When Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery first hit theaters in 1997, not even Mike Meyers could have imagined the cultural impact his film would have. Yet two years later, the impact of Austin Powers is as powerful as ever. In fact, Austin's outlook on life has become a kind of catchall expression of happiness and optimism ("Groovy, baby!"), while Dr. Evil gives words to our hidden fantasies of revenge ("When Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset, people die!").
With a totally shagadellic sequel in theaters, what could be a better time to unleash an Austin Powers trivia game onto the world? Utilizing the tried-and-true style of its You Don't Know Jack games, Berkeley Systems has hatched Austin Powers: Operation Trivia. Although the game starts on a fun and promising note, Operation Trivia quickly comes to resemble one of Dr. Evil's botched plots to take over the world. If you've already grown cynical about all the product tie-ins to the new Austin Powers film, then this game will confirm your suspicions that Austin Powers has become more about making money for the studio than having a good time.
At the start of the game, we learn that Dr. Evil is holding Austin captive and plans to take over the world. Instead of simply killing Austin, however, Dr. Evil instead decides to hatch an "overly elaborate game show" to decide the world's fate. Austin must take on Dr. Evil in a trivia contest called "Win, Lose or Die." It's a promising premise indeed, and it's a real hoot to watch the game's intro for the first time.
But unlike the Austin Powers films, which seem to get funnier with repeated viewings, Operation Trivia loses its punch after just a few minutes of gameplay. Beyond the flaws in the design of the game (more on that in a moment), the first real blow hits home as it becomes apparent that Mike Meyers was unavailable (or unwilling) to perform the majority of the game's voice-overs. Instead, we're treated to the voice of an impostor who tries desperately to mimic the intonations of Austin, but who instead comes off like a bad actor in a high school play. Just hearing the poor bloke give it a try is enough to make your skin crawl.
In addition to the embarrassingly bad voice-overs, it becomes apparent that the movie's humor isn't all that funny when separated from the movie itself. Hearing Austin Powers and Dr. Evil rattle off their respective one-liners in a 90-minute film is one thing; hearing a nonstop barrage of their comments over the course of ten minutes is quite another. Even worse, there aren't that many of these one-liners to begin with, so after just one or two games, you've heard them all. The first time Dr. Evil asks you to remind him what he "pays you people for," it elicits a chuckle; the second time, a smile; the third time, a grimace; by the fourth time, Mr. Bigglesworth is starting to get upset.
The game itself follows the familiar format of You Don't Know Jack, but this time the questions are couched in a colorful, psychedelic environment complete with '60s music and Laugh-In-style breaks between questions. One or two people can play, choosing from categories such as judo chop suey and primate parts. Once a category is chosen, you are confronted with different types of questions. There are good old-fashioned multiple-choice trivia questions; stop-'n'-go-go questions, which require you to pick four correct answers while avoiding the three "impostor" answers; crazy-chain questions, which bombard you with a series of related questions; and a spectacularly ill-conceived question type called "keep away," which requires you to "keep" correct answers and "keep away" wrong answers. These keep-away questions are so confusing to play that you'll be scratching your head the entire round.
The questions themselves range from insanely easy (Who stole Austin Powers' mojo?) to insanely difficult (picking obscure films that feature boxers in their plots). In any case, you'll need to have seen both movies to compete in the game. But overall, the game's trivia leans toward questions that are too difficult. Unfortunately, there's no support for online play built into the game, which would have at least added another dimension to the mix.
If you're having a swinging shindig at your house and you want to entertain a horde of die-hard Austin Powers fans, then Operation Trivia will probably do the trick for a game or two. But after a couple of hours, you'll most likely be ready to feed this game to any mutant sea bass you have around your house.