Sunday, December 18, 2011

8-bit Board Games Pt.2: Anticipation (NES)

Wow, this game actually does look like it's gonna be racy!
Gamers well-versed in the history of video gaming probably know about the rise and fall of Atari and the video game crash of the early 80's. The Cliff's notes version is such: Atari ran into problems near the end of their reign due to poor decision making and a glutted market of substandard games that alienated audiences. "Alienated" is of course an appropriate term as one of the most iconic symbols of Atari's fall from grace was 1982's E.T. It was a huge blunder in a sea of missteps including a craptastic port of Pac Man, the underwhelming response to the Atari 5200 and a market that had quite a few competing consoles such as the Intellivison, ColecoVision, and many more. I can't quite remember the source to cite this information so don't sue me - but I read somewhere that the reasoning for the Famicom being called the Nintendo Entertainment System rather than the name Nintendo was kicking around when they were going to be branded by Atari, the "Nintendo Advanced Video Game System" is that it doesn't automatically evoke the image of "video games" in the mind. Keep in mind, the country was just coming out of the big video game crash and it's easy to imagine Nintendo didn't want their new system to be thought of as simply a video game system and a part of the passing fad that just destroyed Atari's dominance.

I know, I know - what does this have to do with Rare's video board game? Well, when the NES was released it had a few features that set it apart from other video game systems. For starters, early systems came with R.O.B the robot - a mostly failed add-on that was supposed to be an interactive game buddy with spinning gyros and moving gadgets. It's also the system that would later have carts such as Taboo: The Sixth Sense which is essentially a digital tarot card reader and Miracle Piano, which was a piano & game cart combo that would teach you how to play piano. It appears that this is where the idea to have board games, card games, and non-game carts originated. To separate the NES from the other gaming units and appeal to audiences other than just children. This thing wasn't just a toy, it was a piano teacher, a tarot reader, an exercise/running simulation, and now a board game for up to four players! This board game was Rare's 1988 game, Antici...

On the surface, Anticipation looks near identical to Pictionary - and there definitely are similarities. However, Anticipation has a few of its own unique gameplay features, many of which are superior to the Pictionary NES game which would be released a few years later. First, let's discuss the gameplay. Anticipation takes place on a multicolored board where your team's game piece will land on squares and have to answer picture based questions in an allotted time frame. I know, it sounds just like Pictionary - just bare with me. Instead of having fun but frustrating minigames that unlock your image, you simply wait until a magic pencil draws out a connect-the-dots version of your image. You can chime in when you think you know the answer, and believe me - you will at least have a chance to know the answer unlike in Pictionary. The longer you take to answer the question, the less spaces you will move at the completion of the question. This is different than the randomized dice roll in Pictionary and can be used to your advantage if you need to land on a space of a specific color. Yes, unlike in Pictionary where I can't honestly tell you that the colored blocks mean anything; the game is separated into specific color-coded categories which change as you progress to the next level. You must complete one of each categories to continue and if you have it set to easy, you shouldn't have any real problems.

Everyone fights to be the pumps
One of the only main frustrations with Anticipation aside from its relatively lackluster and simple gameplay is that if you're new to the game you might be puzzled at how to play at first. It's very easy to accidentally hit a button before the drawing begins because the pencil seems to take a 3-Mississippi before it begins. Your first instinct is that you have to hit a button to start the pencil to move and instead are forced to guess what the image is based only on how the dots are arranged on the screen! Also, if you don't pay attention to the dice on the side, you might wind up going around the stage in circles before you more or less accidentally land on the correctly colored square to continue. That's assuming you're playing by yourself and not competing against someone who can chime in and steal your thunder from under you. If anyone else is playing of course, you'll have to just take what you can get as far as the number on the dice is concerned. Then again, who would really want to play this game by themselves without even a computer player anyway?

The graphics are about as simplistic as in Pictionary; pretty enough to get the job done but nothing you would really write home about. Without the minigames that Pictionary has you're going to be missing a bit of the artistic flair that Pictionary has, but you won't be scrambling to figure out what pictures are near as much. The music is catchy, but also not near as rock & rollin' as in Pictionary. It's cutesy and whimsical and gets the job done. That's really all you need for a video board game anyway. You don't need Joe Satriani shredding the midi-guitar straight from the fires of Mt. Brutal to enjoy a simple board game. Candy Land would be better with some Judas Priest playing in the background, but I don't know that it's necessary to enjoy the game.
Derrr...I dunno what it is!
Thankfully, Anticipation has a variable difficulty. It's one of those games where Easy is too easy and Hard is pretty friggin' tough. So setting the game to medium difficulty and having at least one buddy and a computer player is really the ideal way to play this game. The pictures, while still really crude are actually comprehensible unlike the Picasso-flavored abstract art found in Pictionary. The controls are tighter so choosing the correct letter isn't an exercise in frustration either. Something that does add to the difficulty in this game aside from the aforementioned accidental button-press is the fact that the game will get you on semantics occasionally. It's not a "soda can" but a "soda pop." Spelling will get you in any of these games and can't be factored into the difficulty but when a game such as this calls for a specific word that you're blanking on it can get really frustrating. I saw a clothes hanger but didn't have enough empty spaces to make the words "Clothes hanger" and "Hanger" wasn't enough. What they were looking for is anybody's guess.

Sorry to tell you this, but that's a bomb - not a ring.
So how does Anticipation stack up against Pictionary? The gameplay is smoother although not nearly as innovative. The graphics and sound are slightly less impressive but no less impressive than they ought to be for a game like this. The pictures actually look vaguely like they item they represent, although at times it's hard to get the exact name they're looking for. The "board game" aspect is much better fleshed out with the ascending levels and the fact that the game questions are broken up into categories. It won't have near as many side-splittingly hilarious moments as Pictionary will, but if you're throwing a more casual party that doesn't involve whiskey and fist-fights, this game would be perfect. These two games are Yin and Yang. Kenny G versus Cannibal Corpse. Whichever game you pick, you're going to have an entertaining and often hilarious holiday party! Since they're both so cheap and available right now through Lukie Games, why not pick up both? Are you going to play these when you're alone and bored in your room? Hell no. That's what Battletoads is for. But if you have a few friends over and want to remember a bygone era of primitive video gaming and the slightly misguided combination of board games and video games then give these games a shot!
More white people in tacky clothes than yo momma's Xmas parties!
P.S. Seriously look at that cover art. That thing SCREAMS 80s. I have a hunch the people on the cover are just the game development team in their "casual wear."