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It's hard to believe that Countdown has been on our TV screens for almost 30 years, and must be one of the longest running game shows on British television. While many aspects of the show have changed over the years, the words and numbers game has stood the test of time, and I think it will grace the Channel 4 weekday afternoon schedule for years to come.
The show, currently presented by Jeff Stelling and Rachel Riley, has also moved on with the times with various incarnations of the game being released on various formats and have now reached the modern age with versions of the game released on the Nintendo Wii and DS consoles. I bought the Nintendo DS version of the game as part of my Mum's birthday present, and I paid £9.99 from Amazon. Zavvi.com has the game for £12.99, while Game sells it for £14.99.
The game is published by Mindscape and is rated 3 under the PEGI game ratings system. Surprisingly, there is no language warning given because of the letters game as there is on Scrabble Interactive Edition 2009.
When the game is first loaded, I'm greeted with the Countdown theme tune and title sequence, I can bypass this by tapping the touchscreen if I don't want to see it. I can set two player profiles, and there is also a 'Guest' mode to allow friends to play the game without upsetting my statistics.
The game menus are nicely laid out and in fitting with Countdown's blue colour scheme used on the TV show at the time of writing this review (November 2010). After selecting my profile, I can choose to start a single or multiplayer game, continue a saved game, play the training mode and check my statistics.
In addition, I can view the tutorial to learn how to play the game, or set my options such as turning the sound effects off and changing to a different profile.
~A game of letters and numbers~
The game offers 5 difficulty levels ranging from 'beginner' up to 'champion' this sets the ability of my opponent. When I first bought the game, only the 'beginner' level is available. The other difficulty levels are unlocked once I have won a game on each level, for example I unlocked 'amateur' after I won a game at 'beginner'; and 'expert' when I won my first game on the 'amateur' level, and so on.
Once I've chosen my level, I'm greeted with the game screen. As I would expect the screens resemble the current 'Countdown' set. The top screen shows the contestant area albeit empty, but the names of the contestants are there. I like the idea that the name of my opponent changes with each game, giving the impression I am playing against several people, rather than a few opponents as in Scrabble Interactive 2009. The famous clock is situated above the contestants' desks which times the 30 seconds allowed to provide the contestant's answers . The main game play takes place on the touch screen. If the battery goes, or I turn the console off during the game, then my current game is saved automatically and I can continue it later which I think is excellent, as it is much better than the manual save offered in most games I've played.
A full game of Countdown contains 15 rounds, they consist of 11 letters games, 3 numbers games and the conundrum in the following format:-
* 4 letters rounds
* 1 numbers round
* 4 letters rounds
* 1 numbers round
* 3 letters rounds
* 1 numbers round
* The Countdown Conundrum
Players select their letters or numbers on alternate turns (with the exception of the conundrum which is set by the game) , but it means that I always select my letters first, and the CPU player gets to choose the numbers twice, which I felt was a little unfair.
I select the letters I want by tapping 'vowel' or 'consonant'. In the spirit of the TV show the words 'consonant' or 'vowel' appears in a speech bubble as if it's being said by the contestant on the top screen. When the 30 second clock starts I aim to make the longest word I can by tapping on the letters which appears in what I call the 'answer area' from left to right. I can move the letters around easily to rearrange them or inserting a letter to create a longer word, for example turning 'mediate' into 'meditate'. The letters adjust automatically so I am not left with any gaps, which is fine for the letters rounds which often uses shorter words, but I found it problematic for the conundrum round which I will look at in more detail later on. As with the TV show, certain words are not allowed such as abbreviations (unless it's a word in its own right such as 'admin') along with foreign words, hyphenated words and proper nouns. Words must be at least 2 letters long.
At the end of the round both the answers are displayed (accepted words are indicated in green and disallowed words are in red), and this is followed by the best answer. I can also view other answers by tapping on 'see all solutions' which organises all possible answers by the number of letters, which is certainly useful. This brings me to an area of the game I find disappointing. One of the main parts of the TV show is 'dictionary corner', so I was surprised that I couldn't access word definitions especially given the number of obscure words that pop up. I have noticed that word definitions are given for obscure words on the TV show during the letters game. In comparison, Scrabble Interactive Edition 2009 provides word definitions.
The game is scored using the same rules as the TV show, so the player with the longest word, providing it's accepted by the dictionary, gets points according to the length of the word, for example a 7 letter word gets me 7 points. If I'm lucky to get a 9 letter word (which seems elusive to me) I will get a whopping 18 points. If both players get words of the same length then points are awarded to both players.
The numbers game involves getting as close to a 3 digit number as possible using a selection of 6 numbers, and the results of sums created from those numbers. I can choose between large (eg 100, 75 and 25) and small (eg 9, 3 and 1) numbers by tapping on the relevant buttons. Once the numbers are in place the computer (or CECIL as it's known on the TV show) generates a random 3 digit number.
I felt the input method was cumbersome, and frustratingly slow, as I can only work on one sum at a time, which is easier said than done when I have a 30 second time limit. For instance if I wanted to make up 175 by adding together 100, 25 and 50, I need to create two separate sums (eg 100+ 50 = 150 and then place 150 + 25 =175 in the row underneath) likewise I can't use brackets as per the TV show, for example 2 x (3 + 3) = 12 requires me to enter two sums in this case 3 + 3 = 6 and 6 x 2 = 12. The game also calculates the answer as I go, which is just as well as I'm not very good at mental arithmetic, but I think it does go against the TV show as calculators aren't allowed. I have found the 'one sum at a time' mode annoying as the answer to my most recent calculation is declared as my final answer if I am unlucky to run out of time, even if I was really close to the target.
As with the letters game, scoring follows TV show rules. The player who is closest to the target figure is awarded points providing they are at least 10 away either side from the target number. If I'm between 10 and 6 away I will get 5 points, if I'm between 5 and 1 away I'm given 7 points and if I get the exact target I get the full 10 points which for me is a rarity. Points are awarded to both players if they are the same distance either side from the target.
In the conundrum round, I have to create a 9 letter word out of an anagram and the first contestant to get the correct answer (they buzz in on the TV show) wins the round. I am pleased to say the developers have kept in the tradition of the TV show in having the anagram in the format of two words for example, 'avertcoax' and the answer is 'excavator' . Also as per the TV show, if the winner of the game is decided on this round, it uses the term 'crucial Countdown Conundrum'.
The conundrum uses the same input system as the letters game, meaning I can only enter letters from left to right and the letters adjust automatically when I add or remove letters. This system is fine for the letters round which often uses shorter words, but I find this system too restricting for the conundrum. I tend to work out the answer by looking for obvious word endings such as 'ing' or 'ier' and I find it frustrating that I can't enter those letters at the end.
The winner of the conundrum round is awarded 10 points. If the result is a tie break, then further conundrums are played until a clear winner is decided.
~Oh, I've won a trophy~
Trophies are awarded for each difficulty level. I like the fact that elements from the TV show are included including the coveted Countdown teapot which was awarded when I won my first game, if I win eight games in a row, I'm awarded 'octochamp' status just like the TV show. There are also trophies awarded within the game such as finding the longest word in 15 seconds, and getting an exact calculation.
A more unusual trophy on offer is the 'wooden spoon' which is awarded for losing 8 games in a row, and that can't happen on the TV show. I have been awarded this 'accolade' on Champion mode, and I still haven't won a game on this mode.
The 'statistics' section keeps a record of my achievements organised by difficulty level, such as how many games I've won or lost, and how many times I've got the longest word or achieved the exact calculation. I'm also given the list of trophies I've won. I think it's a shame that high scores aren't listed as this is something that I think most gamers want to keep track of.
~Improving my game~
To hone my skills in each round, there is a 'training mode'. In this I can focus on rounds I want to improve on, which is is my case the conundrum and numbers games. I don't see the point in having options for having a one minute time limit or unlimited time as I'm given 30 seconds to provide my answers in the real game. This mode can also fill in a few spare minutes if I don't have time for a full game.
There is also an excellent game tutorial which clearly explains how to play, although this can only be accessed from the game's main menu. I'd have liked a help button within the game.
A game like this can come alive when playing against a real person. Sadly, for me, the multiplayer mode really lets the game down as I can't play a full 15 round game with a friend. I feel that many fans of the TV show will be disappointed. Instead I can play any of the three round types to meet a certain target, even worse it's not even scored like the TV show. While the options would make good extra mini games, in my opinion, it doesn't make sense to have a multiplayer mode which bares little resemblance to the main game. Thankfully the game only supports download play (single card wireless) so your friends don't need a separate game card. An internet play mode would have been an excellent addition to challenge friends and family around the world to a game of Countdown.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The graphics are clear and easy on the eye, and it's obvious that the developers have paid close attention to the Countdown set right down to the clock lighting up as it counts down. I would have liked to have seen the animation on the conundrum look more like the TV show rather than having letters moving around the screen, but that's a minor detail.
I like the way the sound has been kept to the bare minimum. There aren't any voiceovers by the presenters or dictionary corner, which some fans of the TV show might find disappointing, but I feel it keeps the attention on the actual game. I also feel it would have been a bit monotonous to keep hearing 'vowel', 'consonant' and 'choose your letters/numbers please' to name a few examples. There is the famous Countdown clock music as I would expect even though it does sound like a polyphonic ringtone. It contains most of the characteristics of the music including the 'boing' at the end, although I think the pitch change occurs far later on the DS game than it does on the TV show.
I think the developers have made a reasonable job of bringing Countdown to the Nintendo DS, but I think it could have been much better. The input system is awful in places and I feel that the numbers mode and conundrum rounds fared the worst. The multiplayer mode is definitely crying out to be able to play a full 15 round game with a friend. I would also have liked to have seen word definitions displayed in the letters game, given the 'dictionary corner' element of the TV show.
The actual game is very good and it does give the brain a good workout, though I found the first three difficulty levels easy and I felt I didn't get a real game opponent until the Pro and Champion modes. I have had a few surprises including winning some of the numbers game trophies, though I admit that I won my master calculation trophies because the sum was ridiculously easy.
That said the game is addictive and one game is never enough - and I've lost entire afternoons (and sometimes evenings) playing it. My Mum enjoys it too, though she also gets annoyed with the input system. It also has great longevity, and stands up as a good words and numbers game even if you don't watch the TV show.
As the game is a mixed bag, I award a 3 star rating, but it would have been more if it wasn't for the poor multiplayer mode and input system. That said, I do recommend the game, but I suggest shopping around to get the lowest price.
Review © Munchkin2009 November 2010
Also posted on Ciao (with photo) under the same username
Countdown is Chanel 4's longest running TV programme and the unemployed, bored housewives, pensioners and students enjoy their daily fix of word and number games. Now you can play the game at home on your DS console and impress your friends and family when you are watching the show together by shouting out all the answers.
The Countdown TV show consists of eleven word rounds, three number rounds and the famous Countdown Conundrum and the game sticks faithfully to this format. For those who have never seen the show before I will quickly outline the different games; in the letter rounds you choose consonants and vowels and attempt to make the longest word possible from those letters. In the number rounds you choose a combination of six large and small numbers and using arithmetic try and manipulate them to the goal number which is somewhere between 100 and 999 and the conundrum is nine letter anagram which you have 30 seconds to solve. Each round lasts for 30 seconds with the famous Countdown clock ticking away in the background, a full game of 14 rounds will take approximately 15 minutes including the time taken to choose numbers and letters and you also have the option to pause a game and go back to it later.
There are two main modes of play, you can either choose to pit yourself against a live competitor if you have a friend with a DS console or you can play against the computer at one of 5 difficulty ratings ranging from beginner to champion. Just like the real game show, you and your opponent take it in turns to pick a combination of consonants and vowels in the letter rounds and small and large numbers in the number rounds. The computer competitors are ridiculously easy to beat at all but expert and pro levels as they only seem to be able to find three letter words but the game is fiendishly difficult at champion level. The DS game is scored in the same way as TV game with the points totted up at the end of the game and a winner announced.
There are a number of extras on the game, I particularly like the training mode where you can brush up on either your word, number or conundrum skills, this is especially good if you fancy a quick game or you are like me and prefer the number game to the letters. There are training coaches who will give you tips during training and you can also train without the timer on if you like spending longer on each round. On the word games you can see all the possible words which can be made from the letter combinations, it would have been nice to have a dictionary included so you can see what the unusual words mean so you can drop them into conversation sometime. It would also be nice to have a scribble space on the screen so you can play about with the words or letters a bit more. On the number game, the computer does the calculations for you when you put the numbers in the box meaning you don't have to know your 25 times table off by heart to do the calculations quickly and you also have the option of going back and changing your sums if you spot a better solution.
The graphics are simple but effective on the game with the original theme music and the countdown clock, the game copies the same format as the show for displaying letters and numbers and this works well. There is no presenter on the game, you just move between rounds with short written instructions between each section.
Most computer games that are based on TV shows are pretty poor but Countdown is one of the few that works well on the small screen. It is one of those DS titles that pitches itself at the non traditional gamer and technophobes will be pleased to know that play is completed entirely using the stylus on the touch screen and that no writing is required, you simply drag and drop the numbers or letters into place. The hardcore gamers will sneer at a game like Countdown but for fans of number and letter games it will give your brain a good workout.
I've been playing Countdown on the DS for a few weeks now, and at first I absolutely loved it and would have given it five stars! However, this is a game that quickly wears thin due to it's limited and repetitive nature. The going rate for this game is £14.99 from places like Amazon and Play.com, but I would seriously recommend holding out for an offer price of £9.99 or less for this game, due to how quickly the appeal wears off.
What I liked about this game at first glance was how easy it was to get into. I didn't need to check any instructions or take the tutorial that's on here, I was able to get stuck right in without hesitation. The game is exactly as you'd expect it to be from having seen the TV show, and even if you've never seen the TV show, you still won't take too long working this one out!
The game's format never changes from one game to the next. You choose your difficulty level, then you play four rounds of letters games, followed by one of numbers. You repeat this order three times, and then end the game with a conundrum puzzle. The letters game features nine letters being chosen at random (you take it in turns with the computer AI to choose the number of consonants and vowels each time), and then the clock counts down for thirty seconds while you try and make the longest word possible from that selection.
What I like about the letters game is that if you're confident you've found the longest word you can do after ten seconds, you can just hit the finish button and the round will end - you don't have to sit and wait for the full thirty seconds if you don't want or need to. I also like how easy it is to drag and drop the letters into place using the DS stylus. What I'm not so keen on is the way that the computer will only let you have a minimum of 3 vowels, or a minimum or 3 consonants. Surely it should be up to me if I want to be fool-hardy enough to make a long worth with just one vowel?!
The numbers game involves selecting six numbers, from a choice of big numbers (25, 75, 50 and 100) and small numbers (1 - 10). You can choose a maximum of four big numbers (in which case you get one of each) but you can choose to have all small numbers if you want to. Then the computer generates a three digit number randomly, and by adding up, taking away, dividing and multiplying using the selected numbers, you have to try to calculate that three digit target number. Again, you have thirty seconds counting down on the clock, and you can choose to finish the round early if you want or need to.
The final round features the conundrum, which is a jumbled up word that you have to try work out in thirty seconds. These conundrums have been frankly questionable on nearly every game I've played so far! They usually turn out to be absurd words that I didn't even know existed, let alone thought of within a thirty second timeframe. I can't recall any words off the top of my head, that's how vague they've all been, but think along the lines of "bushywonga" (made up word) and you're close to understanding what I mean.
The difficulty levels on this game have been set a little bit low in my opinion. While I appreciate that the lowest level would allow the average seven or eight year old to have at this game, the champion level at the other end of the scale didn't provide me with much of a challenge at all.
This game is fun for a few weeks, but after that, it just gets repetitive and boring. There isn't even any fun background graphics going on, it's all just the blue colour that you can see used on the case design! There's no talking or commentaries on here, and no variations to the original game that you can try out either. For a sale price this is worth picking up then passing on, but I feel a bit cheated at paying £15 for it.
Countdown is a popular TV show which has now also transferred to the DS console format for all you gamers at home who wants to take a stab at the TV fun!
~~~GAME BOX COVER~~~
The box art is the simple Countdown logo, with the letter plates making up the word. This simple design makes this product easily recognisable and associated with the TV show.
The game, and has two save slots, and a guest slot. Upon setting up and clicking a save slot, game play starts with the TV show intro and the following game modes: SINGLE PLAYER, CONTINUE, TRAINING, MULTIPLAYER AND STATISTICS.
The game play is split into different difficulties: beginner, amateur, expert, pro and champion. This is where the main game play takes place, and upon choosing a difficulty setting you are plunged straight into the game with letters rounds and numbers rounds.
The difficulty levels are too easy, and I passed all but pro and champion on the first go. Pro I passed within three attempts and champion is much more of a challenge. This easiness makes the game too short, and has very little replay value!
That said, it is an alright transition from the TV version to a game format, and follows the rules and format of the show well. HOWEVER, completing the numbers round is immensely difficult due to the clumsy controls and the method of showing working out. However quick you do it in your head, translating your thought onto the console is a chore, and aggravation is often the result of unsuccessfully keying in your working even though you get it right in your head!!!
The letters round is fun and makes you realise how short 30 secs is! But like I said, the only mode that really is a challenge is CHAMPION, the others, you can win with just 4-5 letter words per round!!
Allows you to continue a game where you left off.
This mode allows you to train yourself at letters round, numbers round and conundrum. I think the practice with the numbers round is mainly with the controls, and the fun is the conundrum, just back to back conundrums for you to solve! I personally SUCK at conundrums so is an alright mode.
Only Download play. Allows you to compete with one other friend. This is quite fun but gets boring quickly... the game does not lag when playing multiplayer.
This shows different statistics you have achieved during single player game play, including things like solving numbers round within 20 secs, or longest word in 10 secs.
The sound is just the countdown clock really! I have not noticed much other music... maybe some generic ones on the menu... This is really not a necessity in this kind of game...
The graphics are alright. Nothing spectacular. This kind of game does not require heavy graphics and it does not give us any.
It is priced at £15 on Amazon, but I would not buy this above £5. The game play you are buying is not worth anything more than £5. The game is just too short and good for a short burst of fun, but nothing more.
I would recommend you get this game if you are a MEGA Countdown fan... if you just like word puzzle games, this could be for you, but I am sure there are better ones out there (or just buy a few newspapers!). The game is definitely not worth retail price, although could be worth it if found in the bargain bin.
It is a good (better than most) TV show to game transition, but still not worth retail price!!!