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Countdown (DS)

Rated: 3+.

Gameplay: This is based on the long-running quiz show on Channel 4. You play 1-on-1 against a computer opponent to gain the most points. In Letters rounds you have to make the biggest word you can from nine random letters. In Numbers rounds you must use the six numbers provided to get as close as possible to a target number using addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. In the final Conundrum round it's a race to unjumble a nine letter word.

There are 11 Letters rounds, 3 Numbers rounds and a conundrum in a match. Each round has a thirty second time limit.

Save System: You can save and quit after any round.

Comments: Countdown has been going for nearly thirty years. If you live in the UK and have ever visited an elderly relative, then you've probably been forced to watch it at some point. It's an institution.

As such, I don't need to describe what this game is like. Imagine a videogame of Countdown... There we go, you've got the basic gist. Now imagine a much more cheaply produced version... Nope. Cheaper that that... Yep, you've got the idea. This is essentially a picture of a clock bolted to a dictionary and a calculator... except less entertaining or useful.

For the first couple of goes, Countdown is OK, giving a reasonable approximation of the TV show. Unfortunately, the cracks quickly become noticeable:

Tapping on the letters and dragging the numbers is actually a lot slower than writing them down. Since you get no points if time runs out before you're finished, this can be hugely frustrating. Thirty seconds may be the authentic time limit but it's simply not long enough given the limitations of the interface.

The opponent AI is laughable. It knows a huge list of words but has no idea which are common and which are obscure, choosing between them at random. Its 'mistakes' are equally unbelievable. ('CAOLS' instead of 'COALS', for instance.) Beating it on higher difficulties feels more a matter of chance than brilliance.

When the conundrum throws up words like 'CROCOSMIA', there's nothing much to do but sigh. Then again, that's better than figuring out the conundrum but not having time to tap out the answer. One shot, I actually tapped the 'K' of 'SHIPWRECK' only for the clock to run out as the letter was sliding across the screen into position, denying me the points.

Most of these issues are moot in the single-cartridge multiplayer mode. Sadly, a big new one is introduced - you can't play a proper game. Crazily, multiplayer consists of choosing a particular type of round and then playing the best of 3, 5 or 9. There are no points or mixed events. I can only assume this is to cut loading times but, honestly, with the minimal presentation and gameplay, there shouldn't be loading times anyway.

Ho well. At least the clock countdown music is as it should be... until hearing it once a minute drives you insane and you have to switch it off.

Conclusion: Looks and plays like an undergraduate Computer Science project. It's unmistakeably Countdown, though - in an absolute emergency, it might distract an elderly relative long enough for you to escape.

Graphics: Almost non-existent.

Length: Each match only lasts fifteen minutes but winning on the hardest difficulty will take perseverance (and some luck). Sprog1 (aged 9) played it for a couple of hours until it got too hard and he gave up. Not even the promise of in-game medals to collect could entice him back.

Rating: 2/5.


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