When the Nintendo Wii came out of the gates swinging, EA was one of the first companies to admit its “mistake” in not supporting the console more fervently and vowed to change its tune immediately. The first Wii-specific games to come from that promise have begun hitting stores, from Medal of Honor Heroes 2 to the more-recently released Smarty Pants. Designed for the Wii and within the premise of EA’s “Family Play” model, Smarty Pants is a trivia game with questions that are remarkably appropriate for all ages and that let players either compete or cooperate to determine the grand trivia champion of the household. Smart Pants is unique, colorful and packed full of trivia, but its actual gameplay gets old fast, and a few motion-sensitive mechanics manage to get in the way of answering those very questions.
As a Family Play game, Smarty Pants couldn’t be any easier to set up. From the opening menu, players are given three choices: Single Play (which is only for practicing purposes), Friends Mode (which lets two to four players compete for trivia-answering supremacy) and Family Mode (a cooperative mode that lets the entire family work together to answer questions via one or many Wiimotes). The decision to make Single Play solely a practice mode is somewhat understandable, because EA clearly designed Smarty Pants to be a social/party game. Yet if EA had implemented some AI-controlled opponents so a single player could compete against the computer a la the Friends Mode, Smarty Pants on the whole would be much more enticing.
This is because Friends Mode is really where Smarty Pants is at its best. What good is trivia without someone to beat to the answer, right? Well in Friends Mode, there are two ways to beat that so-called “friend.” The first is through Countdown mode, in which the score for each question starts at a set number of points and gradually decreases as time passes (like those sports-trivia games in a sports bar). When players answer the question correctly, the number of points remaining on the countdown is added to the player’s total score.
The second way to compete is called Wager mode, which is a bit more complex but also a bit more fun. In this mode, players start each round by playing a mini-game in which they aim the Wiimote at targets with certain point totals painted on them. If the category is one you’re good at, you naturally aim at a higher-pointed target. If you stink at the category, you’ll of course aim for the lower-point targets (which have easier questions). Players can also play various bonus cards to give themselves more time or call-out a friend for answering a question that was too simple. These mini-game and card-playing mechanics sound simple enough, but they add both a literal and figurative interactivity that really ups the intrigue.
Family Mode completes the trifecta in Smarty Pants, and it’s probably where most of the families who buy a Wii for the holidays will spend most of their time. Smarty Pants includes more than 20,000 trivia questions, each of which is assigned an age range to ensure that younger gamers aren’t asked about Shakespeare, and older gamers aren’t asked about The Wiggles. (The game asks each player his or her age before gameplay begins.) Because the questions are assigned age-appropriate tags — a genius move, by the way — everyone in the family, from grandma to grandchild, can play this cooperative mode and have equal amounts of fun. What’s more, Family Mode lets players determine the speed of the countdown timer and the number of questions they’re supposed to answer before time runs out, which lets families personally adjust the settings for their capabilities and attention span.
The trivia questions in Smarty Pants run the gamut from sports and science to fashion and books to games and art, which further ensures there are questions for everyone. Some of the questions are easy, for sure, but others have to do with art theory and chemistry, which depends the experience and means you might actually learn something while playing. In a particularly surprising gesture, EA even made the very un-conglomerate move of asking trivia regarding non-EA games. Well played, EA. Well played.
Still, Smarty Pants has some issues, not the least of which being that, well, trivia games are only fun for so long. Even with its age-appropriate questions and amazing lack of repeats, Smarty Pants is really only fun for about 10 to 15 minutes, after which point younger gamers start getting antsy and older gamers start to crave a new challenge. In addition, Smarty Pants includes motion-sensitive activities such as a tug-of-war, dancing and waving of the Wiimote to add time to the countdown, but these activities often popup at pointless times. Worse yet, when families opt to play cooperatively with just one Wiimote, these mechanics actually interfere with the need to point that same Wiimote at the correct answer. It’s kind of hard to “shoot” at an answer when the Wiimote’s waving in the air, no?
As a pure trivia game, Smarty Pants has more questions than any traditional board game you’ll ever buy, and its age-appropriate questions do a great job providing a challenge for the entire family — for 15 minutes. Even with this issue and the faux pax of including motion-sensitive mechanics during single-Wiimote sessions, we would still recommend Smarty Pants as a budget-priced party game. But EA wants $50, and that’s just too high for this game.
- Score: 6.5
- The age-appropriate trivia is good, but the game itself gets old fast, and the motion-sensitive functions get in the way of the core gameplay: answering questions.
— Jonas Allen