Thursday, February 3, 2011

At Random: Anticipation (NES, 1988)

Okay, this time I'm cheating slightly.  My first random pick for this entry turned out to be World Cup, and since I just played an NES soccer game last time, I gave myself a do-over.  On the retry, I came up with an early console title developed by Rare, from 1988 when the company was still known as Rare Coin-It.  The game is Anticipation, published by Nintendo, and advertised on the box as Nintendo's first video board game.

I actually bought a copy of this game back when it was new, for a change of pace, and my college buddies and I had several evenings of fun with it before it became repetitive.  I was a bit surprised to see that the whole game only takes up 64K of ROM space -- one megabit in 8-bit era terminology, fairly small in comparison to most NES games.  But there's not really a lot of content here to eat up space; the game contains a few jazzy tunes, some simple graphics, and a whole bunch of dot-to-dot drawings.

Mr. Bear really knows how to throw a party.
The game plays like a computer-assisted version of Pictionary crossed with the tokens from Monopoly and the board from Trivial Pursuit.  Up to four competitors (any combination of human and computer players) strive to maneuver around the board, collecting colored tokens by correctly guessing what the simple images drawn onscreen by an animated pencil are supposed to represent.  There's a sliding difficulty scale, which affects the speed of the timer and how many clues are provided.  As the difficulty increases, onscreen category names, blanks indicating the number of letters in the expected word or phrase, and some of the dots visibly outlining the image vanish.

Player 1 hopes the pink pumps don't make him look Easy.

At lower skill levels, the images are simple and not difficult to guess, although some trial and error still comes into play when entering the expected text:

Let's see... should I start with H for Hot Dog, S for Sausage, or P for... Pepperoni?

Later levels mix it up with word play and visual puzzles, like this one, answered by one of the computer opponents long before I had any clue what the image was meant to represent -- I suspect it was cheating by looking at the code:

GET... on the MOVE.  See?  Not MOM, thank goodness.

When a player has collected a complete set of four colored tokens, he or she gets promoted to the next level of the board, and the first player to clear all three levels is declared the winner.  (This rainbow-colored beam-up special effect is nicely executed, and still-frame screenshots do not do it justice.)

Beam me up, Gucci!

The drawing data is clearly very space-efficient -- it's just an ordered set of vectors for outlining each image, so the 64K cartridge holds quite a few pictures -- but the results are often a little too schematic for easy recognition.  A few of the puzzles completely stumped me -- I have no idea what this shape is supposed to be, and the computer players failed to chime in with the solution, but my failures did establish that it's not a GIRL or a WOMAN:

A wig? Marlo Thomas? The girl from the last human family in Robotron:2084?

At any rate, despite the occasional misstep, I handily beat my computer opponents and entered the winner's circle, to minimal fanfare.  The trophy appears to be built from the carbonite-encased corpses of all my opponents (and myself, actually, so we can conclude this is only a rather morbid trophy design):

Pumps up the volume!  Booyah!

So... yay!

That's about all there is to Anticipation.  I don't think it was a huge hit at the time, and I don't recall that Nintendo ever released a second video board game for the NES, although the Mario Party series that came along a few hardware generations later successfully revived the idea.  Anticipation was an interesting effort to do something different, more casual and family-oriented, with the NES hardware, and I think it succeeds.

And would you believe I tried to call this a RADIO?  In 1988?

We're rockin' the 80s with our awesome box of boom!

If you want a copy of Anticipation for your next retro game party, at least it shouldn't cost you much:

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