Hollywood Squares only ever seemed to air here in the UK on early morning weekday cable TV, which meant it was a show that I only usually saw when I was home sick from school or it was a holiday and it served as a light, fun distraction until something better came along. The game, originally a retail Wii title but now arriving on PSN, is much the same, and while it’s let down by some presentation problems that diminish a lot of the entertainment value of the show, it’s a simple, enjoyable and surprisingly lengthy title that’s perfect for casual gamers or for a lazy afternoon game between more substantial stuff.
The series, which ran on US TV on-and-off from 1966 to 2004, took the game of Tic-Tac-Toe and threw in B to D-list celebrities. With a giant 3×3 game board grid, a celeb would sit in each square ready to answer general knowledge questions, first with a witty, silly response for a few laughs before taking a serious guess at the answer. Contestants would take turns picking a square and decided if they agree with the celebrity’s answer or not – agree with a correct answer or disagree with a wrong one and the square is theirs and they’re one step closer to getting a row of three ‘X’s or ‘O’s and winning the round, but side with a bad answer and their opponent gets the square.
The video game apes that formula pretty much exactly. Last host of the show Tom Bergeron returns to narrate, and you and your opponent take it in turns to pick a square, agreeing or disagreeing with the guessed answer to a trivia question as you try to get a row of squares (or claim any five on the board) to move onto the next round. After winning two rounds or a best of three, you’ll move on to a rapid-fire bonus round. During the bonus round, there’s nine keys available, one of which opens the chest to a big wad of cash. You’ll speed through all nine squares getting as many right answers as you can within the time limit – the more you get right, the more decoy keys are eliminated from the pile. There’s a secret square in the mix each round, too; get the question for that square right and you’ll snag an extra cash bonus.
The game offers a slick and colourful approximation of the TV show, and if you’re a casual gamer, a fan of the series or just someone with a soft spot for trivia game shows in general, then Hollywood Squares is exactly what you’d expect and has plenty of fun to offer. The questions are a varied mix of pop culture, geography, general knowledge and the like (though there are a shocking amount dedicated to the movies Twilight, Madagascar and Curious George) and they’re tough enough to give you a bit of challenge but not so obscure that you’d need a compass and a Sherpa to find the answer. When you pick a celebrity, a question and answer clip borrowed from their appearances on the show will play before you guess the response. The game is split up into four weeks of shows – five ‘episode’ matches per week – each with a different centre square celebrity. It’s a fun set-up which makes for an enjoyable and surprisingly lengthy game and the clips are numerous and varied enough that you’re not likely to see the same one twice unless you play through the entire multi-hour game several times.
Hollywood Squares nails the mechanics of the Tic-Tac-Toe trivia game, but where it falters greatly is in the presentation of the light comedy celebrity series at its core. The major appeal of the show itself is seeing familiar actors and comedians engage in fun banter and jokingly riff on the questions with gag answers, but while the show packed a celeb into every one of the nine squares on the board, the home version only manages to secure four Hollywood names for the entire game – Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond), Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), Martin Mull (Sabrina The Teenage Witch) and Kathy Griffin (Suddenly Susan).
Each celebrity serves as the centre square for a week of game rounds, but the rest of the squares are housed by generic avatars, so you’ll only get one jokey response clip per round, then the rest will be standard true or false questions. Even weirder: If you’re playing against the computer or online, the game skips your opponent’s questions and answers altogether and goes right to the ‘X’ or ‘O’ result, so if you don’t pick the centre square, you won’t see the clip at all. While there’s plenty of variety in terms of the clips culled from the show for each actor to ensure you’re not going to see repeated footage, the game loses much of the show’s appeal by offering such a limited cast.
There’s some occasional sloppiness on display in how the clips are presented, too. Often you’ll pick the centre square to hear Brad Garret throw out a gag and the archive footage will play out complete with reaction shots from Mull, Tambor or Griffin, despite the fact that they’re not even on the board that round. There’s also an occasion or two in the clips used where the celebrities addressed the real-life contestant by name, which naturally doesn’t mesh when aimed at you, the player, unless you coincidentally share their name.
The lacklustre presentation of the celebrity angle of the show is a shame, and Hollywood Squares would be a much more impressive and enjoyable experience if the game pillaged the show’s archives for more footage of a wider variety of famous faces. The core game is still a lot of simple fun, though, and the PS3 version fleshes out the original Wii version in a few welcome ways. The ‘dress up your avatar’ extras are carried over, where you’ll unlock different items of clothing and accessories for your in-game character for winning each game. Exclusively for the PSN version, though, the visuals have received a nice HD upgrade, and most notably there’s now online multiplayer support as well as local for you to take on opponents.
It’s not going to convert anyone who’s neither a fan of the show or the cast, and if you baulk at the idea of playing licensed trivia games based on game shows, then this certainly won’t be the one to change your mind. It’s very simple, and the limited cast and budget-level presentation mean that it loses a lot of the show’s comedy banter and overall appeal, but Hollywood Squares is still a really fun home version of the show and is perfectly suited for the PSN, where sharper visuals, added online multiplayer and a much more appealing price make it a huge improvement over the retail Wii incarnation.
Hollywood Squares is available to buy on the US PlayStation Network now priced $9.99.