Press Your Luck 2010 Edition (Wii)
There was a stretch in my youth where I wanted so much to play the "big board" from the television game show "Press Your Luck" that I'd think about the show as hard as I could before I went to sleep, to improve my chances of dreaming that I was a contestant on "Press Your Luck." I didn't have Ubisoft's Press Your Luck 2010 Edition for the Nintendo Wii back then (just a rudimentary PC adaptation from GameTek), and I was probably better off as a result. The dreams were more fun.
You've won a generic trip! To somewhere! Apparently in an airplane of some sort!
I think about different things before I fall asleep these days (none of your business), but I was still charmed to learn that somebody was reviving this classic game show -- which ended its run more than 20 years ago -- on a modern console. The basic format: Players answer trivia questions to earn "spins" on a board of 18 flashing squares, which offer cash, prizes, and Whammies -- red cartoon devils who reset a player's total back to zero. Whoever makes it to the end of the game with the highest total is the winner. "Press Your Luck" seems like a prime candidate for translation to a console, by virtue of the fact that its game is so simple.
In fact, the simplicity of "Press Your Luck" makes it unusually challenging for a developer like Ludia to harness its mojo. Not all great game shows are built on great games, and on paper, "Press Your Luck" had a mediocre game. Its main round was essentially "Wheel of Fortune" minus Hangman. But man alive, it was fun to watch, because the TV production nailed all the details. Press Your Luck 2010 gets the rules of the game right, and the on-screen graphics resemble the set of the 1980s show. That's about the extent of its verisimilitude. If this were "Jeopardy!" that effort would probably be more than sufficient. For "Press Your Luck," it's not nearly enough.
This was a frantic show, a reckless expression of the id, regulated by host Peter Tomarken and the ever-present threat of the Whammy. Watching a good episode of "Press Your Luck" is like driving down the freeway in a car where you can barely reach the steering wheel. The lights flash, the contestants scream, the audience rends its garments, the board bloops, the scoreboard operators struggle to keep up, Tomarken narrates and calculates and speculates. And just when it feels like holy Lord this is sheer chaos with the dollars and trips and spins and cats and dogs and madness, the Whammy appears. The car comes to a stop. Everybody takes a breath. And the board starts up again for another go.
I don't know how you recreate that head-swimming experience in a videogame, and neither do the makers of Press Your Luck 2010. The game proceeds in an orderly fashion, as I suppose it must. The board never starts up unless someone pushes a button telling it to do so. The canned crowd noise is always respectful. The host says "Three thousand dollars!" the same way every single time; he never runs out of breath.
Even if it's impossible to completely capture the zest of "Press Your Luck," though, Press Your Luck 2010 could have come much closer. So many details are off the mark. Take the music: Instead of the "Press Your Luck" theme, this game features the interstitial music (originally created for Britain's Channel 4) on which the game show's music was based. It sounds kinda right, mostly wrong. The Q&A round is screwy, too. Buzzing in early to answer a question offers you a multiple-choice menu, whereas TV players had to volunteer an answer if they buzzed in. Sure, it might be a pain to build a text parser for players' typed-in responses, but that's how the game is played.
And then there's the board. How did they mess up the board so badly? One of the most important qualities of the big board on TV was its variety, particularly in the non-cash squares. The show built up a lore around oddball prizes like "home robots" and "flokati rugs." And in the second round, the prize spaces took on higher value and greater importance to the game because unlike cash, nobody knew what those squares were worth until they a player hit them. It changed the should-I-play-or-should-I-pass calculus.
"Press Your Luck" clearly needs the spice added by these little wrinkles, as Press Your Luck 2010 doesn't have any of them, and it's boring. Bad enough that the cash amounts on its board are all out of whack with the careful balance struck by the producers of the TV show, but to add insult to injury, only one type of prize is offered: a trip, to nowhere in particular, which is always worth $3,000. Boo. Worse yet, the chunky "boop-boop-boop" sound effect fades out after a couple seconds on each spin, a departure so egregious that it feels like a bug.
Nobody was ever this happy about a Whammy.
On a more ineffable level, Press Your Luck 2010 misses the analog-ness of its source material. The "Press Your Luck" board was a huge array of slide projectors. Watch the clip above and notice the way the squares fade in and out when they change. It's because they weren't video screens; they were slides lit with incandescent light bulbs. The squares on the Press Your Luck 2010 board blink seamlessly, coldly, just like you'd expect a computer to do. This slight visual change makes a huge difference in terms of tactility. It's the gulf between clicking your mouse to select an icon and pounding a button to bring a hulking machine to a sudden halt. I want the machine.
Press Your Luck 2010 does get one thing right, and that's the Whammies. In what was surely the most memorable gimmick of the original show, a short animation would play whenever a player stopped on a Whammy. The Whammies starred in dozens of vignettes over the show's three seasons, and the developers at Ludia not only paid tribute to those originals but added a bunch of their own that fit the Wile E. Coyote-esque feel perfectly.
The fact that the Whammy animations are so spot-on suggests that Ludia designed the game for people whose only memories of "Press Your Luck" are vague recollections of that one show where they yelled "No Whammies! No Whammies!" But the Whammies are the comic relief; they don't work unless you also have some drama, which Press Your Luck 2010 doesn't. And so the dreams of a childhood game-show nerd grow ever more distant.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Nintendo Wii game provided by the publisher.