I was never terribly good at Geography. Being continuously scolded for my inability to pay attention by my Standard 7 teacher meant an early exit for me from the subject, and only confirmed my suspicions that I’m probably more a GPS kind of guy instead of a paper map reader. I’m a sucker for simplicity. Nevertheless, there are certain, perhaps more historical, aspects of it that even I find fascinating in small doses: the bizarre eating habits of an indigenous tribe somewhere in the Amazon, the religious furor a lunar eclipse would awaken in some bizarre cult residing in the Andes, or—and perhaps most fascinating of all—the mating habits of a porcupine. National Geographic Challenge!, a quiz game that is able to draw from the vast library of the National Geographic vault, only served to remind me that I may forever remain geographically challenged, even when it’s trying its darnedest to drill some knowledge into my, admittedly hibernating, noggin. My full review after the jump.
Developed by Gusto Games, and the second National Geographic game to appear on the Playstation 3, NatGeo Challenge! is a challenging quiz game that unfortunately also offers very few surprises. It’s the brainier, less flashy cousin of the Buzz! quiz games (apparently the names of all quiz games should be shouted out!), and players familiar with Buzz! will ease into the proceedings quite comfortably. The faceless quiz master is slightly more subdued, the one liners a tad less annoying, and the contestants not quite as eccentric. Featuring over 4,000 questions, it’s sure to keep you busy for quite some time, and if additional DLC gets released with any sort of regularity, you could potentially never see the same question twice.
The main quiz mode, Explorer, is definitely the most interesting and rewarding of the bunch. Essentially a quiz mode that draws inspiration from the popular board game, Risk, it pits players against each other in a race to take over as many continents in the world as possible, with questions relating to said country or continent being asked before it can be successfully conquered. If a continent has already been seized by a player, any opposing player can attempt to take it over, should they be able to win an instant challenge first against the current owner of the continent. These range from a fastest-fingers-first quiz, completing puzzles in the least amount of time, guess-the-picture, slider puzzles, and so forth. With four players, two in each team, this mode becomes a constant back and forth between teams, managing to continuously keep players on their toes and also helps to keep things down to the wire most of the time. If the teams or players are evenly balanced, you should very rarely find yourself in a runaway victory situation. Players also have certain abilities they can exercise during their turn, for example being able to warp to any destination on the globe instead of proceeding through neighboring continents. The questions range from easy to hard to “I am not a walking encyclopedia” hard. This also means that the game is not really suited for younger kids, unless they’re some kind of intellectually overdeveloped prodigy whose favorite bedtime story can be found in the pages of the Britannica.
If global domination isn’t your thing, you can move onto the many other modes available, although you will have seen most of them appear in some form or another within the Explorer mode. A straight-up quiz option is available if you want to simply have a head-to-head against other opponents, or you can challenge yourself or other players to the same mini-challenges you’ve encountered in Explorer. It’s here where it becomes apparent that diversity of content is not the game’s strongest point, where you’ll run through the usual slider-puzzles, regular puzzles, guess-the-picture etc, albeit in a more contained environment. Incidentally, while these mini-games might lack imagination, it’s highly recommended to play them with the Move controller. Puzzle building is entirely cumbersome with the Dualshock3, but the Move makes it much faster and more user friendly to use.
Graphically, it’s generally unimpressive and the colorful exterior cannot mask the rather dull presentation, but the photos and video clips do benefit from being displayed in its high definition resolution, which does slightly make up for an otherwise lackluster appearance. There might not be much to do given that most of it is presented in a static studio, but come on, NatGeo! At least get creative with set and character design! You’re always presented with disappointingly generic designs, with only the menu screen showing hints of creativity.
National Geographic Challenge! will appeal to fans of everything National Geographic, and of course to those people always shouting the answers at the telly during Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Overall, it succeeds as a quiz game, although you may find boredom will set in fairly quickly after a few rounds of play. It may find some success within its fairly niche audience, but with hardly any new tricks up its sleeve, it won’t be too long before you’ll see this being relegated to bargain bin status.
Score: 6 prawns out of 10