Blockbusters – Review

Title   Blockbusters
Developer  Pretty Mobile
Publisher  Pretty Mobile
Platform  iOS, Android (reviewed)
Genre  Quiz
Release Date  No idea

Those born within certain timeframes are typically exposed to conventions which shape parts of their society.  These days it’s generally animated nonsense such as South Park, Family Guy, and The Simpsons, but in the 1980s it was a low-budget student-based quiz show by the name of Blockbusters.  From the first time someone smirked their way through “Can I have a ‘P’ please, Bob?“, history was made and many t-shirts, pencil cases, and all sorts of merchandise followed.  Fronted by a witty radio personality by the name of Bob Holness – known to many at the time as ‘Uncle Bob’ – it became an instant hit and even spawned an obscure dance routine and now, thirty years later, Pretty Mobile and FremantleMedia have brought it back.

Surprisingly, the game kicks off with the full futuristic intro from the TV show – not an animated rehash or rendering, but the actual intro – so you immediately know that they’re going to remain true to form as much as they possibly can.  Sure enough, within moments we’re greeted by the familiar grin of Bob Holness and everything gets underway.  The option to go through in multiplayer with friends, or randoms, is presented but as this is one of those very obscure games it was nigh on impossible to get a random match.  And I don’t have any friends.

As the single player, my job was to go from top to bottom, creating a solid link of white hexagons from answering a series of questions correctly.  My opponents, the two-player AI team, had to prevent me from doing so by creating their own blue bridge.  The first to link all tiles would win the game.  As an eleven-year-old, watching Blockbusters was a great way to learn a pretty broad spectrum of trivia and I still remember Everest being 29,028 ft tall (at the time – it isn’t now) because the solo contestant answered that question correctly.  As a forty-two-year-old, however, my brain is clearly failing me.  Several times the question began to appear and the AI players were able to answer it before even the first hint of a clue was given, such as “What ‘T’ is a…” and then suddenly they knew the answer.

After this happened to me several more times, I decided to play the AI at its own game.  Whenever a question started to appear, I’d simply buzz in to read the four possible answers and make my selection from there, hoping that I was correctly pre-empting what was about to be asked and, nine times out of ten, I was.  Playing the game legitimately, waiting to see what the subject of the question was, just wasn’t an option as the AI (on ‘Medium’ level) was so heavily skewed against me, so I continued with my method of buzzing in too early.  And continued to win, thanks to the flawed nature of the game.

As with the original TV show, winning two games out of three meant that you had the chance to win a prize by going “gold to gold in sixty seconds or fewer less” in the Gold Run.  Sadly, this is where an already-broken game becomes even more flawed.  The multiple-choice questions are no longer an option and the questions now have to be typed in, based on the multiple-lettered hexagons.  As someone who can type relatively fast on a touch-screen, this wasn’t too much of an issue but for those who can’t type as fast as they can think, it means they’re unlikely to complete the Gold Run in time even though they undoubtedly know the answers.

The Gold Run section is further flawed in that it has been written with no margin for error.  An example would be when I was selected the tile with “SRA” as the hint, and the answer was most definitely Sir Richard Attenborough, yet I got it wrong.  I knew that I hadn’t mis-spelled it, yet for some reason it wouldn’t give me the point.  This was reinforced when I was asked “A means of execution” with the hint of “EC”, which I knew to be “electric chair” as I’d already been asked that same question in my previous Gold Run and answered it correctly.  This time, however, I got it wrong, and that’s when I realised what the problem was – in order to ensure I could type the answer in enough time, I was selecting the words from the auto-complete options.  My answer was “electric chair” but what was actually submitted was “electric chair ” (note the space at the end where auto-complete expected me to then type another word) and the game engine didn’t think to remove the space from the end.

Before I’d even got as far as the fifth Gold Run, I had answered four questions three times and two questions five times.  Bearing in mind that all I needed was to answer eight questions correctly to unlock each Gold Run, and I’d never yet lost a single game, it meant that out of thirty-two separate questions almost half of those had already been asked.  Of course, if I’d wanted to, I could have spent real-world cash on additional question packs but I personally feel that a quiz game should at least be playable for a considerable number of hours before the need to introduce additional questions becomes necessary.

Even the actual prizes for completing the Gold Run are practically an insult.  Rather than maybe throwing a free question pack at you, or even something like 1000 ‘Gold Points’ (which don’t exist, but could have if they’d thought about it) which would then allow you to unlock a new question pack once you reached 10,000 points, they instead reward you with a ‘Free Offer’.  You can imagine my surprise when my reward for completing a Gold Run was the opportunity to download the Amazon app to my device “FOR FREE!” when, as I’m sure most of you know, it’s already free.  Thanks, but no thanks.

Ultimately, my dream of being a contestant on Blockbusters was almost fulfilled.  The intro led me to believe that this was going to be an accurate representation of the classic TV quiz from the ’80s, but the reality was that it was so heavily skewed in favour of the AI that it immediately switched from being a quiz to a game of buzzing in as quickly as possible and selecting the correct answer through a process of elimination.  It’s a sad admission, because the presentation was absolutely spot-on, and highly polished.  The problem lies squarely in the number of questions afforded to the non-paying player, the fact that the engine doesn’t remove questions that have already been asked, and the fact that there’s no margin for error when trying to type in a multi-word answer for the Gold Run.  Can I have a ‘nope’ please, Bob?

  • Looks incredibly authentic
  • Presentation is practically flawless
  • Game itself is almost entirely flawed
  • Questions repeat far too frequently
  • Additional question packs are necessary almost immediately
  • No margin for error when typing in answers
  • AI is massively skewed
  • No real reason to keep playing, sadly

Blockbusters is one of those games which were crying out for a tablet version, as there whole touch-screen method is built for models such as this. If the questions hadn't constantly repeated, the AI wasn't skewed to the point where you couldn't actually get as far as reading an entire question before they buzzed in, and the Gold Run coding had the sense to remove extraneous spaces then this would have been an incredible little game.

Sadly, the flaws took any real gameplay away from it. Those who can't spell would fail. Those who use auto-complete would fail. Those who expect to be able to read the actual question before answering would fail. The reality is, however, that the biggest failure lies in the hands of the developer, and that's a real shame as it had so much potential.

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  1. Ste Ste says:

    I’m disappointed that you didn’t photoshop a swear word into the letters board.

  2. Mark R Mark R says:

    I’m saving that for when I review Cuntdown

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