Wheel of Fortune
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-05-06 PS3 Puzzle E (Everyone) SOE

When thinking of the most dominant game shows in history, Wheel of Fortune has to come to mind. A simplistic premise, asking players to guess letters, hangman style, to puzzles in categories covering events, geography, television, movies, and so on, all in the hopes of receiving cash and other prizes. While there have been countless video game versions of the brand dating all the way back to the days of the original Nintendo, that didn't stop Sony Online Entertainment from backing one more - this time a downloadable version available on the PS3 through the Playstation Store.

After creating a character to represent you along your path to glory and riches, the offline portion of the game allows you to choose from playing either one individual game, or playing through groups of three at a time, via the game's Road Trip mode, which, just like the television show, has the game traveling to various parts of the country, changing the set design along the way. The online option, then, allows you to either host your own game or to join one looking for players.

The controls are incredibly simplistic and are forever displayed on the screen in case you forget. Triangle lets you solve a puzzle and circle lets you buy a vowel, while X serves two purposes: either choosing a letter or starting the wheeling spinning power bar. One tap of X causes the gauge to fill while a second press sends the wheel into motion; of course, the longer you let the gauge fill, the harder your character will spin the wheel and vice versa.

Just like in the television show, each player will inevitably get a turn, including your AI opponents when playing offline, which creates the biggest issue within the entirety of gameplay, that being the fact that for sometimes long stretches of time, you are allowed no action other than simply watching as the computer characters guess letters or solve puzzles in their entirety. There is the option of pressing the L2 button to speed up the game's actions, but this mainly only affects the camera's transitions between characters after someone chooses a wrong letter, or hits one of the turn ending spaces on the wheel.

There is another option, an AI intelligence option that, depending on your luck, can terminate the AI's dominance over a puzzle. By default, your opponents are set to a "Smart" intelligence level, but "Average" and "Genius" also come as options, providing for more than a bit of challenge when playing against the latter.

However, the "Average" intelligence level tends to go a bit too far the other way, causing one of your opponents to randomly call out a letter like Z or Q, even when there are only three or four letters left on the board and the only people who wouldn't know the solution would be those that can't read. Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm supporter of having another chance at a puzzle I thought got away, but not everyone will think that way.

With almost 9,000 puzzles to solve in all, it'll be a rare occurrence for you to come across the same one twice, but this is unfortunately an instance where the selection might be too much of a good thing. That is, just like in recent years of the television show proper, certain rounds will contain puzzles of a questionable quality (particularly the bonus round puzzles, since they are limited in length); those "boo, hiss" puzzles that should have never been created in the first place, and cause one to think of how far the writers (both on the television show and those behind the game) are willing to stretch.

While of course every puzzle within the game isn't horrendous, certain examples like "Pulling a stray thread from a sweater" and "Lowering landing gear on an airplane" (both for the Event category), lead one to bring up the "quantity over quality" debate, with the character design fitting in this same cliché.

To put it simply, the character design is atrocious. While the game offers an untold amount of combinations for face shape, hair style and color, clothing options and so on, each is slapped together with distorted figures (absolutely massive nostrils and foreheads, among other issues) that suck a lot of the realism out of the game when looked at up close. In the distance shots the game will likely throw your way, things understandably look a bit better, but nothing can detract completely from the issue at hand.

Likewise, the lack of Pat Sajak and Vanna White eliminates two of the most familiar aspects of the title - Vanna's flipping the letter tiles (even if it is just a press of a button) and Pat's "time to give the wheel a final spin" round. Instead, your three players are left seemingly to their own devices in an environment almost completely devoid of personality. That is, there's no host of the show, and no voice work with the exception of the crowd screaming out "Wheel of Fortune" at random intervals.

One last minor annoyance once again has to do with the character design, and revolves around their synchronous movements during down times (like when waiting for a player to choose a letter or assign their spin power). All three characters will often sway back and forth as if connected by a chain, appearing not entirely unlike someone under hypnosis or in a trance, slowing rocking to a song no one else can hear.

Those issues aside, the rest of the title sticks to the tried and true appearance of the television show, with the grand prize items (like cars and trucks) sitting around the stage and complemented by the various themed set pieces for each geographical location you'll travel to in Road Trip mode.

Likewise, the puzzle board, the score boards and even the wheel itself are very crisp and vibrant, and are accompanied by what seem to be the exact same sound effects heard on the show. The same ding for choosing the correct letters, the same depressing tone for hitting Bankrupt or Lose a Turn - everything (gameplay included) aside from the lackluster character design or lack thereof works well and gives you the feeling of truly being in the game.

All of the above being said, the cost is an issue for concern, as $14.99 is a steep price point for a title with almost no dialogue and a boring single-player component. However, the prospect of filling a room with like-minded individuals and having them scream random phrases and letters does prove entertaining, and with the addition of online multiplayer, gives you even more incentive to play in groups, which is where the game truly hits its stride.

The game's graphical and slight technical issues aside, for fans of the television show, there is something truly satisfying about taking this popular template into your own hands, even more so when the game offers you trophies (more based on repetition and luck rather than skill) for doing so. If you can look past the game's faults, including its price, there is a fun family game hiding inside this one.

Special thanks to Ryan Peters for providing a copy of this title to review.