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RELEASE DATE (NA): January 1992 GENRE: Puzzle
// review by Jeff

Wheel of Four-tune.

GameTek... more like LameTek, am I right?

GameTek started out innocently enough. For years, they had cornered the market on licensed video games based on either television game shows or anything Fisher-Price. I still consider Fisher-Price: Firehouse Rescue to be the pinnacle of CGA gaming on the PC; nothing could possibly top the gritty rumble of your fire engine racing through the intricate neighbourhood mazes. If there was anything game show-related, GameTek picked up that license. Jeopardy, Classic Concentration, Hollywood Squares, Double Dare... all of them were adapted to home computers or consoles. The Wheel of Fortune license must have been especially costly to obtain, as GameTek easily made the most of it by releasing not one, but FOUR games based on the Sajak sanctuary for the NES alone. Most of them were developed by Rare (yes, THAT Rare), although they were mostly carbon copies of each other with some new puzzles and a slightly changing colour palette.

In January 1992, GameTek released its fourth and final incarnation of the show on the NES, entitled "Wheel of Fortune: Featuring Vanna White". Wait... "Featuring Vanna White"? If this game features the blonde hostess with the mostess, then who was in the other three games?


Anyhow, in what might be the most shocking video game news story of 1992, ahead of the discontinuation of the Atari 2600, GameTek actually took it upon themselves to develop an all-new version of Wheel of Fortune for the NES, rather than recycling Rare's code for an umpteenth time. All-new graphics, all-new sound, and a heavily modified interface now grace the Wheel of Fortune stage. This isn't your older sister's Wheel of Fortune. And I kind of wish it was, because this is hands-down the worst of the four.

Where do I begin? After being shouted at by a crowd more horribly bitcrunched than the Rare editions, I'm led to a digitized image of Vanna White, although with the NES' limitations, it could very well be Peg Bundy from Married with Children. But forget the intro: we need to get to the meat! The nitty-gritty! Once you select the number of players (single- or two-player options are here again), you can select what your character looks liiiiiiiiiOOOOHHH NO. Here's where things already take a turn for the worse. Did they get Mike Judge to draw these in his earlier days of animation? I swear one of them is an amalgamation of Beavis and Butt-Head together. Is it THAT hard to just make regular-looking contestants? I'd say these contestants have something to contest.

For the in-game view, you can see the contestants and the spinning wheel at the same time, with the screen divided between the two. As well, each player is actually at a booth with a display showing how much money they have earned. When guessing letters or trying to solve the puzzle, the view changes to the board itself (plus a slightly more slender Vanna, this time in a smashing flowy pink robe), where you can only see the name of whoever's turn it is, the current letter value, and the remaining letters available. The wheel isn't half as well-animated, so spinning it is less thrilling.

Beavis? Is that you?

Like all other versions, there isn't too much in the way of audio. The spinning wheel's charming tones have been replaced with more accurate but more abrasive white noise. There aren't even any pleasant jingles for choosing the right letter. Minimalism is the name of the game. (Well, actually, it's "Wheel of Fortune: Featuring Vanna White".) What fanfare you DO get is brief and sounds worbly like a European Game Boy Color soundtrack. In other words, it's barely palpable.

The biggest issue I have with this game is that it's slower than the rest. While waiting for the computer players to take their turns, I had time to check my email, make a big sandwich, eat that same sandwich, go outside, visit a sandwich shop, buy a sandwich there, eat that sandwich, return home, and paint a detailed map of Norway. Okay, everything but the first one wasn't true, but the game still is more drawn out than the other NES games. Combine this with a slightly more unresponsive interface — pressing buttons doesn't always work the first time — and more rounds per game than ever before, and this makes for a less speedy experience that drones on a bit longer than it ought to. I honestly don't want to return to this edition of the game.

But there is ONE positive thing I can say about this game, which is that it's more true to one aspect of the game show than another other version on the NES. In all other editions, in the final round, you are NOT automatically given the letters R-S-T-L-N-E in the puzzle, whereas in Featuring Vanna White, they DO give 'em away for free, allowing you to select three other consonants and a vowel to help reveal the solution and win you that coveted party boat. I have to give GameTek credit for finally figuring that out.

Do you already have one Wheel of Fortune game on NES? Do you have two? Do you have THREE? Then you assuredly do NOT need a fourth, especially one where, despite putting some effort in to create a new experience, the experience is so bland and crusty enough that its existence fails to be warranted. I recommend getting one of the other three available for the NES. Believe me, they're out there, collecting dust in a used game shop, waiting to be played so you can guess all the hippest puzzle answers. You know, like "WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT". Taft is bae.

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