Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Special Editions is a video game based on the wildly successful game show that allowed contestants a chance to win a million dollars, by answering 15 multiple choice trivia questions of increasing difficulty. With each question your earnings go up, but you are able to walk away from the game–rather than incorrectly guess the answer to a question–at any time.
At several points, you reach a safe question that locks you into walking away with a certain sum of money, even if you get a question wrong. For example, at question 14 you could walk away from the game with $500,000, correctly guess the answer for a cool million, or incorrectly guess the answer; which would reduce your winnings to $32,000.
Each contestant is given three “lifelines” at the start of the game, which are different forms of help that can be used only once. The contestant can phone a friend and ask them the question, can poll the audience, or they can randomly remove two of the four possible answers. Contestants are also able to choose to use more than one lifeline for a single question.
When I first started to download the game, I was surprised to see that the file size was only 107 megabytes and some change. In a time when even updates for games can be ten times that size, I started to wonder if that small a file size would mean that the game would be missing spoken dialogue, or if any other shortcuts would be taken to keep production costs low, perhaps even hurting the presentation.
Once I started playing, I quickly found that the game does include a fully voiced host character. It’s not Regis Philbin–or any of the other hosts from the television program–but the unnamed character does do a decent job as a replacement. He’ll introduce the game, remind you of your lifelines, and let you know when you’ve reached a question that won’t cost you any money to answer incorrectly. Though unlike the television hosts, he doesn’t read the questions. Those do still need to be read by the player.
As far as the rest of the presentation goes, the game is actually quite good at replicating the television show. The theme song, and the dramatic music cues used to drive tension are both present, and both quite effective at creating the right mood. The lighting of the virtual stage and the set design also seems nicely recreated. The character models aren’t the best, but the player character mostly appears in shadow anyhow, so it’s not much of a loss.
One welcome change to the presentation comes from the first five questions. On the TV show they’re ridiculously easy throw-away questions. In the game, they’re still easy, but questions four and five sometimes offer a bit of a challenge. It was a smart change to make, and keeps the game from asking you too many stupidly simple questions.
But with the good comes the bad. There are definitely some negative points to be made about Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Special Editions, and the first can be found right in the name. The “special editions” referred to in the title are optional paid DLC add-ons that are not included with the game. And while the fact that the game has paid DLC for specific interests is a good thing–not everyone loves music trivia as much as I do–I didn’t really care for the idea of buying a game with “special editions” in the title, selecting “special editions” from the main menu, and being told “You have no downloadable content, do you want to go to the Xbox Live Marketplace?”
If you’re not going to include any of the special editions content with the game itself, don’t call your game “special editions.” It’s really that simple. Plus, thanks to some technical difficulties, the optional paid DLC wasn’t available for several days after the game was released, which made the situation even worse. When I last checked it still wasn’t available, but the developer has acknowledged the issue, and it may be available now.
Aside from that minor issue, the main thing working against Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Special Editions is actually the same thing that is its greatest achievement. The game does a great job of recreating a game show that is all about high-stakes risk and reward, but the most that players of this home version ever risk is the need to re-select the number of players, and re-watch the un-skippable game intro again. Without anything on the line, the game loses a lot of what was able to make the television show so compelling in the first place.
That being said, the game is helped a bit by the inclusion of multiplayer. And like any good trivia game, it’s more fun when there’s competition involved. Although there’s no option for online multiplayer, getting a few friends together is definitely the best way to play. And if you’re just looking for some solo trivia, I’ve found that it’s still sometimes fun to play in multiplayer mode, just so one wrong answer doesn’t take you out of the game.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Special Editions offers some satisfactory trivia entertainment, but it’s weighed down by sticking so closely to its TV counterpart. Of course, a version of the traditional game needed to be included, but some options better suited to a trivia video game might have helped. Not always ending the game after a wrong answer, and allowing everyone to answer the same questions rather than taking turns in multiplayer would have been nice options to have.
Still, if the cancelling of Microsoft’s own 1 vs. 100 online game show hurt you as much as it hurt me, consider this some possible comfort food. It’s not going to be as filling, but it might satisfy for a little while.
The format doesn't work well with nothing at risk, but otherwise, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Special Editions does a nice job of recreating the television show.