Overall Rating: 2/5 Stars
Back in 1988, Rare released a video game called Anticipation on the Nintendo Entertainment System with the tagline, “Nintendo’s first video board game.” While even that claim alone is arguable, the idea of putting board games onto a video game was a strange concept that, even now, could be argued for or against its merits. After all, shouldn’t video games be considered an entirely separate recreational option from board games, or are video games actually one method of sublimating board games into their highest form?
Even with the genre of “video board games,” there has been a variety of differing tactics followed. The 1988 NES cartridge Othello was simply the board game Othello put onto a cartridge, whereas a title like Bible Buffet or Spot the Video Game consisted of its own original board game with distinct rules, bonuses, etc. Anticipation, though resembling Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit in portions, more so resembles the latter type of video board game.
Four players, including up to four human beings (albeit in a potentially misleading way, as two players would each share a controller as a buzzer, one using the directional pad and the other using the buttons before taking over) must win the game by traversing all the levels. Each level (there are three in Easy and Medium difficult, with a fourth level added on Hard and Very Hard, this fourth level having gaps the player can drop down from) consists of a shape, like a square or circle or pentagon, comprised of spaces of four different colors. Each player, controlling a token such as a pair high heels or a teddy bear, must gain a correct answer for each color category, ala Trivial Pursuit style, in order to advance to the higher level.
This is done by a drawing simulation, with the category determined by the color of the space that the player is on of who’s turn it is. Each artful session has the computer drawing a picture, and each player has a chance to buzz in. Whoever buzzes in first tries to guess what it is, and whoever gets it right gains that color and also gets another move. This is where it gets interesting in a strategic sense: The move amount is not determined by a randomize die roll; rather, for each picture, the countdown consists of a die rolling down from six to one, with the movement value determined by the timing of the buzz-in. In other words, if you know you need to land on a blue space, and the nearest one is three spaces away, you need to buzz in when there is a three on the countdown die and hope no one else does sooner.
Depending on the level and the difficulty level, the picture may have dots (in a connect-the-dots style) present in the drawing field as a hint to what the image will be, or there may be a category displayed on-screen, etc. , hints that get removed as play progresses. If no players correctly guess the image, it remains unrevealed, and the next player in turn order then determines the category by current space occupied. On the third level of the board, there is a gray space that does not represent a category; rather, upon landing on it, the player is randomly transported to a different spot on the level.
This game does not look bad, but it does not look spectacular either. It is a board game, after all, so one cannot expect the most action-oriented or attention-grabbing graphical elements. At least one area should have been improved, though: The actual drawing screens are rather crude, with thick pixelated lines sometimes forming an ugly, very plain presentation. Maybe it was intended this way, and thought to be clean, and simple, but when you are already stepping into an untested (at the time) genre and need every advantage to hold a player’s attention, you need every hook you can get and this could have been more dynamic. Some of the cute nuances are a nice touch, like the way pieces literally rise to the next level via an almost-mystical beam. The random gray-space transportation may have been more fun, rather than a simple zoom-around-until-you-stop motion, but it works at least. Overall, this is a very underwhelming game, that can only be defended because it is essentially a board game.
The music during the drawing sequences remains identical every single time, and will burrow into your brain and never leave. Upbeat, bouncy, and even parlor-ish, it would be decent if you did not have to listen to it dozens and dozens of times in a row over the course of a game.
At the time, this could have been seen as a creative title with some innovative ideas going for it. This should probably best be kept in mind in order to properly evaluate it in-context, as since it could be said that the Mario Party series nearly perfect the “video board game idea,” and is obviously light years ahead of Anticipation.
But even if it could be considered original and enjoyable, with a bland presentation, there is one glaring flaw that it is susceptible to: The game’s library of possible drawings was extraordinarily limited, especially when considering specific categories. Players could, even after only a few games, begin to recognize the correct answer even before the drawing itself was recognizable as the object. The dotted drawings are easiest, but even the first couple strokes of later rounds could be memorized and recalled. This just turns the game into a match of wits for who will buzz into their needed die roll first, and planning how to reach spaces, rather than the game’s true intention.
The video game Anticipation was perhaps a noble effort, but lauding it as a pioneer for video board games may be a misguided, dubious distinction. If someone sits down at their Nintendo Entertainment System, they definitely have better gameplay options, and it would be really odd for them to be passionate about board games on a video game console, as that would just raise the question: Why not just play a board game, then? This is maybe worth a few plays with a few friends for some multiplayer fun, but otherwise, Anticipation should anticipate no more than two stars out of five.