The "big button" controllers, or "buzzers" from the Scene It games are, like most peripherals, criminally underused. With the Xbox Live platform and a game show-like input device, it's criminal that there aren't more quiz, trivia, and brain games with people fighting against one another. Encleverment Experiment manages to create a nifty little quiz game, made up of 16 mini-games (yes another mini-game collection), that proved entertaining.
$10 (800 MS points)
Encleverment Experiment is mostly designed to be used with either the big button controller or the basic model-- it's handy to have the regular controller to alter your in-game avatar, gamerpicture, or other little mascots. Other than that, the game primarily only uses the A, B, X, and Y buttons to buzz in your answer on a variety of multiple choices questions. There's zero learning curve, if you can turn on an Xbox 360 you can figure out how to play.
Memory, Math, Mazes, Matching, and More
The length of the game is pretty much up to the user, but a normal game may go about six rounds of five questions each and you can blast through it in under 20 minutes. Unless, of course, you're extremely slow. One of the really clever ideas this game had was that after you finish a game, sometimes it gives players the option to keep going and tack on a few extra rounds-- which is not only sporting, but it gives a little more life to a game which is otherwise over all too quickly. It's a variation on the old "double or nothing" routine which is a great idea.
As a mini-game collection, depending on the mode you pick, you'll be thrust into a variety of tiny multiple-choice puzzles and quizzes. These focus on math, remembering icons, deciding which item is not like the other (which at times is downright tricky), and so on. For a game for kids, figuring out the point behind the puzzles can sometimes be tricky enough to elicit shouting from older players. (I speak from experience.) Also, the Pie Eyed mini-game is one of the most crushingly difficult experiences I've ever had with fractions, in part due to its design relying purely on summing up parts of a whole visually. Scoff if you must, but trust me when I say it is an extremely tricky test.
Any game which involves yelling at the TV is typically a decent candidate for a legit party game, so in that sense this one qualifies. Presumably, buzzed/drunk players would really enjoy this. Because dealing with integers should be a challenge at that point.
Graphics & Sound
There's enough dialogue to explain the rules as it goes, which is great for those who aren't big on this fancy "reading" thing, plus the graphics are bright, sharp, and easy to see. Of particular interest is a mini-game in which you try to figure out which vinyl records can be repaired, as the album art looks vaguely like something Shag might create. The main professor character/narrator in the game is shaped something like a light bulb-- it's all quite charming, meaning, of course, gamers over the age of 9 will probably not be as taken with it. The game's stylized appearance is appropriate to the gameplay, and the weird little plush creatures you can unlock as mascots or what have you are extremely simple designs. Still, given how little you'll see them, it's refreshing to see a company didn't waste tons of money making crazy graphics when clean and simple will do. If nothing else, the game's design begs for some enterprising developer to contact Shag to design a game some day. (As it would be awesome.)
Multiplayer, Single Player
As a quiz game, multiplayer really is the most important thing-- because it's based on the ever-popular buzzers, there's not much to it. Buzz in, win, and really it's all about your reflexes. We were unable to test the game online due to lack of other available players, although locally it seemed to work just fine-- push the button, answer the question. Nothing wonky or laggy, it simply works.
The single-player experience is a mixed bag-- in the easier modes, it's not particularly difficult, but on the higher settings like "Enclevered" it can get pretty devilish. While it isn't impossible to find your way out of a maze, try finding your way out of a maze while it's rotating around on the screen. Or try to find an object in a lineup of objects where they keep vanishing. The developers really managed to exploit their resources here when it comes to ensuring that the hard mode is indeed harder, but not impossible. The fine people at Blitz were also goodly enough to include a mode where you can play against the computer, which, while no substitute for actual people, was fun enough to experience several times.
We scored two achievements with almost no difficulty over the course of the first afternoon, for 20 gamerscore points. Online gameplay is required to earn 50 of the 200 points, so you may need to do some networking in order to get all of these. Also, some of the leaderboards have very few players on them, with at least one not cracking 100 players as of the time we started reviewing this one-- which was several weeks after it came out.
The real kicker with this game's achievements is that it shows a flagrant disregard for its audience. In order to earn "Mad About Mascots" the player must earn all mascots. In order to earn all mascots, one has to play an online game between 12:00 and 6:00 AM. Never mind the fact that nobody seems to be playing this game online most of the time, but asking grade school kids to play video games online after midnight seems like a ridiculous design oversight. They may as well rename it "Bad Parenting," because really, how many kids are going to be up playing this title after midnight?
The importance of online-based achievements can't be downplayed, because they serve the purpose of getting people to play online and actually experience the game with other people. A time restriction such as this on a game marketed at a younger audience seems to be a fairly cruel thing to do, particularly if you're one of the many young players who have a "gotta get 'em all" bug and the only thing preventing you from finishing this up is your bedtime-- and, of course, the lack of other players on Xbox Live at press time.
Is it worth buying?
While most gamers will likely balk at the $10 retail price, $5 might be too cheap for a game of this quality. We played several local multiplayer games and basically had a good time, and some of the more difficult modes of single-player were pretty great-- and it seems younger players might get a kick out of this. We were unable to find anyone to play with online during our testing, so unless you know someone who has it, don't buy it expecting to get anything out of the Multiplayer experience online. Unless you have some people living with you to play with, skip this one-- but if you do have those people around, this might be enjoyable enough to pick up should it ever go on sale. (This is unfortunate, as there aren't a ton of online-enabled, big button controller-compatible games out there It'd be fun to play online against others.)
This game is not deserving of its fairly lukewarm reviews-- it's graphically pleasing, fairly polished, and fun to play with other people. Had the developers included a few more minigames or made it so the achievements were achievable, we'd strongly suggest this title for families-- especially ones with the buzzer controller. For single gamers, don't bother unless you've got a significant other to play with you. (For the record, my significant other freaking loved it and we're still trying to compete against each other on the achievements, plus we're still playing the game days after the review was essentially finished-- a good sign, surely.)
January 6, 2010