The PlayStation 3 is home to one of the best trivia games out there, Buzz! World Quiz. The game show setting and the multitude of questions (include user-made and DLC questions) have made it a favorite at parties and family gatherings. One of the DLC packs was all about National Geographic material, and for those who love nature, it was a well-received addition. The folks at National Geographic must have felt the same way, as they decided to release their own trivia games based solely on their vast library of nature and animal facts. With the help of D3 Publishing and Gusto Games, we have Nat Geo Challenge!: Wild Life, a game that falls short of being the perfect trivia title for nature buffs.
Each of the game's modes is split into four different categories that determine which topic will be discussed. Amazing Planet has questions about plants and nature while Aquatic Life deals exclusively with fish. Predators Vs. Prey and Dangerous Encounters, however, both deal with all types of animals, and while they are split into different categories, they feel the same.
Wild Life contains four different game modes, two of which are multiplayer affairs. Quiz mode is the standard trivia mode, where up to four players can play with or against each other in any one of the four categories or in a general quiz, where questions from all four categories are used. Once game length is chosen (determined by how many questions will be asked), the game begins. Questions can be asked regularly or with variations, such as picture puzzles, where tiles flip over to give you a clue about what is being shown; letter puzzles, where you have to figure out what is being said with the jumbled letters; and video questions, where a video clip plays and questions are based on what was seen or heard. The game alternates between timed rounds, where the fastest finger wins the most points and wager rounds, where points can be gained or lost depending on the wager.
Stat Attack is another multiplayer game that plays out much differently. After a category is chosen, two players face off against each other. After it is determined who draws first, that player selects from any one of four stats presented on the card. The opponent much choose one of two cards from his hand to use in comparison, and the one with the higher selected stat wins the card. A winner is determined by whoever has the most cards by the end of the number of turns or whoever captures all of the available cards, whichever comes first. The game is a neat concept, but because of its nature, it seems better played with two people as opposed to four; four-player games can last for quite some time.
Finally, Quest mode is a single-player affair, but it also provides the most gameplay. Like the other two modes, players select any one of the four categories to begin, but once a category is selected, the rest are locked from play. Once in the selected category, players roam the world map selecting an episode from which to answer questions. Much like the quizzes, each episode contains 10 questions that vary between simple text-based questions, picture puzzles, video questions and letter puzzles. Completing each episode earns a medal grade as well as unlocks more episodes. Completed episodes also give you access to three different puzzle types that can either be answered directly in Quest mode or in the main menu. You'll also get more cards for play in Stat Attack games once certain episodes are finished. Once a set number of episodes in each category is completed, you have the opportunity to unlock another category, giving you the chance to go between categories at will in case you tire of answering questions from a single category. With a multitude of episodes and puzzles for each category, it'll take several hours before the player can completely exhaust everything in the mode.
You'll immediately take a liking to the game if you're a fan of trivia and/or nature, but there are a few things that derail the experience a bit. The first is the difficulty. On easy, the game is manageable enough. You're presented with some tough questions, but the overall feeling is that you can answer a good amount of them. Once you bump up the difficulty to medium, though, things rapidly get much more difficult. The bump in difficulty is high enough that novices will quickly be turned away from the title as the questions become more and more obscure. Gamers who love challenges will be fine until they discover another flaw: repeating questions. Despite having over 5,000 questions on the disc, there were a few instances when questions were repeated within a few minutes of each other, sometimes with the same image. The problem is magnified when you realize that, in Quest mode, you can repeat an episode, and the same questions will be used again — in the same order. Using different question sets or a different order would have at least given players the illusion that there are more questions than advertised. As it stands, the question set actually feels more limited than advertised.
The sound is good, but that is to be expected from a title of this nature. The effects are good, and the music carries a sense of calm in every situation. From puzzle-solving to questions about sharks, it never increases in tempo or gives you the feeling that you need to answer a question right away. There's only one voice in the game, and it is that of the host. The British accent carries with it a lighter tone than what you're used to hearing in National Geographic films, but it still remains classy. His praises for correct answers don't come off as dull or overenthusiastic, but he does come off as a bit snarky when you provide incorrect answers. Considering that he only has a few lines when you answer correctly or incorrectly, you'll begin to hate the snark simply because it prolongs the time it takes for you to get to the next question, even if it is only by a few seconds.
National Geographic prides itself on its stunning pictures and footage of the world and its inhabitants. Considering that the game was also done for the Wii, the development team really pulled out all of the stops for this version of the game. Most of the board is given a clean look, with only color shading used to depict which category you've chosen for your topic of questions and puzzles. There are a few background animations, usually shadows of fish and such, but it's otherwise a clean background. Your icon, represented as different colored frogs, looks nice and animates well, but the real draw are the pictures and videos. Each still image is crisp, and all of the video footage is shot and presented in high definition, really making use of the system's power. If nothing else, players will get some footage that looks better than what they can get on the National Geographic HD channel, and that alone makes the game worth playing for nature buffs.
The controls are easy to grasp, though some will lament the fact that they can't use the Buzz! buzzers in the quiz sections alone. Basic movement around the menus and the globe are handled with the d-pad while the face buttons select various answers. Puzzle segments are either controlled exclusively with the left analog stick or d-pad in conjunction with the X button. One curious feature here is the ability to use SixAxis motion controls, though it's only limited to the camera tilt. It's a neat little trick, but because it's useless otherwise, you'll find yourself turning it off the instant you can.
It's really the technical things that stop Nat Geo Challenge!: Wild Life from being the best available nature-focused trivia title. The level of difficulty easily ramps up to ridiculous levels, questions are repeated far too quickly, and the video portions often mismatch the topic of the audio being delivered. If you can look past all of that, you'll find one beautiful-looking trivia title that can teach you a thing or two about your world and the animals in it. It's a good rental, but only purchase it if you and a group of friends love having a challenge all of the time.
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