Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Brain Drain?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I would not be a game show fan today if it weren't for the various kids game shows I used to watch. If you say the words "kids game show" to just about anybody, they'll inevitably get a mental image of ten-year-olds falling into gloop, while a host who's not much older than them tries way too hard to seem hip.

These people are wrong. That's not to say there aren't any shows that fit this stereotype - I can think of a few - but most kids game shows are actually quite engaging. Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? is the one game show I want revived more than any other; Legends Of The Hidden Temple featured possibly the coolest bonus round of any game show ever. Even the hated Nick Arcade probably would have been fun with a few tweaks and a different host. Besides, I liked them all when I was eight, and isn't that the true test of any kids show?

So we finally get to Brain Surge, which premiered on Nickelodeon yesterday with host Jeff Sutphen. The show begins with six contestants, who are in the first round shown a series of...um...let's call them animated memory tests. Most of them involve picking a certain number out of the cartoon that's shown on the video wall (actually more fun than it sounds). All six contestants type in an answer; the first puzzle is worth ten points, the second twenty points, and so on for five puzzles, after which the sixth puzzle is worth 100 points. The two contestants with the lowest scores are then eliminated, and must leave via a slime slide dubbed "The Brain Drain." Whenever Jeff says that phrase, everyone in the studio, from the audience to the contestants, shouts it along with him.

Round two begins with Jeff reading a "funny" story to the four remaining contestants, after which he asks them each, in turn, a question about some detail of what he just read. If you get it wrong, you are sent to the Brain Drain, and when two contestants are left, they move on to round three. Round three is plain old Concentration with sixteen cards; the first contestant to miss a match goes to the Brain Drain, and the winner plays the (actually really cool) bonus round, in which he\she faces a 4x4 grid spread out across the floor. A sequence of squares on the grid lights up, and the contestant must follow this path across the floor; if successful, the grid expands to 5x5, and if the contestant succeeds again, the grid expands one more time to 6x6. If the contestant completes three grids in one minute and thirty seconds, he\she wins the grand prize.

So...is it any good? Well, I didn't hate it. Yes, there's nothing here we haven't seen before, but the
various games are put together in a feasible way, and I actually wish I had thought of that bonus round. The set is cool (although I've already forgotten what the music sounds like, which is never
a good sign) and Jeff, while far from Greg Lee or Marc Summers, is also far from Kirk Fogg or Phil Moore. So no, I didn't hate it, and going back to the true test of any kids show, if I didn't hate it, an eight-year-old would probably like it a lot. I can't say I'll be a regular viewer of Brain Surge, but it gets safe passage.


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