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Due to a serious addiction that was starting to affect my home life I became a member of CA (Countdowners Anonymous) when I was just 15 years old to try to become less dependent on the cult show. Full time work helped as I was out of the house during the day so temptation was out of the way. But much to my shame and disgust I have fallen off the wagon and ruined all my hard work by accidentally buying "Countdown The Game" for the Wii.
But every cloud has a silver lining and I think I may now be cured...
For all the sacrilegious people out there who are unaware of Countdown it was the first show to be aired on Channel 4 and is also one of the longest running game shows from around the world. Contestants pit their wits against each other in a series of letter and number rounds whereby the winner is the contestant with the most points at the end of it all.
==Countdown The Game==
Well when you start the game it opens up nicely with the theme tune and opening sequence straight from the TV show itself so you can have a little jig about the room as the software starts to load which will probably bring a smile to your face if you're a fan. Sadly, that's where the essence of the show ends - there's no Carol or Richard, no Rachel or Jeff, everything from then on is voiced by some patronising, dreary sounding computerised woman who would never giggle uncontrollably as the letters O,R,G,A then S are drawn. Ah well, I was probably expecting too much.
Anyway, you have a few options when you begin. Once you start you will have to select a profile - either one you have created earlier or you will have to create a new one which requires you to type in a name be it real or a humorous alias. As a newby you may wish to partake in the Training which will allow you to play around to your heart's content without the threat of damaging your profile in any way.
To be honest there really isn't much to this option. There is a Tutorial which is basically just written text explaining to you the general rules of Countdown, then the rules of the three different types of rounds (letters, numbers, conundrum) in further detail. If you already know the show then seriously do not bother with this as it is identical. As for the actual training, there is no guidance or hints from the game itself so you have to work it out for yourself, all you get is a chance to try out each round as you would in a normal game, but with the option of only giving yourself different timeframes, from anywhere between 10secs to unlimited.
I personally think this section is only worthwhile if you a). don't know the game or b). are hopeless at operating a Wii remote as it will give you a chance to get used to the motion of the cursor as you need quite a bit of precision for picking out the letters and numbers. But the actual game play is no different to the rest of the options, so there's no real need to run through this section if you, like me, are the type of reckless person that just dives head first into things.
Here, you get to play the usual 15 rounds as seen on the TV (11 letters, 3 numbers and a Conundrum) on your own against a computer opponent of differing skills ranging from Beginner, Amateur, Expert, Pro and Champion. These different skills to me seem horribly unbalanced. Playing against a Beginner or Amateur you sadly won't find even a remote challenge since they get on average 4 letter words per letters round, that is if they don't fail by trying words such as ERJYOBT, and never achieve the numbers game. You'd probably get more of a challenge from a stoned badger. In fact, even the Expert offers up no real challenge at all as they may average 5 letter words per letters round and are equally hopeless at the numbers.
The Pro level is the one that will give you a challenge, albeit in that they will most likely only match you on the letters by never getting the longest word (so long as you yourself get the longest available or just one short of the longest available out of the selection), but they are noticeably much better at the numbers game and I have been defeated once or twice in that round (numbers aren't really my forte). But, as long as you don't act like a buffoon you should win easily enough at this level.
Then we have the Champion level - if you like complete contrasts than this is it for you. The Champion pretty much always gets the longest word available which is usually some ridiculous scientific term or species of plant found only in remote parts of Andorra that only annoying swots would know about. They are also an absolute genius at the numbers. In my experience you get about 2-3 rounds where you have the slimmest chance of matching/beating the Champion and then you need to score very highly indeed - I've never even come close to winning at this level, but then again if you are a really good Countdown player this could be the perfect level for you.
Here 2-4 players get a chance to show off their amazing linguistic and numerical repertoires against each other. You can play in Classic or Duel mode. In classic mode, for 2 players only, you get to choose how long each round lasts, for numbers anywhere between 20, 30, 40, 60secs and unlimited and Letters from 10, 15, 20, 30secs to unlimited. You then play with a split screen which makes the letters and numbers that much smaller and harder to select and you have the huge disadvantage/advantage that you can see what you opponent is doing. If you put the same word down, the person that did it the fastest gets the points, so if you're a faster Wii user you could easily steal someone's word. You can see why the game has to do it that way, but it is a little unfair to be penalised for slowness if you're in the time limit and not cheating. The same issue applies with the numbers round, if you submit the numbers first with a right answer, even if your opponent is still within the time limit, they cannot submit their answer so get 0 points, which is unfair in my opinion.
The Duel can be for 2-4 players. I've only ever played the 2-player game here as I have no friends on account of liking things like Countdown, so I'm not sure how it works with 3-4 players, but basically here you simply pick a letter, number or conundrum round, select how long you want the round to last than play against each other on a split screen. The same rules apply with the Classic game, if it's the same word or solution to the maths problem than the fastest person wins. For this mode it is the best of 2 rounds and the winner of each round scores 1 point (if the round is tied neither player scores a point). If after 2 rounds the players are tied they continue playing until somebody goes 1 point ahead and they are declared the winner by our slightly happier sounding patronising, dreary sounding computerised woman.
Here you get to pick one of the three normal rounds to "survive" in and you get 2:10 seconds (a mystery as to why they picked that number) to get through as many rounds as possible before the time runs out. If you fail on a round you immediately default and the game ends, but if you succeed in scoring any correct word, getting the conundrum or getting within range for the numbers you will either pick up an extra 30 seconds, or go back to the original 2:10 seconds depending on how much time was left. So the longer you survive the more points you get, and you can win trophies, yay!
Here is the place where you can shower yourself with accolade in the privacy of your own home so nobody can mock you. You can check the status of your last few games and then see what trophies you have picked up for the different levels you have played (a cunning way to force you into playing all the different levels to try to pick up all the trophies just to get that all important sense of completion that drives you to play games). To pick up trophies you need to do things like win a teapot, complete the numbers round in less than 20 or 15secs, complete maths puzzles without making any mistakes, find a 9 letter word etc.
This is a fun game for playing on your own, and probably more so if you can compete against other people, but is also flawed in many ways. Firstly, I don't think this game is ideal for use on the Wii, especially under the pressurised conditions of the Single Player game. If you do not have a perfect line to the Wii receiver you may not have full control on the remote which makes quickly selecting letters and numbers without making a mistake a real trial. Since you are required to have your word or maths solution entered before the time limit is up this can lead to a real panic if you start making mistakes (although a good feature is that you can undo the last move or start again with the click of a button) and you can often have solved the puzzle, but get the yips and fail to correctly input it which is just darned frustrating. Also, this means even if you spot a 9 letter word with only 28 seconds gone (so legal in the real life game) which would give you a winning lead over a champion you simply won't have time to put it in so get no reward. Plus, I find myself only having about 18 seconds to try to solve the puzzle before having to quickly, with a surgeon's hand, enter my answer which seriously cuts into your thinking time. Changing your mind with about 10 seconds to go is also a really bad idea, particularly if you like low blood pressure.
My second real gripe is with the numbers game as this will allow you to pick more than 4 big numbers, and will give you repeats of these (as well as repeats of 3 or more for the lower numbers) which couldn't happen on the real show. There you could only get up to 2 of any numbers between 1-10 and a 25, 50, 75 or 100, but here you can get more than one of those big numbers. Wrong wrong wrong. Also with the numbers you can see the total of each individual calculation which may make it easier to solve the puzzle since you do not have to use mental arithmetic which takes some of the skill out of this particular round which is either a good or bad thing depending on your perspective.
One good thing is you can submit your answer before the time limit is up which means you can run through your game a little bit faster, so often you can play a game in under ten minutes thus it certainly doesn't have to be a time consuming game if you are only in the mood for a quickie. Also, you can quit these single player games mid-way through and return later if you do find yourself otherwise engaged so again you won't ruin your profile with lots of losses (5 in a row and you get a wooden spoon wahoo) if you worry about these kind of things. I think the nature of the game also means you actually get a bit mentally tired after a few games so probably, unless you have the stamina of a wildebeest, won't get too addicted and play for too long thus causing health issues.
There is also a nice feature that you get to see all the available words that you could have selected from which could be good from a learning perspective which can be ordered alphabetically, or by the length of word. It doesn't actually say anywhere, but I'm pretty sure this game must use the Oxford English Dictionary (though that would be a lot of words to include in their dictionary) as there are a lot of weird and obscure words that are accepted (as found by the computer not me) which makes me feel confident that you won't get robbed by the game's ignorance if you have a superb vocabulary and know words like xanthoma.
So in conclusion, with a few (major) issues, this game does try to emulate the TV show as closely as possible and does a fairly good job of capturing the structure, but without any of the fun and jokiness of the show. I guess it tries to spice up the game with duels, survival rounds and quests to collect trophies to rectify this, but to be honest the excitement levels never really get all that high and you feel they're just a bit of extra padding to make it worth the asking price, which to be fair at under £15 at the moment is pretty cheap. The game play is tricky on account of difficulty in finding pinpoint accuracy with the Wii remote and you are horribly rushed during normal rounds which takes away some of the fun of the game and the way players win rounds in multiplayer mode is sometimes a little unfair which may also spoil the fun a little. I'd say if you are a fan of the show then having your own version at home is a lot of fun, but if you can I would try it on a different platform as it just doesn't work on the Wii.