The Price is Right

In the some 35 years PIR has been on, it has never changed. I mean, they still use the same cards, backlit transparencies, and number lights from the 70s, instead of updated digital whatsits. Even Bob, is still up and looking pretty good, and people still manage to be ridiculously excited when they make it on the show.

I knew that PIR had a board game, because it was pretty cool and I owned it. I did not know there was a PIR video game, though I shouldn’t be surprised. GameTek, as is the case with seemingly every gameshow-to-videogame conversion, is behind this one. And as is the case for most GameTek conversions, they do a reasonably admirable job. The show is covered faithfully, pricing games, the wheel, and the showcase showdown et al. If you can rummage up four players, you can each play on Contestant’s Row, with the computer filling in for players that are either not there, or have made it to the stage.

Since it’s the 80s, less than you’d think?

All the pricing games are here that I can remember, including favorites like Safe Cracker, the Range Game, Danger Price, and the Grocery Game. Should you not remember, or maybe have never seen, one of the games, you are given the option to read instructions on how to play before each one. Regardless of their nuances, they will all be some variation of correctly guessing the price of a presented item. In an interesting and welcome idea, should the computer win on Contestant’s Row, you have the option of watching them play the pricing game, or taking over for them yourself. The games are the real fun of PIR, after all, so it’s nice that you don’t have to sit back and watch the computer amuse itself. Oh, and yes, there is Plinko, though I did not encounter Switcheroo.

After three pricing games are played, there’s the spinning of the wheel. If you were selected off the Row, you get to take a spin – basically selecting the power of your spin and leaving the rest to fate – against two other players. If you win here, you’ll go to the showcase later. After the wheel, there is the second round, where you can choose to type in a new name and play again, or invite four new friends over (for a total of eight players… hey, I could see it happening if you had enough drunk friends at 2 A.M.)

The showcase plays out as expected, with the two wheel winners betting on a collection of prizes – always involving two shitty prizes and a cruise. Whoever bids closest to the actual retail price, without going over, takes home the non-infringing goods. You can look forward to a stereo from Pony, an alarm clock from Radio Shed, and a genuine leather football from Wilton.

Yes, the world-famous fashion brand “Lucci”

The game sports some pretty simplistic CGA graphics, but they look nice enough. A light blue background will forever haunt all the screens, with contrasting yellow text. In many of the pricing games, you will be presented with a screen showing the prizes you’re bidding on and their accompanying description, while the screen for the game itself shows only the prize. It will require some memorization on your part, but the prizes are drawn clearly enough to be distinguishable from each other. The only real disappointment are the player characters who, like all GameTek games, look like goofballs. I don’t know why they were never really good at drawing people, or perhaps they are making an intentional statement that all gameshow players are goobers, but none of the eight characters look like someone you’ll want to associate with your own name.

Controlling the game is a simple exercise of using the arrow keys to move a bracket around and selecting anything with Enter. I do like the fact that, unlike how this would be for a console game, selecting prices isn’t multiple choice. You’ll have to type in your guesses every time, and deal with the math of how far off from the target price you were, just like you would in the show. Sound comes only from the PC speaker and is thankfully sparse. There’s a pretty good rendition of the show’s theme, and a couple of beeps and boops when you select things, but that’s about the whole concerto. I figure this is a good thing. If your audio is coming out of the PC speaker, it should probably be as underused as possible.

The biggest unexpected foe of this game is going to be inflation. It shouldn’t be surprising, but it certainly isn’t something I considered. You need to play the game with late 1980s prices in mind, which means that something like a king size bed is going to be cheaper than you’d expect, but a “new” technology like a Walkman is going to be more expensive. I suppose this can offer some unintended challenge, but I always figured PIR was about gut-feeling guesses, which are going to be way off when playing this game decades later.

All the highlights of the show are here.

Also, like all game show games of the time, PIR suffers from a limited pool of prizes to draw upon. A guess would be 100 different prizes, but when you consider all the pricing games and showcases that draw from that pool, you start seeing a lot of repeats quickly. The problem comes when one game like Danger Price shows you the exact price of that item as part of its game, and then you see that same item again in Credit Card when you’re expected to guess the price. If you have a solid memory, you can nail the price from being told it last time. Of course, the game will sometimes help you out by putting the same prizes one after the other – randomization works both ways, ya see. But essentially, after a handful of play-throughs, this game is going to get real easy, real fast.

However, for the times you play that you can’t ballpark or recite prices from memory, PIR can be a pretty fun run, especially for fans of the show. Bob and the Beauties are not present, unfortunately, but this is pretty par-for-the-course. I presume that they would have to pay extra for the likeness of Bob, or they simply understood they’d never be able to pull off a convincing replica of either him, or of any woman at all. Otherwise, as far as “replicating the gameshow experience,” GameTek has done a pretty commendable job. If you happen to have friends that enjoy PIR as well, so much the better.


The Good

It helps that its the only PIR video game, but it’s an excellent simulation nonetheless.

The Bad

Inflation between then and now will throw off your guesses, but this is offset by being able to remember the exact prices of the limited number of prizes.


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