The Price is Right Decades celebrates over 40 years of one of the most beloved game shows of all time. As a tribute to the source material it’s a resounding success; as an actual piece of entertainment software it has a few problems that unfortunately hinder the rest of the experience.
The one-player mode of Decades breaks the experience down into different 'VHS tapes' — remember those? — that each represent a year of the show’s history and a particular game that is played by actual contestants. The set, logo and intro text change to accurately reflect how the show actually looked that year; while Avatars are used, their modern clothing clashing with the aesthetic, it’s still a hoot to see how it has evolved over the years. Sadly, Bob Barker and Drew Carey are both absent in the game proper, instead relegated to bonus videos that are unlocked by beating different VHS tapes.
The best part of the entire package is the actual products used; rather than using a generic 3D model of an item made specifically for the game, Decades shows actual video footage of items used during the show’s production, complete with faithful voiceovers. It’s a surprising amount of fun to see the kinds of prizes that were given out in the show’s early years, and perhaps even more interesting is how much they cost.
That leads to one of the game’s biggest hurdles: all prices are relative to the year that particular 'episode' takes place, which can be confusing for younger players. There was a time when a box of toaster pastries cost $0.89, but how many people with Xbox 360s and Kinects actually remember those days? While it makes for a somewhat fun guessing game, the AI’s ruthless clairvoyance makes it more of an exercise in frustration.
Decades can be played either with a controller or with Kinect, and having the option to use the controller is nice because the Kinect controls are just plain awful. You can't make up your own bids on Contestant’s Row, so you can no longer be the jerk who bids $1 over someone else and instead have to pick from four pre-determined amounts. The games that follow take substantially longer to play, killing the pace of the game and increasing the annoyance level when you lose and have to start over. Still, spinning the big wheel is fun.
Multiplayer offers a better time, mostly because the superhuman AI is replaced with another mere mortal. It’s the kind of game you’ll definitely want to play with your parents, because nothing makes seeing the old products and prices more fun than seeing them with someone who can actually remember them.
The Price is Right Decades is worth owning simply as a piece of Americana. It’s an absolute blast (from the past, if you will) to watch the show evolve as you play it and see American pop culture change with it. The guessing game associated with the changes in dollar values, poor Kinect implementation and the unforgiving AI keep it from really shining. It’s not really worth full price, but I’m going to guess $20, Bob.