There's been a lot of deliberation over the years about whether holding a microwave transceiver next to your brain for prolonged periods can have any effect on your thought patterns. Well, it seems that 20Q Mind Reader probes even deeper than a barrage of RF signals and actually attempts to communicate directly with your brain waves.
What we have here is, presumably, some kind of intuitive database system that's been put to particularly frivolous use. While it might once have been used to crack encoded Nazi messages and save the war effort, it's now a novelty device for determining whether you're thinking about a cat or a cranberry. What's even more surprising is that it seems to work.
The 20 questions concept certainly isn't a new one, but in this case it doesn't rely on the perception of a particularly pretentious host at a desperately middle-class dinner party to fathom the correct answer. Indeed, it seems this latest offering from Digital Chocolate doesn't even require all 20 questions before it's dragged the answer kicking and screaming from your radio wave-addled mind.
The first time out, it genuinely caught me off guard. I didn't really know what kind of game I was looking at, but followed the quick and clean instructions which demanded that I think of an animal, vegetable, mineral, 'unknown' or 'other'.
A cursory glance around my office and I saw Ramesses (my cat) loafing on the scanner (cat scan!) (weak – Ed). I had my subject. At least half the questions fired at me from the NCP lookalike on the handset's screen seemed relevant – while the other half were apparently quite nebulous.
But this is presumably the key to the whole illusion; no question is ever irrelevant to the system, despite how unrelated they might appear to someone who already knows the answer.
Well, thinking questions like 'Is it flat?' and 'Is it larger than a bread bin?' were taking the system further and further from the mark, I was doubly surprised when it suddenly announced that I was thinking of not just a cat, but a tabby cat – which Ramesses is – despite the fact that I'd only mentally selected 'cat' as my subject.
Naturally, a feat like this demands some serious testing, and I spent far too long trying to catch it out – even resorting to an unfair degree of ambiguity in my answers. It did remarkably well.
And yet, despite this being an extraordinarily intuitive piece of software, it falls quite short of the mark when it comes to sheer gaming value. What we have is a terrific and initially absorbing novelty, but a novelty nonetheless.
In essence it's a game whose point, if it works properly (and it does), is to make the player lose repeatedly. There's no value in you, the gamer, winning. If you do, the illusion is shattered and the software is proven inherently flawed.
There are some interesting word games thrown in to try and spice 20Q Mind Reader up, however. Several are locked until the opening anagram game has seen some degree of success.
This is a simple case of solving increasingly difficult anagrams, which is fine for keen word puzzlers, though many will find it rather dull and a little infuriating. Particularly when you solve an anagram, only to find it's not the answer the game wanted. (For example, after much deliberation I deciphered the word 'sapient' and was suitably impressed with myself until it turned out the game was actually looking for the distinctly less cerebral answer, 'panties'.)
A multiplayer variation on the hangman theme is also included, which might actually have proven to be a superior choice for the main game, with a little expansion. Each letter of a word is locked (with one, two or three locks) and up to four players pass the handset around choosing a letter to unlock in turn.
Each player can, at any point, make a guess at the whole word, though getting it wrong means they're out of the round. Landing a correct word grants the winner a point for each lock still unopened, and the first to 20 points wins.
With four players sat around the pub table, this worked surprisingly well; proving unobtrusive enough not to disturb the evening's conversation or other drinkers, yet still engaging each player in turn.
The typical good looks and pristine presentation expected of both Sumea and Digital Chocolate are as present as ever, along with some amusing character quirks from the quiz master. If word puzzles are your bag, 20Q Mind Reader will undoubtedly provide a wealth of distraction, but its value as a game – rather than a piece of novelty software – should be considered carefully before buying.