Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#64 – Jeopardy!

It’s an outdated version of the long running TV quiz show!

Includes the iconic theme song!

To Beat: Win a single round
To Complete: Win a single round on the highest difficulty
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 12/1/17 – 12/2/17
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
Video: Jeopardy! Longplay

This is another one of these project milestones, as today I am covering the first game show game on the NES. Well, that’s only true if you don’t count American Gladiators, I suppose. Even at the time of the NES game release, Jeopardy! was already a popular, long-running TV game show. It is still going strong today and I doubt there is an end in sight. This NES game suffers solely because of its age as the questions and answers are now nearly 30 years old, but it holds true to the Jeopardy! formula we are familiar with.

Jeopardy! first appeared on NBC in 1964 as a daytime show. Merv Griffin is the show’s creator. The original version ran until early 1975, which slightly overlapped a brief nighttime syndicated version airing from 1974 to 1975. A new version called The All-New Jeopardy! aired on NBC for a few months during 1978 and 1979. The show would return for good in daily syndication beginning in September 1984. This is the version of the show that is still running today. Art Fleming hosted the first three runs of Jeopardy! with Don Pardo as the announcer for the first two runs and John Harlan for The All-New Jeopardy! The current run of Jeopardy! is hosted by Alex Trebek and announced by Johnny Gilbert. It has won 33 daytime Emmy Awards and is now in its 34th season.

There have been many video game adaptations of the show, ranging from the mid-1980s up to 2017. The first version was the 1987 release on Apple II, Commodore 64, and DOS. The NES has four distinct versions of Jeopardy! with the original release coming in September 1988. Jeopardy! Junior Edition released in October 1989 and Jeopardy! 25th Anniversary Edition followed in June 1990. Super Jeopardy! was the final NES release in September 1991. Rare developed and GameTek published all versions of Jeopardy! on the NES, and all were US exclusives. GameTek published most video game versions of the game show until they filed for bankruptcy in 1998.

The developers got the look and feel right.

Since the NES game follows the same flow as the TV show, it makes sense to cover a basic overview of how Jeopardy! is played. Three contestants play three rounds aiming to earn the most money to win. Clues are given as answers and the contestant must respond with the appropriate question to earn money. The winner, or champion, of the prior game of Jeopardy! returns to play again and can accumulate winnings over multiple shows for as long as he or she keeps winning. The returning champion sits on the left and begins each game by choosing the first clue.

In the first round, the main game board is filled with six categories of five clue each. Each clue is assigned a dollar amount representing a wager. The original run of Jeopardy! had values ranging from $10 to $50, and the current show ranges from $200 to $1000. Typically, the higher the value, the more difficult the clue. One contestant chooses the category and a dollar amount on the board, and the host reads the full answer. Then, contestants can buzz in and provide the question. Correct responses add the dollar amount to that person’s total, while incorrect responses take away the amount. Totals can dip into the negative. The contestant with the correct response may choose the next clue from the board, or if no one answers correctly then the original contestant may choose again. The round ends when all thirty clues have been given.

One clue hides a Daily Double. When a contestant chooses that clue, the Daily Double is announced and only that contestant may give a response. The player must provide a wager of his or her own choosing, ranging from $5 up to their current winnings. If a player doesn’t have any accrued winnings, he or she can choose from any wager remaining on the board. Then the clue is given and the contestant gets a brief time to respond. Dollar amounts are added or deducted just the same as in normal play. Finally, the contestant gets to choose the next clue for everyone to play.

The simple keyboard interface works well.

The second round is called Double Jeopardy! and it plays out the same way as the first round. Six new categories appear but this time the dollar values are doubled. The player with the lowest total from the prior round gets to choose the first clue. This round hides two Daily Doubles. Once all those clues have been given, then Final Jeopardy! is played. Only contestants with a positive score may play this round. Here only the category is given to start and players must wager a dollar amount of his or her choice from $0 up to their current winnings. Then the clue is revealed and each contestant writes down a response within a shared time limit. One at a time, each question is revealed and the wager is added for a correct response or deducted for an incorrect response. The player with the highest total wins the game.

The NES game begins by choosing the number of players. One to three players may compete with computer players filling in any open spots. Use the D-pad to choose and press either A or B to select how many human players will participate. Next, choose the Skill Level 1, 2, or 3. Then, one at a time, each player enters in a name up to six characters long. The D-pad scrolls the cursor and either A or B enters the character. The cursor may wrap around from any edge to the other side. Then a player character is displayed at the stand and the game asks if you want a new character. Choose Yes to swap in a different character as many times as you want, then choose No to lock that character in. The character selection repeats for all human players and is filled in automatically for computer players. Player 2 uses the second controller and Player 3 uses the first controller, if necessary. This holds true for the entire game.

The first round starts with six categories and dollar amounts ranging from $100 to $500. Player 1 gets to pick the first clue. Press Left or Right to select a category and press A or B to lock it in. Then use Up and Down to select the wager and press A or B. Next, the answer appears on screen along with a timer shown in the corner. Players can buzz in at any time. Player 1 must press any key on the D-pad on the first controller to buzz in. Player 2 does the same on the second controller, while Player 3 uses the A or B button on the first controller. I guess you have to set controllers on the floor or on a table when playing with three players.

This was when the match was going well for me.

When a player jumps in, the question entry screen appears. Inputting the question here is the same as entering in your name at the start of the game, but here there is a time limit for submitting your response. This is where the skill level comes into play. Skill level 1 gets 50 seconds, level 2 is 45 seconds, and level 3 is 40 seconds. These aren’t actually full seconds. Unless the skill level also makes computer players buzz in more quickly, the skill level doesn’t mean much at all. Anyway, you will enter in the response and then choose End to submit. You don’t have to phrase your response in the form of the question because the game handles it for you, which is convenient. Other players get a chance to buzz in if the wrong answer is given. Daily Doubles are also handled similarly where you can input the wager you want or choose from one of the preset wagers if you haven’t earned enough money.

Final Jeopardy! is handled a bit differently than the first two rounds. Normally, contestants all submit their wagers and responses at the same time by writing them down. To get around it here, each player submits their response and wager while the other players are asked to look away from the TV. Of course there’s the potential for cheating if players 2 and 3 aren’t honest, but there’s really no other way to do it on the NES. Once the final submissions are resolved and scores are tallied, someone is crowned the winner! The game goes back to the title screen from here.

I’m sure this was not my first time playing Jeopardy! on the NES. I mean, I don’t remember exactly. It’s not a long game and so I may have completed a full round or two just to see what it was like. I imagine this was the first time I won a game. I managed to beat Jeopardy! on my first time playing, though it took me three tries to win. In all games, I had a reasonable score but didn’t have the lead going into the last round. On the first try, I missed the final question, and on the second try I got it right but didn’t wager enough to win. I played better the third game and nailed the Final Jeopardy! round to claim victory.

Maybe you could figure out some of these clues. I couldn’t.

The clear problem with older versions of trivia games like this is that the information is outdated. Sure, there are general questions and answers that are more timeless in nature. It just seems like about half of the categories or clues have to do with musicians, movie stars, or TV personalities of that period, and most of that information isn’t common knowledge anymore. I just had to hope that the computer would miss or ignore the ones I couldn’t answer, while buzzing in quickly on ones I knew I could answer. I also needed to get a good enough mix of categories that catered more to my knowledge. Perhaps I came out a bit lucky to only need three attempts. As an NES game though, it’s an easy one and a relatively quick clear.

If you want to try out NES Jeopardy! for some reason, here are a few tips for success. Both first and last names are required when the clue is about a person. Spaces for multiple word submissions are not required, though spelling is pretty important to get right. For numbers, you can type out the word or just the digits. Be sure to give the plural form of the words if you are responding with “What are” instead of “What is.”

Those are all input related tips and are somewhat useful, but I do have a couple of more helpful trends I noticed about the computer players. Sometimes the computer will buzz in and get the question wrong, and when they do they will enter in gibberish. Their incorrect response is the same as the correct one only with most of the letters replaced by symbols, so from that you know both how long the correct response should be as well as some of the correct letters in the spelling. You can sometimes glean the correct solution from this, and it’s even better because the opponent also loses points from the wrong response that can help you get the right one. It’s also to your benefit to place a full Final Jeopardy! wager unless you have a commanding lead. Most rounds will be decided by Final Jeopardy! anyway and you have nothing to lose but time if it doesn’t pan out. If you have a really big lead, you can simply wager nothing and probably win. I never saw the computer place particularly large wagers anyway.

Jeopardy! on NES is a competently programmed game and a good adaptation of the popular show. You don’t need flashy graphics or presentation here, but what you get is more than good enough. It’s just nothing special, and it’s too bad that the outdated questions and answers make it even less fun to play now. It was an easy clear for me, and for that I am thankful and won’t complain. For anyone else though, I wouldn’t bother with it.

#64 – Jeopardy!