Every time a new TV game show hits it big, you can rightfully expect a video game adaption to arrive shortly thereafter. While some of these conversions have been decent — Family Feud on SNES and a handful of the Jeopardy!/Wheel of Fortune games come to mind — the majority of these titles are cheaply made cash-ins that only exist to sucker loyal fans of the show into an impulse buy. On that note, Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? Make the Grade! has just arrived on the Wii, and it is pretty clear which of the above categories this one falls into.
The basis of 5th Grader is trivia; you pick from one of 10 multiple choice questions, each with varying difficulty levels and subjects ranging from World History and Math to English and Science. To help you answer all of these correctly, you are given 3 chances to “cheat” off of a 5th Grader of your choosing, which lets you look at and use their answers for that question. Each student is good at a few particular subjects, and you have to use their strengths wisely if you want to answer the more difficult questions and make it to the final round. If you are successful, you will have to answer one fill-in question, but you do not get to choose the subject or difficulty. Answering this correctly nets your avatar $1 million virtual dollars and saves them the embarrassment of telling the world that they are not smarter than a 5th grader.
Once you get into a game, you will see that the difficulty balance in place for the questions seems almost like it was chosen at random, with questions such as “True or false: the city of Timbuktu had a famous university with a large library containing Greek and Roman books” and “Which author wrote ‘Miss Nelson Is Missing’” being listed at or around the same difficulty level as “Which season follows summer” and “Which of the following means the same as the word ‘talent?’: Lack, desire, gift, or job?” The million dollar questions are no better, as I was once asked “what is the past tense of hurt.” This balance kills the flow of the game, as the outcome feels less reliant on a player’s knowledge of the various subjects and more focused on how fair the questions in that particular match were that time around. The questions are either too easy or too hard, and the majority of them focus on obscure factoids or specific occurrences that most people wouldn’t know. Another problem with the questions, despite there being over 6,000 of them on the disk, is that I encountered some repeats after only a few games of play. Not recording what has already been asked in a trivia game is lazy, especially when so many others similar games, like Buzz and Scene-It, keep track.
The issues with 5th Grader don’t end there, as aside from the single or multiplayer version of the TV show, there is almost nothing else to do. There are two additional multiplayer modes for up to four players called Flashcards and Spelling Bee, but both are as barebones as can be. Flashcards removes the show aspect and just has each player answer 10 random questions as quickly as possible, and Spelling Bee has you choosing the incorrectly spelled word out of a list of four words. The problem with all of the modes in the game is that there are no configurable options. The game doesn’t let you tweak the amount of rounds, number of questions, or even the difficulty, leaving you with the same experience every time you play. An additional surprise that I discovered was that if your multiplayer session finishes with a tie, the game ends without giving you the chance to break it, leaving all involved players completely unsatisfied. There are also no minigames or online modes to be found, and the only unlockables are items for the shallow contestant creator, which allows you to create an in-game avatar but only gives you 3-4 options for each body/clothing section.
The visual and audio presentations of 5th Grader predictably manage to be as slipshod as the rest of this package. Jeff Foxworthy and all of the character models have frightening zombie eyes, and their infrequent body movements are robotic and unnatural, leading to many awkward-looking scenarios. For example, as soon as any game starts, the camera zooms in on virtual Jeff and he stares at you in silence for about five seconds before beginning to talk, which is both hilarious and creepy. The children are always the same five kids, and the user-created contestants have no personality or style to them due to a lack of customization options. Textures all-around are blurry, and the audience in the background is made up of PlayStation One-era block people that bring out the cheapness of this production.
The in-game audio is sparse, mainly made up of the TV show’s abysmal theme song and voice work from the various participants. Jeff Foxworthy does an okay job as host and has a lot of energy, but he doesn’t actually read any of the questions aloud. His offerings are mainly pre and post-question remarks, and the game repeats these lines so often that it will quickly drive you towards insanity. The player-created characters sound like they were voiced by tired programmers, spouting phrases like “nooooo” and “phew…alright” after answering the question. The 5th graders sound authentically child-like, but they only speak when they are asked what subjects they are good at. Aside from the voice acting, there are a few sound effects and two or three background songs taken from the show, all of which do an adequate job of capturing the sounds of the series but do nothing to expand upon it.
In the end, Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? Make the Grade! is neither a fun trivia game nor an entertaining party title. If you have an uncontrollable desire to answer grade school questions, just watch the TV show and yell out the answers from your couch. At least that sight will entertain those around you more than playing this game would.