Back in the late '80s and early '90s, the gameshow Catchphrase was like the equivalent of today's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in terms of popularity. It was ahead of its time through its use of computerised animations that left us all flummoxed about what sort of witchcraft they were running on, and starred the amiable Roy Walker, one of few gameshow hosts who knew when to quit and has hardly been seen since. Of course, this meant we had to double-check he wasn't dead before writing this review. He's not, you'll be glad to hear.
Catchphrase was reinvented with a new presenter in 2000, but for most fans the Roy Walker years were the show's golden era and, as luck would have it, it's the period this Gameloft title takes both its format and its digital presenter from. Yes, Walker himself features in the game – he even speaks a bit at the start of each round. And the rest of the game's presentation is equally authentic, from the distinctive whooping noise the buzzer makes when you hit it, to the look of the computerised puzzles, to even the studio.
Essentially, Catchphrase is as authentic as you could hope for. You get all the content from the original TV show (from the Ready Money Round to the final where you have to pick squares from the grid and guess the catchphrases behind them, going through the 'M' square for a special mystery prize), and even have AI opponents to play against. (Although the lack of a two-player experience is a bit of an oversight.)
However, this authenticity does have its drawbacks. It means the game hasn't really been built around a mobile phone format. To guess a catchphrase you have to type it in like a text message, but without a predictive text option. Taking a stab at a phrase that's six or seven words long quickly drains your will to keep texting – even though you can take as many guesses as you like during some rounds, you're unlikely to want to after one failed attempt.
Other than predictive text, it's hard to know how this could be improved seeing as Catchphrase doesn't really lend itself to multiple choice answers. But in its current set-up it really is a chore. You watch Mr Chips acting something out, suddenly realise what it is, then spend half a minute painstakingly typing it in. There was a reason contestants used to have to 'say what they saw' – shouting it out was half the fun. Typing it on a keyboard would probably be okay, too. Texting it most certainly isn't.
Put this control issue aside and Catchphrase is undeniably fun. Even if guessing answers isn't translated well with a keypad, the catchphrases themselves are pleasingly presented and each round is new and different. The prize round against the clock is actually quite tense, and there's even a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire-style money ladder game where you progress up it by guessing puzzles correctly, but lose it all if you get one wrong.
Admittedly, there are a few bizarre catchphrases in there. For instance, what are 'pop tops'? Surely a visual showing the tops being cut off the words 'pops' should be 'top of the pops'? And you get a fair bit of repetition in the catchphrases you're given, too. If you thought texting them in the first time was tedious, just try keying in the same phrase for a fifth time.
In terms of presentation and attention to detail, Catchphrase is a winner. It's one of the most authentic gameshow adaptations we've played on mobile and is a nostalgia blast for anyone who fondly remembers family evenings spent shouting nonsense phrases at the television. But as a concept it's just proves a tricky game to translate to a phone compared to the more obvious multiple choose quiz. Sorry, Roy Walker fans, much as we've been looking forward to this, we have to say what we think based on what we see.