I’ve been a fan of BBC One teatime quiz show Pointless for a couple of years – and make sure I record it every day while I’m at work.
The amusing interplay between jovial co-hosts Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, the likeable and down-to-earth contestants, the mind-taxing but accessible general knowledge questions – all the ingredients add up to a very enjoyable experience.
With Richard previously adamant a Pointless app would never happen, I was very pleasantly surprised to see a mobile phone game based on the show was in development from Endemol Games UK – and picked it up straight away when it launched for iOS this week.
Games based on TV shows have often been horrible letdowns in the past. I’ve played some less than impressive takes on Total Wipeout and Deal or No Deal, for instance. Pointless doesn’t fall into that category, but there are a few things I don’t like about it. Overall, I’m moderately pleased with the app so far rather than overjoyed.
The game is split between two modes – single-player and versus.
In single-player mode you must face off against random single computer opponents through a series of three questions to get into the final.
For each round you are given a multiple-choice question on a particular category such as film, sport, science or politics. The aim is to select the answer from the list which the fewest of 100 people surveyed will have known. If your answer scores fewer points than the option assigned to your opponent then you win the question and go through to the next round.
The format changes if you get through to the final. Here there is no opponent. Instead you choose a category from three options and then must type in three answers to the question provided. For example, for music you might be asked to name a Celine Dion song. You write three options and then watch as the score for each is revealed. If you achieve a ‘pointless’ answer – a correct one which none of the 100 people knew – you win the nominal cash jackpot.
There are leaderboards so you can see how you’re doing in comparison to friends and strangers alike. However, unless some people have been playing the game non-stop since the app released, the scores on the global leaderboard are extremely suspicious.
In the versus mode you go up against a friend in a contest which kind of combines the formats for the first/second rounds and the head-to-head from the TV show.
The aim is to win two rounds. To win a round you have to achieve the lowest cumulative score during two ‘passes’ on the same theme.
For example, one of the rounds might be about Top of the Pops. On the first pass you’ll be given four questions about the show, such as the year it was first broadcast, the singer who appeared most times etc, and you have to type in the answer you think will score the lowest points. After you and your friend have both given an answer and got your scores you’ll be given four more questions about Top of the Pops. Your scores from the two passes are added together and whoever has the lowest total wins the round.
The versus mode can be played asynchronously so you don’t need to be online at the same time as your friend. You can also find a random opponent to play against.
When you put the two modes together they get somewhere close to matching the overall structure of the TV show, in that there are some two-pass rounds, a head-to-head best-of-three and a final similar to the real jackpot round. However, when looked at individually, the two modes are very different from the flow of the actual show – any fans expecting an exact replica of the 5.15pm weekday format are going to be disappointed.
Personally I’m not too bothered because I can see why the changes have been made. Mobile games need to be quick to play, must be easily understandable for non-fans of the source material and have to contain social elements to stimulate competition. The Pointless mobile game has obviously been designed more with these requirements in mind than an intention to create the ‘pure’ Pointless experience some fans might have hoped for, but all the quizzing elements of the TV show are still in the app in some form or another so it should satisfy most people.
While I can understand the main design choices, there are still a few things I’ve not been altogether satisfied with from my time with the app so far.
I’ve played through about 30 to 40 quick games in the single-player mode and I’ve already started seeing questions being repeated. In some cases I’ve been able to remember pointless or low-scoring answers to use again when the same questions have come up for a second time or third time.
Some of the questions are quite dated and were obviously written three or four years ago.
There are numerous spelling and punctuation mistakes. Combined with occasional crashes and other bugs, the quality seems a bit shoddy.
Finally, I’m disappointed the app lacks a lot of the warmth of the TV show. Sound effects from the show are included but there are no voices from Alexander or Richard, who are represented by cute cartoon versions of themselves which communicate through silent speech bubbles at the corners of the screen. Having the hosts speak once in a while, or at least making the speech bubbles less repetitive and more humorous, might inject the game with a little more personality which it’s currently lacking.
Despite my grumbles, I’ve been mostly enjoying my time with the Pointless app so far. It’s great to finally be able to play something based on the show and if the bank of questions can be expanded and a few other things ironed out, it could become a really good game. For now the fairest thing to say is this app is far from a pointless game but also quite a long way from a perfect one.
6.5 out of 10
Download for iPhone and iPad, Android version 'coming soon'