- Machine: Nintendo
Amidst the hype surrounding the arrival of their long-awaited Super Mario 2 and Adventures of Link cartridges, Nintendo has found the time to quietly release one of the most unique games available for the NES. The basic concept of Anticipation is similar to that of a certain popular TV game show: players try to be the first to guess what is being drawn on the screen. In this case, the computer is the designated sketcher, connecting the on-screen dots to reveal a puzzle in the category identified at the top of the screen. For example, a puzzle in the "Travel" category may reveal itself to be a car, a ship or even a tractor. As the game progresses into higher levels of difficulty, fewer or no dots are displayed and the name of the category may also be hidden from view.
Anticipation takes the time-honored format of a board game, with the players represented on the screen as game pieces. Contestants may compete against each other or against computer-controlled opponents. There are as many as four different playing surfaces, which the players reach by solving one puzzle in each of the four color groups on each board. Higher-level boards feature special squares: colorless "feature squares" (which allow you to fly around the board, stopping on the space of your choice) and "drop-out squares". The latter are actually gaps in the board's surface; if you land on one, you fall through and land on the next lowest board.
Now if you've grown fond of zapping Octoroks and stomping Koopa-Troopas, all this may sound a bit dry. Anticipation has its fair share of flashy graphics and sounds, though. In fact, you may find the catchy music and smooth, colorful animation to be more interesting than the basic game play.
Virtually everything in this game is animated; the pictures are drawn by a huge, hovering pencil; the game pieces hop around with seemingly unbridled enthusiasm - even the spaces on the game board spring up when landed upon and spin towards you to introduce the drawing sequence. There's always something bouncing up and down on the screen, not unlike the animated cartoons of the 1930's, in which the characters would constantly bob their heads or tap their feet in time with the music. Especially attractive are the "energy beams" which levitate the player's piece to the next board, and the unique method of choosing letters to complete a puzzle. Most games accomplish this by displaying the alphabet on the screen and allowing the player to choose letters by highlighting them with a box or a brighter color. Anticipation uses a small arrow as a cursor, and as it rests beneath a letter, that letter bobs up and down like a greedy kid on Santa Claus' knee. A press of the "A" button causes the chosen letter to leap from the line-up to take its place beneath the puzzle. "I warned you", chides the computer, if your guess is incorrect.
The overall appearance of Anticipation is one of professionalism; it's obvious that the program was not written overnight to cash in on the current popularity of the NES. Unfortunately, there are a few minor deficiencies to consider. Intended to be a "party game", Anticipation allows up to four players to compete simultaneously, in which case the two NES controllers must be shared. This is not a real problem until the drawing sequence, while the computer is waiting for a signal from a player who thinks he or she can solve the puzzle. At this time, the two people who must share a single controller are entitled to one-half of that controller, and they must sit practically cheek-to-cheek in order to keep their fingers poised over the appropriate buttons. Of course, this may or may not be an issue, depending on how well you know (or would like to know) the person you're sharing the controller with.
The other problem is with the pictures themselves. There seems to be a lot of repetition, which is unfortunate if you're a new player competing against a veteran who has seen all the puzzles before. It just doesn't bode well for the game's longevity. Also, some of the puzzles are downright bizarre; certain pictures appear under the name of a seemingly unrelated category, which is misleading. A "Whatch-amacallit" category, which seeks to illustrate certain well-known phrases and expressions, often yields ridiculous results (followed, of course, by the players' groans of disbelief). A drawing of a woman's dress imprinted with the word "FANCY" turned out to be, incredibly, "fancy dress!"
All criticism aside, Anticipation is recommended simply because it's one of the first NES games that is not necessarily easier for children than for adults. Adults can enjoy the "party" aspect of the game's competitive play mechanic without the usually superior reflexes and hand-eye coordination of the young. It could be the first step in encouraging consumers to stop dismissing the Nintendo Entertainment System as a "kid's toy", and to realize what it could be: an entertainment system for all ages.