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Review by: Nick Stewart
Published: April 20, 2000
Man is, without a doubt, an obsessive creature. This at least holds true for the majority of the population, as can be seen within the seemingly insane fanaticism that takes hold over certain cultural phenomena. One need only look to incidents such as the month-long line-up for the recent resurrection of the Star Wars series for proof, and who can forget friends’ and relatives’ countless visits to theatres in order to watch Titanic just one more time. More recently, the hit TV show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” has captured the devoted attention of millions across America, rapidly developing into a surprising phenomenon all its own and turning the phrase “Is that your final answer?” into a household buzzword.
As the astounding successes of The Sims and the Deer Hunter series have shown, such phenomena can occur in other forums as well, which in this case is that of computer gaming. It then seems natural that Disney Interactive’s PC version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire would enjoy an equal amount of success as its television counterpart, which a casual glance at recent sales charts will readily confirm as being true. The question that remains, then, is if the PC version is indeed a worthy successor to its televised sibling, or whether its popularity can be attributed to the “Deer Hunter” syndrome, i.e. questionable quality at an attractively low price. Although it might not seem readily apparent, the answer can be found within a close examination of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire‘s individual elements.
Though it is being published and distributed by Disney Interactive, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was developed by Jellyvision, whose name will be instantly familiar to armchair trivia mavens. Previous to Jellyvision’s entrance on the scene, the sole source of PC trivia entertainment rested on the shoulders of the venerable but aging Jeopardy series. A few scant years ago, however, Jellyvision changed all that and revolutionized the sagging trivia genre with its refreshingly original You Don’t Know Jack series, which touted itself as being “the gameshow where high culture and pop culture collide.” With its slick visuals, creative gameplay, as well as its witty and oft-insulting hosts, You Don’t Know Jack turned more than a few heads and practically forced gamers to notice it, effectively redefining the PC trivia genre.
It thus came as a joyful surprise to trivia fans when it was announced that Jellyvision would be responsible for translating Who Wants to be a Millionaire’s unique presentation and sense of style to the interactive confines of the PC screen. Who better to capture the nuances of host Regis Philbin’s distinctive personality and the show’s almost Vegas-like atmosphere of “win or lose it all on a single question” than the developers who brought trivia to the forefront of the gaming industry? It seemed like a natural combination, and the potential was considerable.
It’s important to note that in recreating Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Jellyvision has kept as closely as possible to the detail and execution of the TV series. As the throngs of fans would imagine, the game places you in the “hot seat”, where you must answer fifteen consecutive multiple choice trivia questions, posed by host Regis Philbin. Answering a question correctly moves you to the next one, and answering all fifteen correctly will net you a cool million dollars. Answering a question incorrectly, however, terminates the game immediately. As the questions increase in difficulty and monetary value as you progress, matters can become rather tense, although this is tempered somewhat by the introduction of “lifelines”, and “safe havens”. Lifelines are opportunities for you to request outside help in answering the question, though there are merely three and so they must be used extremely sparingly. Safe havens, located at the $1,000 and $32,000 marks, are plateaus at which your progress is “saved”: if at any point you fail to answer a question correctly, or back out of answering, you will automatically receive the amount stated at the last safe haven, and the game ends. For the insecure or faint of heart, you are also given the option to walk away, which finishes the game and nets you the dollar value of the previous question. As fans of the show well know, this can lead to a certain degree of strategic planning, although your greed may occasionally cloud your judgement, urging you to answer the question in hopes of winning that much more money despite vehement protests from onlooking friends.
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