Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Planet Moon Studios
Release Date: November 13, 2007
In the great console wars, it is clear that the Wii has been created to appeal not only to traditional gamers, but also to many other demographics. Nintendo has been openly courting the casual gaming crowd with mini-game compilations and family-friendly fare. Since the Wii is a natural party game machine and trivia games have always been a major part of a good party (drunken or otherwise), EA has put the two together to bring Smarty Pants to the masses. Unfortunately, this is not a case of two great tastes that taste great together, and Smarty Pants falls short in almost all categories.
The game's biggest draws are both its extensive collection of questions and the fact that it scales the difficulty based on both the players' ages and abilities. The title boasts over 20,000 bits of trivia, running the gamut from embarrassingly simple to virtually impossible. When you start the game, you'll be asked to choose an avatar (either one of your created Miis or one of the game's various generic characters) and then enter your age. The prevailing theory is that by asking players how old they are, the game can scale the questions to be age-appropriate. For example, a 25-year-old player would likely know very little about 1920s jazz and too much about colors and zoo animals. Therefore, the game will focus most of its questions on famous characters, music, movies, and games from the '80s and '90s. It's a clever system to try and make the game fair for all audiences and to bring the entire family together to play regardless of age disparity.
However, the system isn't foolproof, especially if you play with others your own age. The title's 20,000 questions are spread over all age groups, so multiple gamers in the same age bracket are likely to draw a much smaller pool of questions. I began seeing questions repeat by the third playthrough, not exactly the depth for which I had been hoping.
Smarty Pants offers three basic game modes, none of which are particularly deep or satisfying. The bulk of the title lies in Friends mode, where you and up to three friends can take on each other in all-out trivia war. The game is heavy on gimmick, with several pointless actions used to try and liven up a generally dull affair. Buzzing in requires you to hold the A button and snap the Wiimote up in the air as though you are raising your hand. This is actually a fairly amusing and intuitive system and had the game stopped here, it would have likely been considerably more enjoyable. However, the title insists on pressing the action with innumerable other remote-waggling mini-games, and it all starts to get old after a while.
The worst offender is the dancing session in which you are sometimes asked to partake that will increase the point value of correct answers in the coming round. Basically, you are given 30 seconds to jump around like an idiot while flailing the controller. It's funny for about the first 10 seconds, and then you quickly realize that this is just one of those things the developers tacked on to make it more of a "party game," when in reality, this isn't the sort of thing people do at parties. Honestly, this mode would have been just fine as a simple party trivia game, but all of the added "touches" make it more of a chore than anything else.
If you aren't the competitive type, you can jump into Family mode, where all players work together to answer a certain number of questions within a specific period of time. Obviously though, the game can't make things that easy, and you can bet that whenever you aren't the one answering the question, Smarty Pants will be asking you to wave, shake and wiggle the controller in order to slow down the timer. This is a particularly wrist-wrecking affair, and it won't be long before your arm begs you to stop. It's really another case of the game simply over-thinking itself and turning a fun, frantic trivia challenge into a showcase of behavior that is most commonly associated with people who have an undiagnosed case of ADD.
Finally, if you have no friends but just can't make it through the day without a little trivia lovin', Smarty Pants offers an especially shallow Solo mode. Basically, the game fires questions at you one after another, and you must answer as many as you can before time runs out. If you manage to correctly answer four questions in a row, then you're rewarded with extra time. However, it's all incredibly irrelevant, as the title doesn't feature any sort of online leaderboard and it won't even save your high scores locally. I get the feeling that this was originally intended to be a multiplayer-only affair, but then someone on the development team pointed out that they needed to include some sort of single-player component in order to charge full price.
That's another important point to raise, as Smarty Pants is a full-priced game, not a budget title. So even if you love trivia games, ask yourself, do you love them enough to spend $50 on one? If you put this game up against Metroid Prime 3, Super Mario Galaxy or Twilight Princess with all three bearing the same price, there is no reason to buy Smarty Pants. If you absolutely must play this title, then please wait until the price drops; don't send the message to developers that consumers will plunk down 50 ducats on what is basically a digital board game.
I suppose the price could have been justified had the title featured amazing graphics or top-notch audio presentation, but it doesn't. The character models are stiff, jagged and generally lifeless, and the music is nothing you'll be clamoring to play in 5.1 surround sound. Throw in some overly excitable narration and the aforementioned overly gimmicked controls, and you'll find little redeeming quality.
Smarty Pants has all the groundwork for a fun title that's good for gathering up your friends and enjoying a nice, simple Wii experience. Unfortunately, the developers refused to settle for a basic trivia game and instead opted to throw in every little idea they had for ways to make it more "interactive." You may find Smarty Pants to be fun for a quick session every once in a great while when you want to learn something, but there's nothing here that makes the title stand out. I'd recommend you save about $30, pick up a copy of Trivial Pursuit and play that instead.
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