Are You A Genius?
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Geniu$ is an attempt to combine a real-time strategy resource management game (like SimCity) with an educational quiz-style game. It accomplishes this, but with mixed results.
You start off as a scientist in the late 19th century, and have just become a partner to Mr. Hoffman's bicycle factory. Through the years you build up the facilities, produce new kinds of products, and solve physics-based problems along the way.
The questions that come up periodically throughout the game are definitely challenging. Topics range from optics to thermodynamics to volume calculations. Once you answer a question your completion percentage in that area goes up, and you usually get some kind of reward, like an influx of cash or temporarily increased sales.
I suppose it would be fair to give out a warning: there will be math (or 'maths' as Chella might say). And I don't mean just a little bit. I mean a good half of the problems involve algebraic formulae that range from somewhat complicated to very complicated. There was one question about engine efficiency that forced me to use about two-thirds of a sheet of paper just working out the formulae and reducing the fractions. And I still occasionally needed a calculator. It would have been nice to have had a simple calculator built into the game, instead of risking and Alt-Tab swap (with which the game doesn't always deal well) or taking up more paper with long-hand calculations, which is what I often settled for.
Now, before you run off screaming into the night, I will point out that the other half of the questions don't involve math. Those questions are usually of a point-and-click nature and are designed to see if you understand a concept or are familiar with a diagram.
Fortunately, you are not expected to remember every single formula, diagram, or concept that you might have slept through in physics class. Instead, you are invited to subscribe to science journals, and receive letters from other scientists from around the world. Within these texts is every piece of information you will need to solve the questions in the game.
Although it is dry and science-y, they are almost an interesting read, as they are done in the style of the period. Fortunately, if you're not into them, you can avoid reading them until you need their information to solve a problem. On the screen with the problem is a link to the pertinent document, so you can scan through just that one to get the data you need.
The real-time strategy part of the game is decent enough, but it does have some issues. One major one, at least to me, is you can't go into a negative cash balance in order to build anything, for any reason. This would be alright I suppose if it weren't for the fact that your employees' salaries and the facilities' upkeep costs, which are automatically deducted every so often, will put you in a negative balance if you don't have enough cash.
So, unless you do the game perfectly, you will invariably run into a point where your expenses exceed your earnings, and you can't build those two segments of road or one single steel mill that might improve your income, but instead will have to demolish buildings until your expenses drop low enough. Your only other option at this point is to start over.
This leads me to the greatest problem of the game, that of re-playability. The questions you are asked are drawn from an extremely limited pool, and this is limited further by certain questions only being available after certain advances or improvements have been acquired. So, if you try to start the game over a couple of times, the odds that you will be given a question you've seen before approaches certainty. They only solution to this would have been to increase the number of different questions considerably, because there is no way of getting around the opposite nature of the two types of games being merged.
Someone playing a strategy game will want to play many times, but an educational game will generally only be played once. There is no way I can see to resolve this when these two genres are merged.
Despite the drop in gameplay rating due to the total lack of re-playability, Geniu$ is still a decent game. I would recommend that people play it, but save often along the way so you don't have to start over.
Greg Crowe is Game Industry News Features Editor. Due to his established history of having played every game in the universe he is uniquely qualified to evaluate games based on playability, innovation and place in history. You can contact him at : firstname.lastname@example.org.