Five years on, you’d be hard-pressed to argue Wii’s status as the go-to machine for multiplayer games in the living room. While Microsoft and Sony undoubtedly have the edge in online gameplay with Xbox Live and PlayStation Network respectively, the Wii’s range of family-friendly party games and accessible interface has cemented it as the offline multiplayer king. Naturally, many developers and publishers have leapt on to try and get a piece of the pie, with most falling short of Nintendo’s own products. Black Bean Games are another such ambitious company, with an offering of an ‘edutainment’ geographical quiz game. Does National Geographic Challenge! climb to dizzying new heights, or is it a mere footstep on the Richter scale?
As you’d expect from a quiz title, National Geographic Challenge!’s primary modes of play involves one to four players answering multiple-choice questions based on geographical knowledge. Mii support is standard and a nice personal touch, though it’s disconcerting to see their heads on regularly-proportioned bodies. Quiz Mode is the first you’ll see using the multiple choice structure as its basis and employing a points-based system of determining the winner, with rounds of questions under varying conditions; fastest finger first, putting answers in order, betting points on result of next question, and other such rules. Despite the rather basic building backdrop that surrounds your Miis as you are given questions, and the overenthusiastic voiceover guy who needs to expand his vocabulary, this mode can be quite enjoyable with two or more people, and the changeable difficulty and question number settings help to adjust how you want to play.
Explorer Mode is similar to Quiz, albeit with more of a board game setting. After each player chooses a profession (from a list that includes astronaut, the rather hopeful time traveller, mariner, treasure hunter and mountaineer), they take it in turns to capture a select region of the globe under their profession’s insignia, usually by answering a few questions successfully, or by competing with another player if they already have hold over it. Each region has a number of points, with the winner decided by whoever reaches a set total first. The basic backdrop and overall settings are the same here, but the new rules provide a far more interesting take on the quiz-based formula. Control, like Quiz Mode, is fast and instantaneous, allowing each player to point and click on territories and answers, or to just use the Wii Remote D-pad for more stealthy answering. Again, the sheer number of available questions, depending on the region of focus you select before the start, ensures that no two playthroughs are the same.
The four modes of National Geographic Challenge! that are left are essentially identical with minor differences. Puzzle Battle gives you an empty grid with 5 small squares along the bottom of it, and you have to place more of them (with each gap replenishing a new piece after you place one) in the correct places than your opponent in a pre-defined amount of time. Jigsaw Mode is similar but a solo experience; jigsaw pieces are scattered on the screen, and you simply have to put the picture together in as short a space of time as possible. Squares Mode is exactly the same, just with squares instead of jigsaw pieces. The last mode, Sliders, takes the form of 3x3 square sliding grids, where you move around a piece at a time to an empty space to create the intended picture. These modes are useful time wasters, but leave little doubt as to where the real meat of the game lies.
National Geographic Challenge! offers a lot of replayability in regards to question variation; seeing the same one twice is extremely rare, and therein lies its draw. Although the two main modes are more than enough to satisfy groups of players, some sort of online component - however basic - would have done wonders for a sole gamer. There is a high score table, but only for Quiz mode, and nothing else. There is a Gallery option that, despite feeling slightly unnecessary, is a neat way to view all the pictures and video clips you’ve seen in the game so far. National Geographic Challenge! is, at its heart, a party game that tries to cater for the solo player too, but doesn’t quite discover the components essential to a single player experience.
A solid quiz interface with easy-to-grasp controls and varying options allowing for beginners to knowledgeable veterans. Explorer Mode also provides a different and interesting take. The puzzle modes are rather too basic and far too similar to each other.
Extremely basic washed-out backdrops and environments during modes, with the only distinguishable visual highlight being the clear colourful videos that play during certain question rounds.
Basic forgettable background music that neither intrigues nor intrudes. The Announcer repeats too often but breaks up questions nicely with enthusiastic phrases.
The sheer number of questions on offer ensure no two rounds are ever the same, and despite some modes being too similar to each other, there is a respectable amount to see and do for groups of players.
National Geographical Challenge! may not be one of Wii’s most notable games, but should you enjoy quizzes it is another game to add to the list for multiplayer sessions on Nintendo’s machine. For the many, there is much, but for the solo, there is little.