The traditional TV quiz show is vacuous yet oddly compelling entertainment. On paper the entire concept seems absurd; it's almost incomprehensible that anyone with even the tiniest shred of intelligence would be prepared to sit through half and hour of other people failing to answer ridiculously easy questions while a smarmy host cracks poorly scripted jokes at their expense – and all for the ultimate prize of a tacky set of cheap steak knives.
However, you only have to flick on your goggle box to see that quiz shows are massive ratings winners and this rather worrying truth clearly hasn't been lost on Sony. The company's Buzz! series – available on the PS2 and PS3 consoles – has gone down a treat, largely thanks to the riotous gaming sessions that erupt when four (or more) like-minded people huddle around the TV, buzzer peripherals at the ready in their sweaty palms.
It's therefore hardly surprising that the company has decided to port this popular franchise to the PSP in the shape of Buzz! Master Quiz. Constructed with portability in mind, this new edition certainly retains the slick presentation and appealing gameplay of its home console counterparts but you can't shake the feeling that Sony is trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole with this particular piece of software.
Bizarrely for a franchise that traditionally adheres to the concept that playing with fellow human beings is infinitely more fun than playing alone, the single-player portion of Buzz! Master Quiz is where you're likely to spend most of your time. The developer has wisely structured this mode in such a manner than it encourages you to invest time in order to unlock all the various puzzle rounds.
The challenges you face range from simple quick-fire questions to putting answers in the correct sequence. For each question you're given four possible responses, each of which corresponds to one of the PSP's fascia buttons. While this is certainly no substitute for the excellent buzzer controller of the PS2/PS3 equivalents, it proves to be a pretty agreeable solution.
The general standard of the questions is very high and with over 3,000 different conundrums it will be some time before you encounter a question you've already been asked. While a decent knowledge of popular culture is a must in order to succeed, anyone over the age of ten should cope pretty well.
Naturally, there are a few tough cookies thrown into the mix but for the most part Buzz! Master Quiz manages to strike the perfect balance in terms of difficulty. Chances are you won't know which animal sub-group the armadillo falls into, but for every tricky question there are plenty of face-slappingly easy ones.
Progress in the game is tracked via a 'percentage complete' ranking and the opportunity to earn various trophies adds a little to the longevity of the title. These are usually awarded for completing a special task, such as correctly answering in under half a second or scoring a certain number of correct answers in succession.
Each round also has three possible ranks in the form of Bronze, Silver and Gold, and the game records the player's best score in each round, so there's plenty of scope for improving your performance. This is undoubtedly a good thing because although the single-player side of Buzz! Master Quiz is certainly very accomplished, it unfortunately doesn't last particularly long.
However, this is all rather moot because (as any Buzz! fan will happily inform you) this is essentially a social game that only really comes to life when other players are involved. Sadly, although the developer has tried hard to overcome the limitations imposed by the hardware, none of the included multiplayer modes really succeeds in creating the same level of enjoyment witnessed in the home console variants.
The most successful multiplayer mode allows four PSP owners to link up wirelessly and view the same screen via the PSP's excellent gamesharing feature. This method of play is closest to the domestic editions, but it's far less entertaining without the buzzer controllers and the chances of you tracking down three friends willing to participate in such a gathering on a regular basis is slim. Here the simple logistics of the home versions win out; the PSP solution is just too cumbersome and doesn't really sit comfortably the bonding 'party' ethos of the series.
For those of you that don't have any PSP-owning mates there is a second option, but it's not entirely ideal. The players all use the same console and simply pass it around when it's their turn. This naturally removes any opportunity for quick fire competitiveness as you obviously can't all be using the console at the same time, and therefore robs Buzz! Master Quiz of one of the series' most appealing aspects. But it serves a purpose, up to a point.
A Quiz Master feature is also included, with one of the players being tasked with asking questions, keeping track of people's answers and scoring them accordingly, but it's not really as effective as it might sound and gets boring a little too swiftly.
Ultimately, the biggest issue with Buzz! Master Quiz isn't one of quality; Relentless Software and Curve Studios have done a commendable job of shoehorning the Buzz! experience into more humble hardware. What makes this a noble failure rather than stirring success is the fact that the concept of the game simply doesn't lend itself to the PSP format. Buzz! is popular because the home console versions foster a feeling of social togetherness, where friends can huddle around their TVs, buzzers in hand, and interact with each other.
Although the aforementioned multiplayer modes valiantly attempt to replicate this dynamic on the PSP and you will have some fun with Buzz! Master Quiz, ultimately the experience is nowhere near as satisfying. The game unquestionably possesses first-rate presentation but it's sadly missing that vital ingredient that has made the series so wildly successful thus far, and for that reason it leaves the studio mostly empty-handed.