Crispy Gamer

Buzz! The Mega Quiz (PS2)

At a Sony event held in steamy Chicago last summer, I was suddenly and rudely surprised. During breakfast, the journos on the trip were asked to play Sony's new trivia game show experience, Buzz! It was early in the morning, and I was empty-stomached and grumpy, my head still pounding from indulging the night before in unmentionable activities. Since my synapses were still coiled around the doings of the previous 12 hours, trying to think to play a trivia game -- a timed trivia game featuring eight game writers all coffee-d up -- seemed to me like torture worthy of the Jigsaw Killer in 'Saw.' To make matters worse, the virtual game show host mocked me. I've always gotten angry at snarky characters in games. I found them mildly amusing way back when the virtual Lance Boyle swaggered in MegaRace, but I have less patience with them now, especially with blond-maned, bespectacled, big-mouthed Buzz. So the game began and boisterous Buzz berated me for missing question after question, that mope. I played; I sucked; I lost.

But I wanted to cut Buzz! an even break, so I readied to play shortly after it arrived at my door a few weeks ago. This really is a party game: You can play with up to eight trivia-crazed individuals at once with standard, easy and difficult settings. Into the PlayStation 2's USB port I plugged in the four wired controllers that were included with the game, even though I would only use two of them.

I couldn't help but ask, Would Buzz! play any better if I hadn't stayed up to the wee hours on that hot Windy City summer night? Would it capture the imagination when I played it in the confines of my own domicile on my own terms (no hangover and a stomach full o' shrimp)? I knew that Sony had its work cut out for it. Buzz!, after all, was first made in the U.K. The game sports 6,000 questions, but were they changed to fit the very different U.S. market? In addition, Buzz!, created for the old-school PS2, has serious, weighty competition. Microsoft's video-clip-rich Scene It? for the Xbox 360 offers wireless controllers (albeit 5,000 fewer questions). Electronic Arts' Smarty Pants for the Wii uses the Wii remotes and is packed with 20,000 questions. Would the wired controllers used for Buzz! somehow sully my experience?

As I plopped my skinny ass down on the couch, I knew I had my work cut out for me: I would play with a trivia pro who had not only won at least a dozen nights of trivia competition at tough, dark Manhattan watering holes, she'd been on TV on 'Jeopardy!' as well. She hated the first thing that's seen on screen, an opening movie of potential contestants hooking up with Buzz to travel to the game show itself. This was somewhat of a waste of time: We didn't want to see a movie. We wanted to get right in and play. Still, the opener was somewhat humorous. Think 'American Idol' audition, the rejects show.

In a tutorial before the game, I'm told how to use the controller: Buzz in with the red lighted ball and match the colors on the controller with the color-coded answers on the screen. Playing is easy, for Buzz! is made with the casual gamer in mind. You choose a strange-looking character for your avatar, anything from a cheerleader to an Elvis Presley imitator. You even get to choose the sound that avatar makes when you answer a question, which is a lot more enjoyable aurally than the character is visually. What would endear me to Buzz the host would be if he could call me by name verbally. But he don't roll like that.

The play itself is generally engaging and occasionally tension-filled, full of general questions that are often easy and sometimes more difficult. Think: sports, music, movies, books, occasionally science and geography. Overall, the questions didn't seem too Brit-oriented at all, which calmed me appreciably. Weirdly, in the first three games -- which take about a half hour each to play -- a question about Destiny's Child came up each time. While I love me some Beyonc&eacure;, this seemed like a glitch in the game. (If you have a PS2, you can stop the repetition by saving info on a memory card. On the PlayStation 3, the saving mechanism on the hard drive didn't work, and it took three tries to get Buzz! itself to work. But eventually it worked fine, minus the saved game portion.) Although kids and teens likely won't feel this way, I felt there was too much boring yet insulting banter from Buzz between the questions. But I feel the same way about 'Jeopardy!' (boring host) and 'American Idol' (two insulting judges, and one wacko).

Of the eight rounds in a multiplayer game, the most compelling is Globetrotter, because it features a plane flying around the globe à la an old-school film newsreel. When it lands in a country, you get a generally ingenious geography question. The round that should have been dumped before beta is Pie Fight, where you toss a creamy one right into you character's kisser. Sounds like a visceral thrill, but it just takes away from the reason I'm playing: to answer trivia!

There is indeed a way to keep Buzz's inane buzz to a bare minimum (without the dessert in the face, too). I can go to Quickfire Quiz mode where the questions come faster. I can even set the amount of questions, and found that a game of 50 queries runs about 15 minutes, perfect for me and the 'Jeopardy!' maven. You can also set the questions to be harder, thus avoiding ones that ask, 'What sport does he play?' when a photo features a picture of a famous hockey player in uniform.

The way to play Buzz! is to get in the zone. For quickness, I had one finger ready for the first two buttons and another ready for the bottom two. Occasionally, I attained a relaxing balance -- holding off on hitting one of the colored buttons too quickly and making a mistake. Still, my opponent knew the Zone from way back in the day, and I lost every time. I got a lot closer to the grail in the final game, though. You probably will, too.

This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.