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From the History Channel and bEQUAL ("Smart Games for Family Fun") comes an "edutainment" game on DVD called Time Troopers. It's a 2-disc historical-trivia game that will strike you as a high-tech, virtual Trivial Pursuit show. That concept might seem a bit deadening, but thankfully John Cleese himself shows up to enliven the proceedings, portraying our host, Special Agent Wormold of the fictional, futuristic, "ultra-secretive" IM-6 agency. I admire the two companies' efforts to teach history to families in this way, but I encountered a few problems while navigating the game.
Once I got past the cute little video introductions, I started out by playing the Individual mode, which is the competitive mode (rather than Team mode, which is the cooperative mode), on my Denon 2900 DVD player, and found that navigation was hobbled by glitches. According to the game's instruction manual, the game doesn't work accurately on all players, so I switched players, inserting the game into my Toshiba SD-6200. Navigation was then fine. I chose 2-player Interactive mode, and my companion and I chose colors, as well as the levels at which we wanted to compete—Cadet (ages 6-9), Captain (ages 10-13), or Commander (adults). Not feeling very confident, I chose Captain, and my daughter chose Cadet. Optionally, you can use the game's Dynamic Leveler to automatically adjust players' level of expertise as the game progresses. You can also choose to give your game a time limit. As many as four players can play at one time, or you can gather a team as large as you want.
As we navigated through the game, we both found ourselves befuddled by some of the questions. (I'm not sure if that says something about our intellectual capacity or just that the game's difficulty levels are aiming a bit too high.) We got some fairly easy questions about, for example, the transcontinental railroad and the Concorde jet and New York baseball teams and the World Cup, but we were flummoxed by questions about the origin of radium and the dictator of some third-world country. And, frustratingly, just as we got to a score of 10-8 and were getting anxious about how the game might end, the Toshiba player froze on us and we had to start over. There were groans all around.
We started over—having to slog through all that introductory material again—and finally made it through an entire game. The questions come in the form of video clips, anagrams, Side Scrollers (timed multiple choice), multiple choice, open response, Trooper Dispatches (audio only), Wormholes (best two out of three), and For Real?, which is essentially True or False. For Open Response questions, the game trusts you to be honest with your answers, asking, "Did you answer right or wrong?" Interspersed throughout these questions come video-based congratulations from you host, Double or Nothing chances, Factoids (in which you can learn a little more about a given subject), and the frustrating Fate Cards, which are humorous (thanks to John Cleese) but can either send you forward or backward a space. I got a couple of "Go Back a Space" cards in a row, and my daughter got one "Go Forward a Space." Although there are supposedly 1600 questions, we experienced one repeater within about 50 questions (although you can press Menu to choose a new question).
Gameplay occurs just as you might expect, moving from one player to the next as you progress the virtual game board 12 spaces to a win. Navigation is clunky with my remote—sometimes video clips froze for a long period of time, and I found myself clicking a bit too much through the screens. I enjoy interactivity, but this seemed like overkill. That being said, my daughter and I both enjoyed the various types of questions offered, particularly the video-based ones. They really liven up the game and make the most of the DVD format.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Time Troopers comes in a full-frame aspect ratio whose quality is merely okay. On smaller sets, the image will be just fine, with good detail and color, but on larger sets, like my 65" rear-projection set, image quality will be lacking. Aliasing is a problem in the newly recorded segments (e.g., the ones featuring Cleese), and detail is obscured by video noise. Black-and-white historical video pieces fare better.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's mono presentation is straight from the center. Dialog is clear and natural, and I noticed no distortion of any kind. The audio does the game justice, but no more.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
Time Troopers comes with a Disc 2 that contains several supplements—although I'm not sure they warrant an entire separate disc.
First up is John Cleese Welcomes parents, a 5-minute interview piece in which Cleese talks about the game's aim to get families to spend time together. He also talks about the game's dynamic leveling and the importance of gaining an appreciation for history. He even takes the opportunity to share a Monty Python clip involving the battle of Pearl Harbor re-enacted by a Ladies Guild.
Next is Kids Only!, a 2-minute clip of Cleese selling the notion of history to kids.
Behind the Scenes is a 3-minute featurette that repeats some of Cleese's information from the first piece, but does contain some entertaining green-screen clips of Cleese in action, as well as some flubs.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Despite its aggravating technical glitches (on my players, anyway), Time Troopers is a fun game for trivia-happy families. The challenge will be getting your kids interested in this age of the Xbox.