Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

#144 – Wheel of Fortune


You get to hear it here, too.

To Beat: Win the Bonus Round
To Complete: Beat the Game on Difficulty 3
What I Did: Completed the Game
Played: 1/6/20
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Wheel of Fortune Longplay

Game show games were quite popular on the NES with over a dozen titles on the console.  Looking at the list, I would say there is a good mix of games here.  Some of them are from short-lived game shows that just happened to be airing at the time.  Others were from shows that I suppose were only popular enough to generate exactly one NES game, even though some of them have had the staying power on TV up to the current day.  The bulk of NES game show games come from two juggernauts of TV game shows.  Both Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune generated four NES games each, and both series are still running strong as ever.  I have completed one Jeopardy! game to date and now I get to see what Wheel of Fortune on NES has to offer.

Wheel of Fortune has had a somewhat complicated history.  The show was created by Merv Griffin and premiered on NBC daytime TV in 1975, shortly after the first run of Jeopardy! was cancelled.  Chuck Woolery was the original host, Susan Stafford was the original hostess, and Charlie O’Donnell was the original narrator.  The daytime version ran until 1989, switched to CBS until 1991, then back to NBC briefly until it was cancelled for good later in 1991.  Meanwhile, a nighttime syndicated version debuted in 1983 with Pat Sajak as the host and Vanna White as the hostess.  This version of the show is still running with the same two hosts.  Pat Sajak, as of September 2019, is now the longest running host of any game show.

There has been a slew of Wheel of Fortune games based on the familiar syndicated TV version, too many games to list.  The series almost started out on the Atari 2600 in 1983, but that version was cancelled.  The first video game adaptation appeared in 1987 on personal computers, developed by Sharedata and published by Gametek.  This version was ported to the NES by Rare and published by Gametek for release in September 1988.  The NES version is exclusive to North America.  There would be three more NES versions of Wheel of Fortune released between 1989 and 1992.

Samantha and Rachel don’t stand a chance.

Wheel of Fortune is pretty much a game show version of hangman for three contestants.  A word puzzle is placed on the main board with all letters hidden and a clue is provided, such as person, phrase, thing, etc.  Each player on her turn may spin the wheel to determine a potential cash prize value.  When a dollar value is spun, the contestant guesses a consonant.  If the letter is found in the puzzle, she wins that amount of money for each occurrence of that letter as that letter is revealed on the puzzle.  From there, she may spin again, spend some of her winnings to buy a vowel, or choose to solve the puzzle.  Any miss passes control to the next player.  When a puzzle is solved, only the winning player’s money for the round is added to her total.  After several rounds, a speed-up round is played with slightly different rules.  The contestant with the most money goes on to the bonus round, and she wins a fabulous prize if she guesses the final puzzle.  To beat this game, you need to win a single game as one of the contestants, including the bonus round.

First you need to set the options to start the game.  This starts with choosing the number of players from 1 to 3.  Players 1 and 3 share controller 1 while Player 2 gets controller 2.  Computer players will cover any remaining players so that all games are three player games.  In that case, you also choose a difficulty level from 1 to 3 of the computer players.  Next, each human player enters a name up to 8 characters.  Use the D-pad Left or Right to move the cursor and press either A or B to enter a letter.  An arrow at the end of the letter list is the backspace, and you will select End to lock in your choice.  Gameplay starts after all names have been entered and randomly selected names for computer players appear at this time.

Typically, on your turn, you will want to choose spin, which brings up the big wheel on the screen.  A power meter is displayed and you press A or B to spin when it reaches the desired power level.  As the wheel spins there is a box at the top that shows what is on the current space on the wheel.  Most of the time this is a dollar amount ranging from $150 to $1000.  If you land on Miss a Turn, play passes to the next contestant.  The bankrupt space is the same as missing a turn, only you also lose your accrued winnings for the round.  It does not affect any money won in prior rounds.  There is also a Free Spin space.  You can hold your free spin and redeem it any time you lose your turn to try again.  If you spin a dollar value, then you get to choose a consonant.  The list of letters appears along with the puzzle and any letters already chosen for that round are removed from possible selection.  You do have a short time limit to choose your letter, else you forfeit your turn.

Try and aim for the big dollar values.

The other two options on your turn are to buy a vowel or solve the puzzle.  It costs $250 of the current round’s winnings to buy a vowel and you earn nothing no matter how many times the vowel is in the puzzle.  Missing with a vowel also ends your turn.  When solving the puzzle, you get 45 seconds to choose letters filling in all the missing spaces in the puzzle.  Take care to spell everything correctly because it has to be an exact match for you to win.  Choose End when you are confident you solved it correctly.  A correct solving ends the round, while a miss moves play to the next contestant.

While the TV version may play a different number of rounds depending on time, the NES version has set rounds.  Rounds 1 and 2 are handled the same way.  An empty puzzle is displayed and players take turns until the puzzle is solved.  In Round 1, player 1 goes first, and in Round 2, player 2 goes first.  Round 3 is the Speed Up round.  To start, the wheel spins until a dollar amount comes up.  That dollar amount is fixed for the duration of the round for all contestants.  Player 3 starts this round by choosing any letter.  Consonants are awarded money same as normal, and vowels award no money but can be chosen for free.  After selection, the contestant has a few seconds to decide whether or not to solve the puzzle.  As long as the puzzle remains unsolved, play continues immediately to the next player and keeps going until someone gets it right.

The player with the highest total winnings over all three rounds gets to play solo in the bonus round.  Before playing, you get to choose what prize you want to shoot for.  The selection for this is a little strange.  You see the first prize, a sports car, and you decide if you want to choose a different prize or not.  Choose Yes to go to the next prize and choose No to select.  Seems like it should be the reverse.  Anyway, after prize selection, you get a brand new puzzle and you get to choose five consonants and a vowel.  Any of the chosen letters are revealed in the puzzle and you get your one chance to solve the puzzle.  Get it right and you are the big winner!  After some brief fanfare, you go back to the title screen.

I still don’t know who he is.

It’s possible I have beaten Wheel of Fortune before.  I think I played it when I was younger, at least one of the NES versions.  It is a fun enough game and it is also very common.  Due to the ongoing popularity of the show I imagine it sold very well.  I’m pretty sure I have a few extra loose copies of this game around my house that I need to get rid of.

Wheel of Fortune is an easy clear.  A playthrough takes around 10 minutes depending on how the puzzles go.  Just keep trying until you win.  For my playthrough, I set the difficulty to 3, the highest level.  The game manual doesn’t elude to the difficulty levels at all, but I suspect it means that computer players are more likely to solve puzzles with fewer letters revealed on harder modes.  It took me five attempts to win the game.  Most of the time, I figured out the answer to a puzzle about the same time the computer solved it.  I didn’t win a single puzzle until my third try when I won all three puzzles and lost on the bonus round.  I chose RSTLNE, just like the default letters in the current show, but it didn’t do much help when the answer was Windshield Wiper.  On my winning run I got really lucky.  I knew the answer in the second round without any letters revealed, which was quite an exciting feeling.  In the bonus round I had 7 of 10 letters revealed for an easy finish.

A cousin of mine was on Wheel of Fortune years ago.  I think it was in 2004 or so.  I know I was in college at the time.  Her taping was on air on a Friday night and I stuck around a mostly empty dorm to watch it on TV.  The only place I could watch it was on the common room TV and the signal to the screen was just horrible.  People on the first floor used to splice the cable signal from the common TV to their own rooms, which didn’t help me out at all.  But it was good enough to watch the show.  The best part is that she won the game and the bonus round.  It is something special to watch a game show when the stakes are raised personally because you know the person playing.  I won’t forget it.  We were all very proud for her for being on the show at all and it was icing on the cake when she won.  I talked to my grandparents the next day.  My grandpa taped the show and made a bunch of copies and my grandma said she cried every time she watched it because he had to test out all the tapes.  Good stuff.

Wheel of Fortune on NES is a good adaptation of the show.  The rules and gameplay are mostly unchanged from current day, but there are plenty of new features in the show that obviously wouldn’t have appeared on the NES cart.  It represents a snapshot in time of how the game was played back then and you can see clearly how it has evolved since.  The game itself plays well, it has nice graphics and sound, and it can give you a challenge if you want one.  There are voice samples of the crowd yelling out the title.  You get a power meter to strategize how hard you want to spin.  Even the alerts of consonants only or vowels only are included.  The only downsides I see here are that some of the puzzles are outdated and that you eventually will see repeats among the 1000 or so puzzles in the game.  It’s not a modern way of playing the game, but it still works.

#144 – Wheel of Fortune

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