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About Brad Hilderbrand

I've been covering the various facets of gaming for the past five years and have been permanently indentured to WorthPlaying since I borrowed $20K from Rainier to pay off the Russian mob. When I'm not furiously writing reviews, I enjoy RPGs, rhythm games and casual titles that no one else on staff is willing to play. I'm also a staunch supporter of the PS3.


PC Review - 'Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?: Make the Grade'

by Brad Hilderbrand on May 9, 2009 @ 8:00 a.m. PDT

In Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?: Make the Grade, contestants of all ages must prove their smarts in a game where every question is based on grade school curriculum and the answers are “elementary, ” as your skills are tested in over 23 subjects.

Genre: Trivia
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Imaginengine
Release Date: October 15, 2008

We all have our guilty pleasures, and one of mine is the television show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?," which tests contestants' knowledge of grade school test material. I love seeing how much the challengers (and by extension, myself) have forgotten since they were 10 years old, and the entire hour is usually a refresher course on things I once knew but have long since forgotten. Therefore, I was understandably excited to get my hands on the PC game based on the show, but it wasn't long before my dreams were crushed like that of most of the contestants. Not only is Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Make the Grade boring and shallow, but its production values are so low that it's actually hard to look at after a while. This is one game that dropped out of school way too soon.

The main attraction of Make the Grade is what basically amounts to a digital re-creation of the show. Players have to choose questions from one of 10 categories that range in difficulty from first through fifth grade. The contestant is assisted by a "classmate," an actual fifth grader who will answer the same questions as the player, two at a time. Throughout the game, the contestant may peek at his classmate's answer in order to get an idea of which answer might be right, copy his compatriot's answer directly, or be saved on one incorrect answer if the fifth grader got it right. It works very well on TV, and the format also presents itself passably here.

The major problem with gameplay is that it quickly becomes boring, as there's absolutely no reason to keep playing beyond winning fake money. The "show" is set up the same way every time with all the same classmates, and it isn't long at all before the title commits the cardinal sin of trivia games and starts repeating questions. The entire experience gets old exceptionally quickly, and after only a handful of rounds, it's very hard to find any reason to play again.

You'd hope that maybe this single-player snooze fest would be offset by a strong multiplayer mode, but that's another area where disappointment will soon set in. There is a multiplayer mode that basically takes the standard format and expands it to up to four players, as well as a couple of two-player modes that are speed-based so you must be fast and accurate. The absolute killer is that all these games are local play only, so there's no opportunity to go online and scare up some competition. Unless you have some family members or roommates who are also really into the show and can get past what a hideous game this is, you'll likely have a difficult time finding anyone who wants to play along.

As if the gameplay itself weren't bad enough, the title also hosts some utterly unforgivably bad visuals and voice acting, which makes it cringe-worthy over 90 percent of the time. The character models are as stiff and jagged as can be, and they appear to be leftover from bigger, better games released sometime 10 years ago. It's as though the developers rummaged around in the closet for oddly shaped pieces that had been thrown out and then stitched them together into some sort of horrible humanesque creation. Nowhere is this Frankenstein more apparent than the character model for Jeff Foxworthy, the show's host. While the real Foxworthy is a somewhat handsome and charming man, the digital version is utterly terrifying and the type of person you wouldn't allow within 500 feet of children for fear of him luring them into his van with promises of candy and puppies. I never really understood why the villagers chased the gentle monster with torches and pitchforks, but if Frankenstein looked anything like this version of Foxworthy, then I'd be right there at the front of the pack.

Since THQ realizes it would be untoward to assault your eyes and not your ears, the game also features voice acting so bad that it would have been best if the entire game were done through text. Asking students their favorite subjects is like pulling teeth, with each inquiry going something like this: "My favorite subjects are (long pause) art, (pregnant pause) history and (excruciating pause) measurements." Your computer has likely already gone to sleep by the time the kid finishes talking. Foxworthy's lines aren't much better either, as there are so few bits of dialogue that he'll basically say the exact same thing over and over in every game. I assume his entire voice recording session lasted about 10 minutes, and that doesn't count the eight minutes he spent telling redneck jokes and the 30 seconds he needed to comb his moustache. Rounding it all out are the player character comments, which are so generic that you'll wish your little avatar would realize that he's little more than a robot anyway, and robots are supposed to be stoic and silent.

On the most fundamental level, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Make the Grade works. Yes, you can re-create the TV show on your computer, but the real question is why on Earth you would want to. Perhaps with more multiplayer modes (and ones that could actually be taken online), the game would have been a little worthwhile, but all the content in the world can do little to make up for a production that looks like it was slapped together by a first-year graphic design student rather than a team of professionals. This game gets a big fat "F," is expelled from school and then kicked out of military school for being unteachable. It then ends up unemployed and homeless, dancing in the subway for loose change. You hate to see a life ruined like that, but this game never gave itself the chance to be anything more than a bum.

Score: 3.7/10

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