Trivial Pursuit for the couch potato.
The Scene It? brand is easily one of the most prolific DVD board games on the market, ranging from the original standard edition to special themed editions covering everything from Harry Potter to Seinfeld. Thus it was no surprise when the venerable party game made the jump to the Xbox 360 with last year's release of Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action. Though the first 360 outing is arguably better than the board game upon which it was based, it had a few rough spots which prevented it from really shining. For the sophomore release, Microsoft has addressed a number of those issues, resulting in an improved experience all around.
[image1]Conceptually, Box Office Smash follows the same format as other games in the Scene It? line. Trivia questions are split into three primary rounds and then followed up with a final round which includes a score multiplier. Points are awarded based on the speed with which questions are answered correctly during a round. Bonus points are given in between rounds both for doing well (fastest answer, all questions in a block, etc.) as well as doing poorly (slowest answer, etc.). Combined with the breadth of topics, the bonus points do a good job of ensuring a close race unless you happen to have a real ringer in the game.
Where Box Office Smash stands out is in the variety of question types presented to the player. The game features a healthy mix of traditional trivia questions as well as movie clips, audio clips, photos, sketches, and animations. Movie clips are mastered in HD, so they look good when playing in full screen. The puzzle selection is random, though the game does tend to cycle in movie clips more often than the other puzzle types.
Some of the new features include Pixel Flix, Celebrity Ties, and Which is Which. Pixel Flix is specifically designed to appeal to the gamer in all of us, as it recreates a movie scene as if it were being displayed on an old 8-bit NES. There's nothing like seeing 300 imaginatively redone "flix" in all its pixilated glory (take that Blu-ray!). Celebrity Ties is a take on the Kevin Bacon game where each question in the series is linked by an actor featuring in the previous question. It offers up two photos and a movie title, and all you have to do is choose the still that comes from the listed film. It sounds simple but it's deviously deceptive.
Other modes require you to properly guess the name of a film by the credit roll, guess an actor's name by way of a photo collage, identify a movie poster as it slowly comes into view, or complete a classic quote from a film. And that's just a smattering of question types. In all, there are more than 20 different puzzle types to keep you and your friends guessing. Those familiar with Lights, Camera, Action will be pleased to know that the puzzle which requires you to place movies in the order of release has been tweaked. You can now keep guessing until you get a correct answer, turning what was perhaps the most annoying puzzle in the first release into something a bit more enjoyable.
[image2]About half the puzzle types allow everyone to answer at once, with the remaining half requiring a player to buzz in before answering. The catch is that in the first case everyone can see all four multiple choice answers immediately. Questions that require buzzing in don't show the four possible answers until someone buzzes in. If the player buzzing in doesn't answer within a few seconds (or answers incorrectly) another player can buzz in, having had the advantage of already seeing the possible answers. This created more than one instance of "buzzer wars" in my house where two players were madly bashing on the buzzer after an incorrect answer hoping to be the first.
It's situations like this where Box Office Smash shines, as it appeals equally well to both hardcore and casual gamers. Everyone loves movies, so you can get the teenage Gears of War 2 player and Grandma in the same room and everyone can join in.
Unfortunately, if you're the solo type, Box Office Smash looses a lot of its luster. A big part of the fun comes from the interaction (and insults) that are tossed around between the local players. Playing a round by yourself just doesn't have the same appeal. Sure, you can always go on Live, but even then it seems sterile.
Adding to the accessibility features are support for the Xbox 360 avatars as well as the big button controllers (Really? Couldn't anyone at Microsoft come up with a better name?). [I suggest The Super Awesome Buttons of Jesus. ~Ed. Nick] The avatar support helps personalize the game a bit, and the big button controllers are certainly casual-gamer-friendly. The deluxe set comes with four big button controllers, four sets of batteries, and a USB IR receiver for the Xbox 360. You don't need the big button controller to play, but the large buzzer button helps keep the "game show" feel going and because they are IR, the batteries last a lot longer than in standard controllers. If you happen to use your Xbox 360 as a media center, the big button controllers actually double nicely as a basic remote. The game is also available in a disc-only version for those that already have the hardware on hand.
[image3]One worry everyone has with trivia games is how often the questions repeat. After all, it's no fun if one person knows all the answers. This is one area where Box Office Smash does a good job in suppressing, assuming you always, always play with the same profile. The game tracks which profiles have seen which questions, so if you always jump in with the same gamertag, you shouldn't see question repeats until you've seen everything at least once. If you swap profiles or play without logging in, then question selection is totally random and it is possible to get repeat questions relatively quickly.
Aside from going online to find other players, Microsoft also promotes the game's ability to download new content from the marketplace. Unfortunately, aside from a mention in the press release and on the box, we haven't yet seen hide nor hair of possible updates. If Box Office Smash is supported with content in the same way that games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero are supported, it would be awesome. But if it is quietly forgotten, it wouldn't be the first time a game company abandoned promises of future content.
While it isn't quite a perfect game, Box Office Smash is better than its predecessor and it plays exceptionally well as a party game. It doesn't require the accessories (nor the potential embarrassment) of a music game and pretty much everyone is familiar with Hollywood films. The barrier to entry is low, replay value is great, and it's a blast if you have a group assembled. Just don't ever plan on playing it solo and you won't be disappointed.