Remember those interactive DVD games from about a decade ago?
They could usually be found in a quiet corner of an otherwise busy video rental store, perhaps partially obscured by a Kevin Costner movie that hadn't been checked out in about a year. For some reason it always seemed like a good idea to rent one and give it a go, despite protestations from at least one person in your flat who had been there before and knew what you were in for.
Upon inserting Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in your extremely cheap Transonic DVD player, you could marvel at the technological leap on display as you skipped between questions presented with about a billion cut-scenes, each with a seek time of five seconds or so. That is, of course, until you came to one that was mildly scratched - perhaps by a slight breeze - and the entire experience came crashing to a halt.
It's little wonder then that as soon as gaming hardware capable of supporting the DVD format became more popular, these poorly orchestrated attempts at entertainment made the move to a much more interactive environment. In late 2007 Microsoft released Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action for the Xbox 360, albeit with assistance from Screenlife who created the DVD game by the same name. Microsoft, favouring the emulate over innovate mantra frequently employed when runaway success is a likely outcome, no doubt saw the success of the Buzz! franchise, and perhaps figured that if Jason Donovan couldn't screw it up, how hard could it be?
The original Scene It? was a faithful adaptation of the DVD game and featured around 1800 film-based trivia questions. It even managed to squeeze more entertainment out of the title by establishing new game modes tailored specifically for the Xbox 360. By now, you should be aware of the format these quiz titles generally take, so describing the erstwhile quizzmaster dispensing witty banter whilst mocking your obvious lack of talent is probably unnecessary.
Only the structure and the availability of questions are really important to the success of such games, and as Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action never received the expected DLC treatment, it was only a matter of time before a sequel became available.
So what does Box Office Smash bring in the way of improvements? Well, it's the first title to support Avatars. If they sound like old news, that's because Box Office Smash was actually released to North America in October last year. We can only speculate as to why the New Zealand release is listed as March 26th 2009, solar flares perhaps? In any case, it's here now, and that's a good thing.
Box Office Smash has pulled out the stops in assuming the role of the definitive film-based trivia title available on the market today. With 22 different puzzle types pitting up to four players against each other, there's plenty here for an evening of fun with some drunken, and quite likely pizza-fuelled friends. The game does a good job of including HD scenes from numerous blockbusters, even if the follow-up questions are rather slanted towards generic trivia from the film rather than the activities shown in the clip.
Some of the puzzle types are pretty inventive - of particular note is the 8-bit sketch scene where you'll be answering questions shown in pixellated form, and the "Credit Roll" game provides an eerily familiar feeling when you see a bunch of credits scrolling past but you just can't quite place the film.
The controllers haven't changed since Lights, Camera, Action, but then they didn't really need to. Each consists of a large round button at the top and four smaller buttons below, which appear to have been lifted from the regular Xbox 360 controller. Although the Buzz! controllers have elongated buttons that occupy almost the full width of the unit, I couldn't really find any major problems with using the smaller buttons on the 360 examples. In the heat of competition you can get used to pretty much any controller anyway. Speaking of competition, you can now also battle it out across Xbox Live against friends and foes alike.
Despite the game actively tracking which questions have been answered, you will encounter repeats, although probably not in at least the first half dozen games or so. Microsoft have indicated that DLC will be a focus for this title, so depending on how well they live up to this promise will determine whether Box Office Smash becomes anything more than a weekend rental.
I thoroughly enjoyed Box Office Smash, and despite a few minor annoyances such as the inability to pause, and the hosts annoying and repetitive cries for attention when you leave the controller untouched for more than a few minutes, there's a compelling social experience underneath it all. It's more purposeful than the Buzz! equivalent, and what it lacks in irreverent humour it more than makes up for in content.