Retro Video Game Review: Classic Concentration (NES)

Overall Rating: 2/5 Stars

Even since some relatively early days of television, the “game show” format has seen its respective ebbs and flows of popularity, generating both some brief duds and the well-recognized mega hits such as The Price Is Right, Wheel Of Fortune, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, and Jeopardy.

Considering the visibility of such programs, it only naturally followed that they would eventually make it onto video games. The 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) cranked out many game-show-based titles, most of them produced by publisher GameTek who also, oddly enough, put out some cartridges like Harlem Globetrotters. One of these game-show license games was Classic Concentration, as released in 1990 with development work done by Softie Inc.


The NES video game Classic Concentration is based on the old television game show of the same name, in which two contestants alternate turns at a Memory-type challenge of choosing numbered cards, seeing them flipped over, and trying to match their second choice to their first. Each item under a card has two samples on the board, and revealing a pair on a player’s turn results in those cards being removed. The subjects of the cards are different prizes that can be won, ranging from china (the dishware, not the country) to a motorcycle to everything in between.

As players successfully removed matched-pair cards, an image is gradually revealed beneath the field of cards. The revelation is a rebus puzzle; that is, an answer that must be guessed by way of picture-based clues to illustrate a word or phrase. For example, the image may show a big letter “P,” then a plus sign, then the image of an awl (which actually seems to get used a lot in this game, as this reviewer found with answers JOHN RANDALL and GRANDMAS SHAWL), with the solution being “Paul.” If the whole answer were “Paul McCartney,” his last name would likely be rendered as “Mc +” then an image of a cart and a knee.

This is all done by using the directional pad to indicate which cards are chosen, along with moving through an alphabet and making selections with the A button to determine the player-character’s name and make guesses. The player also gets to choose an avatar from a handful of goofy-looking available contestants. Interestingly, as opposed to most game-show NES games, the title screen offers the option to enter a code, which tracks which puzzles have already appeared and guarantees play through all puzzles without repetition until all have been completed. That seems a tad tedious, though, and will inevitably lead to infinite repetitions once a single playthrough has been accomplished, though the appeal for such an endurance marathon is likely minimal.

There exists the possibility that a card selected is a Wild Card, which allows automatic elimination of itself and a second card selected afterward, or of the first card selected if it was the second. There is some strategy, especially against a human opponent, to not only memorizing the cards but also selecting the ones that seem most advantageous toward revealing the rebus puzzle below.

Then there is the Final Round (after the third), in which the winning player is faced with a field of 15 numbered cards, each having a brand of car on the other side, and has 30 seconds to make 7 matches in order to win a car. Also, like most (though not all) game show games, there is some crude programming to allow for minor misspellings in guesses.

Speaking of other game-show video games, Classic Concentration is among the worst of them, though not exactly an absolutely dreadful game overall. What makes it less fun than the Wheel Of Fortune port, as one example, is its pacing. After every single correct match of cards, it displays an animation of the characters reacting to it, and a triumphant exclamation at the bottom of the screen, like “WHOOPEE.” This is awful. It is unnecessary, and makes every single game take, like, a third of the time longer than it needs to. Not only is it grossly unneeded, but also terribly repetitive, as each character only has two animation possibilities: Yes I got it right, or nope the other person got it right. This utterly kills the potential fun of an otherwise decent concept, and makes two-player matches especially nearly unbearable, as most other game show video games move at least a little quicker; in the aforementioned example of Wheel Of Fortune, it even seems fast-paced enough to create real tension and excitement. Not so in Classic Concentration until the much-too-late final round. Even the title screen, although somewhat amusing (it features a bald pianist – seriously), is too slow-paced, forcing the player to endure the entire piano-play of the not-worth-it theme song.






Well, obviously, the concept is not exactly the most innovative, given the pre-existence of its source material and the plethora of other NES game-show-based video games. There could have even been some sort of clever implementation of letter selection menu or other neat piece of flair, but the one and only commendable aspect of this game is the use of a code to prevent puzzle repetition, though the existence of such need for a code should give players a red flag warning that there are not quite enough rebus puzzles to begin with to choose from.

This is a below-average video game, lacking a stellar effort in any of its aspects and failing to live up to the standard of other game show titles, and posing too many minor flaws (the odd and unappealing color scheme of the field of cards, a weirdly unsatisfying amount of available characters to choose from, only up to four letters in the player’s name, background music that is neither memorable nor stands out, etc.) to be conveniently overlooked. This is a two stars out of five NES video game.

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