Press Your Luck

If you’ve ever seen Whammy or Whammy 2000 or whatever the hell it’s called on Game Show Network, now you know the original from whence it came. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “Big Bucks, Big Bucks, No Whammies!” but never knew the reference – now you do. And now, through the magic (…magic?) of GameTek, you can spout the phrase with meaning yourself.

Press Your Luck was a pretty flashy little gameshow, even for the 80s, with a revolving set and a three-story tall randomized prize board. There was an intellectual quiz section, but this was only a way to divvy out spins on the big board. After a couple of questions, the set would turn to face the monster board, and the contestants would “press their luck” by pounding upon a plunger to stop on a prize.

The goal here – which, as said, they were all quite forthright about – was to acquire big bucks and not a whammy. Whammies were little cartoon dudes that danced around on the screen and stole all that contestant’s money when they landed on a whammy space on the board. There was really no skill to the show (unless you count that guy who timed out the board cycles); you pretty much just wanted to get as many spins as possible in the quiz section, and not press your luck too hard on the board section. Still, it was a neat and sometimes suspenseful little show.

Their dead eyes are a bit unsettling.

GameTek, as usual, gets the basics of the show correct, and admirably transfers them to the PC. When you load up the game, you’ll go through the standard pick-‘n-name your character routine, and select which characters will be controlled by the computer. Each game is for three contestants at a time, and it seems to me that each game is designed as a one-player experience. It would be theoretically possible for you to play with three friends, but the controls aren’t really conducive to it – more on that in a moment. Once you pick three out of the six possible characters, who actually don’t look that bad compared to many of GameTek’s contestant drawings in other games, you’re ready to head to the first round of the game.

Round One has a question typed in above the heads of the contestants, and a couple extra seconds to read the whole thing before buzzing is allowed. The first contestant to ring in will type in an answer. That answer is then matched with two computer-generated possibilities, and the remaining two contestants must guess or confirm their answer from the multiple choice selections. The initial contestant who types in a correct answer gets three spins, the other two who guess correctly from the multiple choice get only one.

The questions themselves mostly involve surveys or general knowledge, and are not meant to be very taxing. I also always cringe a little inside whenever text parsers get involved, but this one seems pretty sharp, capitalizes or corrects the spelling of your answer accurately and appropriately, and does a fine job of providing two similar answers – provided you’re not typing in random, irrelevant answers for cheap giggles. This continues for a few questions, and then it’s off the board.

Here’s where GameTek hurts itself a bit – there are no individually assigned buzz-in keys for each of the three players. Instead, the space bar toggles through the contestants to select which will ring in and type in the answer. It’s truly not possible to have three people fighting over the same key, I don’t even think it’s intended, so I presume GameTek either means for their version to be a single-player game against two computer players, or for your three human competitors to work out some kind of buzzing-in honor system on your own. I don’t understand why they couldn’t have simply assigned the Q key to player 1, the space bar to player 2, and the P key to player three as their “ring-in key,” especially when that’s the exact setup for so many other trivia games. But they didn’t, so you have to play with the hand you’re dealt.

Boop boop beep beep beep boop boop boop beep boop

Once you have however many spins you’ve earned, you head to a pretty spot-on representation of the board round, camera angles and all. The space bar starts the board spinning – really just meaning that a ring of lights will rapidly bounce around the board, and the eighteen board spaces will individually alternate between a couple of prize options.. Another whack of the space bar will stop the lights on a prize. The prizes all have dollar values attached, which add to your total score and decide the winner at the end. Occasionally you’ll land on spaces that give you extra spins, spaces that move you around, or spaces worth thousands of dollars.

The game helpfully lists the scores of the other two contestants in the corner, so you can decide whether to go on, risking your entire accrued fortune to the whims of the whammies, or you can pass your spins to the person with the highest score. Passed spins must be played, and though the number of whammies doesn’t increase in relation to your score, there are so damn many of them anyway that it’s really only a matter of time. One whammy nukes your score up to that point, and a total of four whammies removes you from the game.

After the first board, another quiz section is played, followed by a final board section (two of each per game), and then the winner is declared. The name of the person with the highest score is sent to the Hall of Fame, which is the only credit you will be receiving from GameTek. You don’t even get a parting gift mailed to you, or the Press Your Luck home game, because son of a bitch, this is the home game.

The Whammies congratulate themselves on stealing all of my bread.

The graphics are extremely “ouchy,” far and away the worst part of the game. They were able to drive some yellows, reds, and greens – the same colors that defined the show – out of the corresponding CGA mode (make sure to set DosBox to CGA!) Still, if you’re not used to much older games, these graphics may take some getting used to. Once you do, however, the detail of them is sharp enough to be understandable, readable, and never detract from the gameplay.

I must admit some slight disappointment with the treatment of the Whammies however. On the show, they were little devil guys who would be superimposed over the dejected contestant and run though some kind of self-deprecating Loony Tunes animation as they stole or destroyed that contestant’s money. In this version, the Whammies are bald guys with some dollar signs on their shirts, and always dance in a chorus line across the screen. You get the point, especially if you’ve seen the show, but it’s certainly a “Whammy Lite” version of the characters.

In closing, this is a pretty weak translation of the game. There’s no glam, the lack of real three-player support is inexcusable, and it’s a far less accurate translation of the look and feel of the show than most of GameTek’s other forays. The show’s theme isn’t even recreated. It is, however, the ONLY translation of the game, and as far as letting you play Press Your Luck as a contestant, it works. The quiz section is tolerable, and the parser is excellent. The board section can offer some legitimate drama, and serious thought as to whether you should risk another spin or pass – at least if you enjoy the show and have ever sympathized with a contestant on it. If you’ve never seen the original, you will doubtfully be impressed with what the game is trying to replicate here.


The Good

Solid recreation of the basics of being a contestant in the show, though certainly helped by being the only recreation of being a contestant in the show.

The Bad

Poopy graphics for the time it was released, no true support for more than one player at a time, presentation fails to come close to the show.


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