When I sat down to play Concentration, the new casual offering from Freeze Tag and Universal Studios, I thought about the hours I spent as a child watching the show. I loved trying to solve the puzzles before the contestants, and would do my best to work out the solutions before my mom. As I reminisced, I wondered if the interactive version would have the same appeal.
For the unschooled, Concentration pits two challengers against each other in a contest of memorization and puzzle solving. The participants take turns choosing two numbered tiles in an effort to match the prizes hidden beneath them. When a pair is found, the product, be it a diamond ring or a vacation package, is added to the prize queue of the contestant who made the match. Also, two pieces of the puzzle are revealed and you get to either solve the picture or select two more tiles.
Concentration includes two special tiles: Take and Wild. If you match a set of Takes, you can steal a prize from your opponent. Revealing the Wild gives you an automatic match, and three tiles are removed from the board.
To win the prizes, though, you’ll have to solve the picture puzzle buried under the tiles. Puzzles come in the form of images and letters that, when put together, construct a well-known expression. For example, an arrow pointing to a baby’s butt, the word “the”, an arrow pointing to the number eight on a hopscotch surface and a beach ball form the saying, “Behind the eight ball.” To do well, you should not only remember where all of the unmatched prizes are located, but also figure out the puzzle before your opponent does.
If you beat your challenger two out of three times, you move on to the bonus round, in which you’re given the opportunity to win a new car. In this portion of the game, you have to match 14 tiles hiding the names and photos of seven different cars in 35 seconds. (Don’t get too excited about winning. A disclaimer shown as the program loads reads, “This game is for fun only. No prizes will be awarded.”
So how well did Freeze Tag translate the game show to the computer? The studio did a good job.
Concentration comes with two modes, one in which you compete against a computer player named Professor Rebus and a second that allows you to go up against another human on the same computer. The first step is creating a profile, after which you enter the game. Clicking a tile reveals the prize hidden beneath it, and when it’s your turn, you can key in your solution to the puzzle.
Freeze Tag didn’t put together a story mode or a single-player tournament ladder, so to encourage you to play through the game’s more than 100 puzzles, they included a high score board that keeps track of how many games in a row you’ve won. When you beat an opponent, you’re awarded the rank of Champion, and your name and number of consecutive wins appears on the board. When you lose a match, you have to start over. The barebones approach might turn off casual gamers accustomed to bloated narratives and trophy rooms, but I found the slimmed-down approach refreshing.
What I would’ve liked, though, was a better computer opponent. Concentration comes with three difficulty modes, but I couldn’t tell the difference between them. Even on hard, Rebus would make laughable blunders. At the beginning of one match, for example, the host revealed one of the tiles sporting the most expensive prize on the board. The professor, who went first, chose a different tile, then selected the prize the host revealed even though it wasn’t a match. While the artificial intelligence doesn’t provide much of a challenge when it comes to pairing tiles, it does a good job of solving puzzles without appearing to cheat, so there is some challenge involved.
More important, though, are the puzzles themselves, which are clever without being obtuse, and are fun to solve. Although Freeze Tag reuses certain images for the same word too often (a dove represents the word “of” in several puzzles), a lot of creativity went into producing the game’s brainteasers.
I do have a few remaining quibbles. First, the program tells you minor spelling mistakes are allowed when entering your solution, yet it rejected “mountain out of a mole hill” because I split the last word. Second, portions of the game move too slowly for my tastes, although it’s not bad enough to put you off playing. What’s more, there’s no timer during your turn, so you’re on the honor system. If you want to write down the location of all of the prizes, you’re free to do so. Finally, Concentration doesn’t Alt-Tab gracefully in full screen mode, although it does just fine when you’re playing in a window.
Even if I account for the sentimental value of having grown up watching Concentration, I have to give the game high marks for the sheer fun of making matches and solving puzzles. It’s addictive, too. As I wrote this review, I hopped into the program several times to double check things, and each time, I found myself playing a few matches against the professor. Is there better praise?