Developer: Screenlife Games
Release Date: November 6, 2007
The trivia genre has been around for a long time. Since the advent of television, game shows dedicated to people's knowledge of varied sorts of trivia have been television hits. "Jeopardy," anyone? Yet when it comes time to put them onto video games, the results have varied. Anyone who has tried to use an on-screen keyboard to play the NES version of Jeopardy has seen the bottom end of this, while the PC and web series You Don't Know Jack represents, if not the pinnacle, perhaps one of the best designs. It's one of those genres you don't hear about all that often, but is always there. In Europe, the Buzz! series has been a fairly hefty success and is now starting to show up on U.S. shores. Imagine the surprise of your average gamer when Microsoft decides to try and one-up the series before it gets a foothold here with Scene It?: Lights, Camera, Action, based on the Scene It board game series.
For those who have never played the original board game, the basic premise is this: Put the included disc in your DVD player, draw a card, push in the numbers, watch an on-screen clip and answer a piece of trivia related to that clip. Note, however, that the trivia questions range from immediately related (What team was on the poster in the background?) to very tangentially related (For what film did the two main stars of this movie reunite two years later?), which is where the game draws both its accessibility and much of its challenge. The video game follows along much the same vein, but modifies the mechanics and adds a lot more variety to the play styles in the 1,800 "puzzles," to solid, if imperfect, effect.
The control scheme of Scene It? is an immediate attention-getter, in part because the game box has to be large enough to hold it and displays it quite prominently. The game includes four Big Button Pads, special controllers each featuring a giant knob that doubles as a d-pad, along with a bar form of the standard ABXY sequence. The catch is, these controllers are infrared and require the included receiver, which automatically takes up all four controller ports; this means that if one of your controllers is already active, problems can ensue. While the Big Button Pads are easy to set up and have a game designed to match them, their limited range and angle can become annoying when your click doesn't register. On top of that, the controllers use (included) AA batteries but have no indicator lights to let you know about the remaining battery life. The fact that Microsoft took the time to make the Big Button Pads rather than using the standard 360 controller means that that they're hoping to make more games like this, for better or worse.
Scene It? itself uses these controllers fully to create an intuitive play style. Puzzles are varied in what and how the question is asked, but they can be ultimately classified into two varieties. About half of the time, the puzzles are "open," and you simply push the button on the bar to select your answer, getting immediate feedback as to whether or not you are correct. The other half of the time, players must buzz in by pressing the big button before possible answers will appear. In a clever touch, no feedback whatsoever is provided onscreen for your answer, only whether you answered correctly or incorrectly. While this may be off-putting at first glance, it means that other players cannot get a clue to the answer, either. All puzzles share an element of time: Scores start at 2,000 and decrease to zero points over a length of time, encouraging players to answer quickly for the most points. Of course, since answering incorrectly costs you as many points during much of the game, caution may be rewarded as well. The questions range from the 1950s to fairly recent films and everywhere in between, meaning almost anyone is likely to find some films he or she knows.
One of the four rounds of Scene It? will consist of either three or five "puzzles," which is the game's term for a group of questions. The first puzzle will show you a clip and ask questions related to it. Other puzzles range from identifying a sound clip, to recognizing a movie poster while it is being put together out of its components, to playing a few different forms of Pictionary with film titles, to identifying what's missing from famous film scenes, to recognizing stars from their decades-old yearbook photos. All stay on the film theme tightly and follow similar structures, keeping the game on track but not boring.
The short and long play lengths (offering three and five puzzles, respectively) are about right for a quick game with the family or a few friends, but in case players want something a little longer, the game also includes a special Party Play mode, where the game simply plays random puzzle after random puzzle, with no round structure or commentary; the game simply rolls until the player decides to end it by pausing and selecting exit. This mode has a few other modifications to the game rules, such as questions always staying up for the entire time so that people who aren't playing can call out their own guesses. Since this mode is not competitive by nature, this works out well for casual party gaming.
Unfortunately, Scene It? suffers from a few rather glaring flaws. Its graphics quality is decidedly spotty; the film clips consistently look excellent (many are in HD, although those that aren't in HD upscale quite well), but other puzzles and segues from scene to scene follow a rather creepy, pseudo-cartoony style. The announcer, who takes the standpoint of a film company boss, can be very annoying with the limited variety and quality of his commentary, although he does get the occasional gem of a line. Trivia is the entire game, which may make the game less interesting to kids who want more variety in play. On top of that, the title has no online multiplayer, in spite of providing DLC support, limiting it to local parties when it could easily have been very fun online, though potentially extending its local party value.
Overall, Scene It?: Lights, Camera, Action is a casual game for casual gamers, meant to be fun, fast and simple. Its flaws are significant and could limit it for some, but the design, quality and variety of questions, and carefully toned pace make it fun for most players and worth getting if you often have parties with non-gamers, casual gamers or film fiends. Give the demo a look on Xbox Live; maybe you'll like it.
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