With the addition of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? to the Xbox 360's growing stack of quiz games, you have yet another solid collection of questions to dip into. Though you might scoff at the price of 1,200 Microsoft points, your 15 bucks goes a long way in this well-realized Xbox Live Arcade adaptation of the popular TV gameshow. The wide variety of subjects, the seemingly endless questions, and a stellar vibe that fully brings the elementary-school-themed television show to life make Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? a worthy inclusion on your list of downloadable games, a few minor hindrances notwithstanding.
For the most part, the questions strike a healthy balance. Some of them...not so much.
In an effort to win the million-dollar prize, you'll answer a series of 10 questions based on 21 different grade school subjects. From animal science and social studies to vocabulary and astronomy, the varied list gets mixed up every time you start a new match to keep things fresh. Because of the game's extensive catalog of questions spread out over five difficulties, ranging from "1st Grade" through "5th Grade," chances are slim that repeat multiple-choice and true-or-false questions will pop up. Before you pull the prize from the hands of the show's host, blue-collar comedian Jeff Foxworthy, you'll have to select one of the fifth grade "classmates" to help you out during each two-question round. Cheating by peeking at your classmate's paper for help, or flat-out copying an answer, is a viable option and a safer alternative to guessing, for example, what the Peruvian currency might be. If you manage to get something wrong, which is all it takes to get kicked off the podium for good, your classmate can keep you in the game by backing you up with the correct response.
The five fictional students each have two preferred subjects, but you can't always rely on the elementary assistants; even the titular fifth graders can be wrong. Draw on your cheats sparingly and appropriately, though, because you can use each of them only once. You might want to save them for some of the tougher questions or for when you're offered extra credit and a chance to win star stickers. These don't do much other than give you something to show off on your report card, but they do offer achievements if you're looking to fluff your gamerscore with brain power.
These hooks add to the enjoyment of answering 5th Grader's diverse questions, which range from brain-dead easy to mind-bogglingly difficult. Don't be surprised to find yourself staring at your screen wondering if Foxworth swapped a couple of quiz cards with Jeopardy's Alex Trebek. These anomalies hamper the simplistic fun of testing your knowledge against yourself, because some truly challenging questions can put you out of the game. Most people love a bit of difficulty in their questions, but considering how vague some of the questions are--does "big" mean landmass or population?--it's sometimes too hard to nail down a correct answer. That has always been the kicker of the gameshow. But you've got to wonder whether fifth graders are really being taught about Norse mythology or how to convert miles into kilometers from memory.
If you want to butt brains with your buddies, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? offers a great multiplayer that's both local and online. Up to four players can go head-to-head in turn-based quizzing, and while it's somewhat dull to sit and watch someone else answer a question, the trash-talk-a-thons that ensue will likely keep the family-friendly competition going. Multiplayer offers a slightly different approach to the game in that each player is graded from A through F at the end of each match. Though the player with the most money at the end is always the winner, the score is dictated by how quickly you answer each question, how little you cheat, and how far up the 10-question ladder you made it.
Jeff Foxworthy in more high definition than you can handle (or ever wanted)!
Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? allows the use of the Xbox 360's Big Button pads, which are packaged in with either of the two Scene It? games. These work well enough, but the implementation is extremely awkward. Whereas Scene It specifically built its interface around the vertically aligned face buttons, the two-by-two arrangement in 5th Grader stay the same no matter what kind of controller you're using. Strangely, Player One will have to alternate between the Xbox 360 gamepad and the Big Button controller should he or she choose to use it; questions can be answered with the big buzzer, but menus can't be navigated with it, nor can text be entered during the million-dollar question. Curiously, this isn't a problem for any of the other three contestants. Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? also lets you keep things simple and pass around a single control pad among your group members, but this option deactivates the ability to unlock achievement points.
Though Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? is far from being the best-looking game on the Xbox 360--Jeff Foxworthy and the five classmates all have jagged edges and incredibly stiff animations--it looks fine considering that it's on Xbox Live Arcade. It probably could have passed as a retail release if the visuals were a little sharper, if the interface were more tightly tied to the Big Button pads when they're plugged in, and if there were more tunes than the grating theme song. As a download at 1,200 Microsoft points, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? offers a huge array of trivia questions to test your knowledge solo or with friends and family. If you find yourself insulting the brain-dead TV contestants who can't differentiate "homonym" from "Homo sapiens" then it might be time to step up to the podium and get your grade school on.