When I was in high school I used to love game shows like Jeopardy and Press Your Luck. The former was always fun to see if you could keep up with the contestants, and the latter was interesting because it relied on luck as much as skill, but the contestant still had some control over their fate. Fast forward to the 20th century, and we see modern interpretations of these games in such fare as Millionaire and Deal Or No Deal. Neither of these quite matches the skill requirements of their forerunners, as Millionaire basically gives you the answers and Deal Or No Deal basically trades in any notion of skill for a balance between common sense and greed. On the other hand, these game shows exude personality, both in the hosts and contestants.
So what’s all that drivel about? It serves as the basis for my biggest problem with the iPhone version of Deal Or No Deal: there’s no personality. Ideally they would have done what they could to get Howie Mandel involved (I personally don’t think a show like Deal Or No Deal could have survived without a character like him). Barring that possibility, they could have at least put some effort into making the virtual host worth having in the game. Taking a cue from the wonderful trivia game “You Don’t Know Jack”, have the announcer make comments while you’re picking briefcases or trying to make the decision to accept a deal or not. A quick joke or a bit of sarcasm would go a long way to spice up the atmosphere. And for pity’s sake, have the “family members’ do something. Right now they’re basically shadowy figures that are supposedly giving you advice via “Deal” or “No Deal” bubbles that appear near their heads. Boring.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, how does the game play itself fare? Well, it plays pretty much exactly like the game show. You start off picking one of 26 briefcases to be “your” case. Then you pick 6 briefcases, one at a time. The “lovely” assistant guarding the case you’ve picked reveals the contents of the case and either gives you the clap of approval or the head shake of disdain. The revealed amount is removed from the board, and once all the necessary briefcases have been picked, a call is made to the banker. As a quick addendum, this is another part that really suffers from the lack of true human interaction. The banker tells you how much you’ll get for not taking the case, and then you get to either press the famous red button or shut the just as famous clear case housing the button. Finally, it’s time to pick more cases.
As I forced myself to play several rounds for the sake of the review, I realized that this game really is not all that interesting when you don’t have crazy contestants, a riled up audience, or quirky family members that are more interested in embarrassing the contestant by making offhand lifestyle comments than giving the contestant valuable advice on whether to deal or not. Now I will admit that I like the whole “around the world” concept of the game, where you start with the ability to play in one of two different countries, and must earn a certain amount of money to move on to other countries. The down side to this is that it takes a lot of money to move on to locked countries, and there’s not enough different about each country to make you really care to earn the required capital.
There are a couple of additional game modes that theoretically add to the value of the game. You can actually choose to play the banker if you’d like. This might have been more interesting if you could have played the banker against a human opponent, but playing against a computer that has no reaction to the offers you provide really doesn’t give you much satisfaction. There is also a two player mode where you switch back and forth with a second player choosing briefcases to see who can collect the most cash. Ummmm, what? Yeah, I didn’t really get that one either.
I’m a bit torn on the graphics. The environment looks pretty good. Of course, it’s kind of difficult to mess up things like briefcases and a money board. On the other hand, I have some issues with the people. The announcer just gives me the creeps for some reason. I always heard rumors that the reason characters like the Simpsons didn’t have five fingers was because it was too hard for animators to do correctly, and I think the hands on this guy prove it. Not to mention the fact that he looks like one of those animatronics from Chuck E. Cheese’s when he uses the phone to call the banker. As for the ladies, they look good other than the fact that it’s a single body model with a different head for each briefcase. At least I think there are 26 unique faces – I haven’t studied it closely enough to be sure. It reminds me of something from the Stepford Wives.
The sound in the game actually isn’t bad. The announcer has a decent voice over, and the sound of a dollar amount being revealed sounds just like it does on the show. Also, the little bits of music seem to come right from a production of Deal Or No Deal. The only down side is that because you get more time to focus on the music since there is no clever banter to pay attention to, you realize that the couple of main songs that play throughout the game are nothing more than 20 second clips looped ad infinitum.
If you’ve made it this far, you might think I’ve been a bit over critical. I suppose it’s possible, but historically licensed properties have made some of the worst transitions to the electronic gaming world, and from my experience Deal Or No Deal is no exception. I think the biggest issue lies in the fact that the game really doesn’t have enough substance to be a video game in the first place. Despite that, I’ve seen quality work come out of I-Play in the past, and unfortunately Deal Or No Deal doesn’t keep that trend going.