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PC Game/DVD Review: Time Troopers

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DVD games are not very commonplace, but they do exist. A few of the classic laserdisc games like Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace are certainly worthy of your cash. One of the latest is an edutainment title from the History Channel and b Equal called “Time Troopers.” A board game on disc, this family product provides some mild fun, but numerous problems keep it far from greatness.

The game itself is quite simple. One to four players can join in or you can play through as teams. Each player/team selects a difficulty level and a color to represent them. Questions are posed in various forms from anagrams, to simple true and false. The game adds its own original twist with audio only questions and the “wormhole,” which requires you to quickly answer 3 questions about a single topic before time runs out. The type of question the player is presented with is random. Once a player has successfully answered a question, they move a space. The first to move 12 spaces wins the game.

Adding some variety to the game is John Cleese (starring as Agent Wormhole) of Monty Python fame. He is present for the random “video fate cards” which will either move you ahead or back a space. There are also “double or nothing” spots as well. This will offer up a question of a higher difficulty, but with the opportunity to move two spaces ahead instead of one. Missing the question simply leaves you where you are.

Another nice feature is called “Dynamic Leveling,” a slightly overblown term for changing difficulty levels whenever someone answers a question wrong or right. In other words, if you start on captain (medium) and miss a question, you’ll then be offered questions from the cadet (easy) level until you move back up. Get one right after this, and your questions come from the commander level. You have the option to turn this off in the option menu if you wish.

The game is presented in a manner to keep kids occupied with flashy graphics and sounds. There are many videos taken from various History Channel shows, used to present a question on a related subject. The menus are filled with lots of color and moving objects. Your guide is also quite active, telling you the correct answers and providing more information. There is even a CG intro to tell the story of the game.

Controlling the game will be no problem if you have fired up your DVD player in the past. Selecting the correct answer is as easy as hitting the play button so anyone can play by passing the remote around. However, the disabling of the pause button is a bit ridiculous. The games can take well over an hour when played in full (a timed option is available) and should you need a break for whatever reason, you simply have to quit the game entirely or miss a few questions.

The 1,650+ questions that are included should be enough, but repeating quizzes are still a problem. I had the initial two questions from the first game repeat in the opening moments of my second game (you can press menu to bypass the question admittedly). How many times you can play the game with all new questions will likely be limited. Also, the difficulty levels are not quite right either. When playing on the easiest level, a 3-part question about 60’s and 70’s fads came up. What current first-grader would know about fads from these eras?

More problems come from the nature of the questions. Not all of them are history based, as the title would indicate. A question like “How many members of the senate does each state have?” has nothing to with history. It’s educational, yes, but not historical.

Numerous other problems exist as well. The randomness of the game can prove deadly for some players. I had 5 straight “video fate cards” which sent me back an equal number of spaces during one game. I was one spot away from victory when this happened. Tie games end in, well, a tie. There is no tiebreaker. The ending victory video is always the same too, so interest in playing through the game twice is lessened, as the reward is always the same.

The set comes with a second DVD of bonus features. This extras disc includes three brief documentaries including a making of, an introduction to the game for parents by John Cleese, and a message to kids that is also from John Cleese. All that is left on the disc are two advertisements, one from Harmon Karden and the other for the History Channel.

This game has its heart in the right place, but the focus of graphical flash and video make it seem like a very early PC CD-ROM program. Most of the available space should have been used for more questions instead of videos and other nifty effects. If you can get your kids to sit through a game they will certainly learn something, but doing so could be a challenge.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • http://www.bequal.com Kurt Buecheler

    Thanks taking a look at Time Troopers. As you mentioned, DVD games are relatively new and rare, and we’re a new company dedicated to making great ones – so your opinions (and even criticisms) are appreciated. We would, however, like to respond to several points – providing some additional information and challenging a few of your conclusions.

    Overall the DVD’s ubiquity and excellent video quality make it appealing. However, given these are “dumb” devices, (limited memory or processing power) it also comes with some big challenges to provide an interactive game experience.

    Many board games will be enhanced with a DVD. But we believe that only we have successfully put the entire game (scoring, scoreboard, questions, video clips) on the DVD. Parents love that there are no game parts to lose and that the game is truly “lean back and have fun.”

    Given DVD limitations, we believe Dynamic Leveling is an impressive accomplishment. More importantly, it is an essential capability to make the game fun for the whole family. Making the process transparent to the players is critical to making the game easy and fun.

    You correctly point out that “games can take well over an hour when played in full,” and in our formal research (with several families in different cities), both parents and kids told us that this was actually a positive, primarily because they found the game to be challenging and enjoyable. It’s also important to remember that we’ve included a timed-play option so the game can always be played in just 10, 20 or 30 minutes.

    Regarding the pause button, while your idea of enabling it is a good one, there were technical trade-offs that required that we disable it. The good news is that you can leave the game and not miss any questions if you take a break. The game will wait patiently for you to return – although you might want to turn the sound down :-)

    The duplicate questions you saw so early in your first game are somewhat surprising, as they are truly presented at random. With over 1,650 questions, most families will be able to enjoy many, many games with few if any repeats. We’ve also found that younger players often benefit from repetition and/or reinforcement in the learning process. The questions were developed and tested by The Princeton Review, who worked to make them both interesting and age appropriate.

    We are sorry that Agent Wormhold sent you back five consecutive spaces with his video fate cards. He can be a rough taskmaster, but we’re surprised he would be quite that nasty. Seriously, fate cards are delivered randomly, just as questions are, and you’re the first person we know of who’s had that experience. But we’ll double check the program code just to make sure something is not awry.

    Ending the game in a tie clearly isn’t the ultimate outcome, and we’ll most likely incorporate your suggestion of a tie-breaker into our next title. There are, however, three different versions of the victory video and not just one.

    Your observation that “this game has its heart in the right place,” is really the one that is most important to us. Our mission is to produce family-friendly and fun entertainment products. There just aren’t that many good alternatives for games that adults and children can play together – especially that they can both enjoy while avoiding violent content or other questionable material. We’ve found that families who play Time Troopers have had an overwhelmingly positive response to it. And we gladly offer a 30-day money-back guarantee in case anyone is unsatisfied for any reason.

    We really appreciate your time in reviewing the game, and the comments you’ve made that can help us improve both Time Troopers and our future releases.

    – Kurt Buecheler
    – CEO / The b EQUAL Company