Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Review: The Link

"This week, I 'ave been mostly
presenting a muggle gameshow."
I recently learned that Only Connect teammate Hywel Carver had cheated on me with another man. I say man, I mean quiz show. But it was a connections-based quiz show and so I still felt some betrayal. The Link (weekdays at 2.15pm on BBC 1) is based on the board game Linkee and pits three pairs of contestants against each other as they try to answer questions, spot connections, and maybe take home literally hundreds of pounds. Mark Williams, familiar to you from The Fast Show or Harry Potter (but probably not both), is on hosting duties: will he be putting the 'win' in Wingardium Leviosa? Or will he be getting his coat?

Round one: Cut the rope(s)

The first round sees six money amounts held aloft by at least one (£125) and at most six (£2,000) 'links' (geddit?). To bank the cash contestants need to cut those links,which they do by answering questions and spotting what 'links' (still geddit?)
A round one question with all
the links waiting to be cut.
the answers. Questions come in groups of (up to) four, and buzzing in first with the correct answer gives the pair the opportunity to think out loud (and some of them really do) as they try and guess the connection. Work it out when only one answer has been revealed and you can cut four links, if you've seen all of them you'll just get to take out one. Cutting the last link on a money amount puts it in a team's bank. Whoever has the least money at the end of the round is eliminated from the show.

Round two: Do you feel linky, punk?

After all that effort getting the money down some rascal has strung it back up! This time the teams' respective kitties are dangling by seven threads and again they need to spot connections to cut them. The first pair to cut all seven take themselves - and their cash - through to the final.

No questions this time, except for "Who, what, or where am I?". The team is asked how many links they'd like to try and cut and are given the corresponding number of clues. Get it right and the jackpot round is a little closer, get it wrong and the remaining clues are thrown over to the opposition who can steal a single bonus cut. This round is less about 'connections' and more about clues to a specific answer - think the final round of Going for Gold - so it has a fairly distinct feel from the first.

The final: Link ladder

The final round in action.
Those six cash amounts from round one are back in the form of a fairly standard money ladder, with the £2,000 topped up by whatever the winning team brought through with them from round two. They're given 60 seconds to solve six 'super links': a set of up to 10 related clues which reveal themselves about 1.5 seconds at a time. The pair take it in turns, buzzing in as soon as they think they know the connection. Get it right and they move up the ladder, get it wrong and they'll face a new set having wasted some precious seconds. After each correct answer they're given the option to take the money and run; if they run out of time they lose everything.

The verdict: Linked in

On balance I think The Link has legs. The biggest mistake probably comes in the structure of round one where they've tried to give the illusion of strategy when really there is (virtually) none. While this isn't the most disastrous of quiz show crimes, it does start to grate when for the fifth or sixth time in a show you're subjected to contestants debating out loud which links to cut when it simply doesn't matter. We're consequently subjected to a relatively large number of questions that are irrelevant; if there aren't enough links on offer to bank some money then you may as well give your buzzer finger a rest. A token bit of cash for every correct answer or perhaps the option to 'bank' links to spend later could ameliorate at least some of this.

The show features some nice visual effects.
Here money is 'whooshing' into Hywel's bank.
Similarly, the first round feels rather bloated and slow, whereas the second feels rather threadbare and, well, slow. For instance, after banking most of the money in round one on his show, our board gaming friend Hywel was knocked out in round two after facing just three questions - he was understandably a touch frustrated. A related concern is the variation in question difficulty: sometimes the first clue will at least uniquely define the answer (you just might not know it), at others you've no hope. When you're asking people to decide how many clues they're going to see in advance it's pretty tough if the first clue could be as meagre as "I'm from Brooklyn, New York".

Despite these problems there are still enough positives to keep me watching for a few more episodes. It won't surprise many to learn I'm quite a fan of connection quizzes, and round one in particular presents a fairly novel take on it. The fact that you might know the connection thanks to others' answers means you can start trying to anticipate the questions introducing a fun element of metagame. I was pleased to see a couple of contestants demonstrate this in only the second episode of the series so I'm hopeful it will be a semi-regular feature. The final round is also perfectly competent, and seems fairly winnable (albeit with a bit of nerve). Mark Williams, meanwhile, though not entirely comfortable in a quiz host role, does at least seem to be having fun.

I've seen plenty of people comment that this is "Only Connect for idiots" (and that's one of the kinder remarks), and while I appreciate it's an obvious comparison to draw, I'm not sure it's a particularly fair one. It has good playalongability and not (too) much chatter, and while the question difficulty (and quality) may seem a touch low it's fairly standard for a lightweight daytime quiz. Not a must-see by any stretch, but definitely one for an iPlayer rainy day.

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