multiplayer Virus has you pick who will get the point-eating attack next. Plus, if you hate any of these rounds or just want to do your favorites, you can pick which games you'll play via the custom game option.
As I detailed in a preview
last month, my wife, my friend, and I put this mode through the paces on a few weekend train trips in San Francisco, and the results were pretty positive. Rather than sit in silence or force conversation on the ride, we just passed the PSP and duked it out for the title of trivia master. Of course, this mode of play means that not everyone can hear or see the Buzz shenanigans at all times and that leads to a bit of a disconnect. When our rounds were over, my group would take a second to recap what we were asked individually and what the current pole position was. Plus, when the game's over, it just moves into the after match awards for the fastest answer and most wrong answers. The trophies are cool, but it kind of jumps to that screen without giving a definitive here's the first, second, and third place person. It just goes there. While solid, Pass Around is a bit too disconnected for my tastes.
If you've got a buddy -- or a few buddies -- with a PSP of his or her own, you can try to capture a more cohesive feeling via Game Sharing. With just one UMD, you can play up to three additional friends in a game of Fastest Fingers -- buzz in first for the most points -- that goes for 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 questions about all or one of the game's eight categories. The final piece of the multiplayer option is Quiz Host, which charges one player with being Buzz and mediating a game. If I was hosting a game while you and your mom were playing, I'd read the question off the screen, see three possible answers along with the correct one, wait for one of you to get the question right, and then be able to add/reduce the scores for you guys. I don't know if I'd ever use this mode in real life, but I guess it's nice that it's there.
As far as game-spanning complaints, I have a few. To begin with, Master Quiz really doesn't have much going on visually. I mean, it's a text-based quiz game so I wasn't expecting my socks to be knocked off, but the background for Picture This is this funky brown/red with a picture frame in the corner and every game screen is pretty much Buzz just standing there -- often flapping his head in a way that doesn't quite synch up with the voiceover, but that's kind of a Buzz trademark at this point. While I did see the occasional question getting repeated in my single-player campaign, it seems there's no communication between the two gameplay sectors. That is, I don't see a lot of the same single-player questions in my single-player game, but I have seen used multiplayer questions pop up in my solo challenge and vice versa. Basically, there's a chance the kid who owns Buzz is going to have the inside track during a session with friends.
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