There's nothing like a good quiz game - and ever since the uber popular Playstation quiz series Buzz! unceremoniously disappeared, that's been true in ever possible way. With regular Buzz instalments having kept our quizzing itch satiated for years, it's been a bleak and cold few winters without a new quiz game to keep ourselves busy. And then along come two at once.
Following on the from the arguably higher profile Knowledge is Power from Sony, It's Quiz Time is a game developed by team members who worked on the original Buzz! games, and who clearly know their quizzing stuff. Coming complete with a number of eye watering statistics, the game has over 25,000 questions, and more than 4,000 categories for you to choose from, with support for a frankly barmy 10,000 players (if you stream it over Twitch) - or, if your tiny British living room can't quite manage to fit that many people in, up to eight players on one console, with everyone having to download an app on their Android or iOS phone to join in with the action.
"A phone app?" you say? Well, unfortunately, yes - It's Quiz Time is one of those games, which tacks on a mandatory companion app for what seems to be very little reason. With the app offering no real advantage over using a controller - if anything, a controller is actually easier to use for inputting answers, thanks to the magic of tactile feedback - it's hard to see quite why the app is necessary, or where it really gets you. As answers aren't directly displayed on your phone's screen - just A, B, C, etc - you'll actually find yourself flicking your eyes back and forth between the TV and the phone a lot more than you should really have to, as you try to remember which option is which answer. In terms of ease of use, it's not exactly ideal either, as while everyone and their Gran loves a good quiz, not everyone's Gran owns the latest iPhone or Android device. With Android phones particularly requiring Android 4.4 or later, that means my mom's phone - a Galaxy S3 - isn't supported, which left us scrabbling to find a device that did have Android 4.4 support so she could get her quizzing fix. On the other hand, we have a stash of PS4 controllers sitting unused - why couldn't she just have used one of those?
App awkwardness aside, though, It's Quiz Time is an impressive little package. With some swish presentation, proper game show style music, and a virtual presenter named Salli keeping things running - a character who looks like Elsa from Frozen's just finished her gender studies degree - this is a game with a fair few tricks up its sleeve. For starters, rather than paying a voice actor to record thousands of lines for Salli, It's Quiz Time instead uses an AI voice thing to read out the questions - and your names. There's something really weird about hearing the computer controlled host ribbing you, while calling you by your name. While it's certainly not perfect - she can pronounce Bellatrix Lestrange, but somehow fumbles Half Life (and really butchers Onomatopeia), it's an interesting enough gimmick to say the least.
In terms of the questions themselves, there's a lot of really interesting rounds in here too. Along with standard "here's four options, pick the right answer" questions, there's sections like "All in Order", which asks you to put a list of three answers in order (no!), from the release date of books, to the stages of the water cycle; Truth or Bust, where everyone has to guess whether the current player will get the question wrong or right; and Guesstimation, which asks you questions like "What is the population of Ghent", or "When was Oasis' Be Here Now released", and gives you a numerical bar, where you have to drag a slider to have a guess at the answer.
One of our favourites, though, is Connections - a round that works a little bit like the quiz Impossible, if you've ever seen that. Giving you a wall of 16 choices, and a category (say, actors born in the 1960s, or comedy films that released in the 90s), it's up to you to choose an answer that matches the category, with just over half of the options being right. As the right answers get whittled down, it can get really tense, as you have to rely on guess work and hunches to find the last few right answers.
The only problem is, It's Quiz Time can sometimes be a little bit rough around the edges. While some rounds let you choose a category, and there are certainly loads of questions the game can choose from, it has a nasty habit of making every single question in that round about the very same thing. As an example, we chose TV comedies, and then ended up being asked questions that were entirely about Friends, and Desperate Housewives - not much use if you're not familiar with either. Similarly, a category about action games saw all but one of the questions being about Harry Potter games. A little bit more variety within the categories themselves would be nice.
Some of the rounds don't really feel very fair, either, especially with some of the questions you get. The quickfire round, Snap Decision, is a pet hate of ours, as it doesn't give you quite enough time to choose your answer. With a tiny four seconds to read the answers, process it, and choose your answer, it often left us flailing - and spare a thought for poor old Mom, who's made it a habit of winning the slowest finger awards even on a good day... Similarly, although the game asks for your age, so it can adjust the questions to your age group, it doesn't always seem to work all that well in practice. Asking our 59 year old Mom to "Put these Black Eyed Peas songs in order, from your favourite to least favourite", or "rank these musicians from favourite to least favourite - Snoop Dogg, Kesha, and Diana Rooss" wasn't exactly the best of questions, especially when "none of the above" wasn't an option. And yet we had to guess the order she'd put them in!
Then there's a few weirder issues. Although it may be our favourite round, Connections actually has a bit of a weird way of doing things, as rather than going through the players in order, and letting everyone take it in turns at choosing an answer, it seems to decide almost randomly. We've had rounds where one player's got two or three more goes than everyone else (and so has been able to get an extra few hundred points), while another player hasn't had a go at all. This doesn't seem to have anything to do with who's winning or losing, either, and we can only put it down to being a bug.
But perhaps the biggest issue here is the app itself - something which is at the heart of the game, yet which has more than a few teething problems, to put it kindly. Along with answer boxes sometimes taking a few seconds to show up on your screen (something which is pretty much fatal when you're playing one of the quickfire rounds), almost everyone we played with dropped out of at least one game, at least once, due to the app simply failing to work. It doesn't seem to be tied to the phone we were using either, with a wide variety of phones, both Android and iOS on offer, and a similar variety of operating system versions, pointing to a potential issue with the game's servers themselves. While the game does eventually realise you're not there, you could find yourself missing out on several question's worth of points before either the game notices, or you manage to get back in - something which isn't really very fair. There's often no easy way to speedily re-join, either - losing connection to the quiz usually sees you having to close the app entirely, and start it back up again, as simply trying to re-enter the room will only ever see the app timing out. This does also raise the question of how long It's Quiz Time will last in the long run - should the game not do as well as the developers/publishers have hoped, and the severs get pulled, all of the game's multiplayer modes would be rendered unplayable, due to their reliance on an online connection. While you can play on your own using just a controller (and offline), it's not quite the same, with a smaller selection of questions, and none of the fancier rounds.
In all, then, It's Quiz Time is an ambitious game, that has so many bright ideas, and yet one that's hampered by its insistence on using an app that doesn't quite seem to be up to the job. What's perhaps most disappointing is that this is a real pratfall, as there doesn't appear to be any real need for the game to use an app at all. Not one of the rounds here really, properly, genuinely requires a screen, or the app, and it doesn't really add anything to the game itself. If the app behaves itself, then you can have a lot of fun with this - even with the app cutting out on us, we spent most of a Sunday afternoon competing with each other in "just one more game". But with the app seeming to cause at least one person to disconnect at least once a game, you get the feeling this might have been launched a little bit too soon. Here's hoping the team can patch the app/fix the server/add in controller support instead (or even support for Buzz controllers), as with the stability it deserves, It's Quiz Time could be a great buy for parties.