Since Channel 4’s birth, back in 1982, Countdown has glued itself to a mid-afternoon slot and refuses to budge.
Over 6000 episodes have aired, enthralling an avid audience of pensioners, stay-at-home parents, skiving freelancers, and bleary-eyed students attempting to eat breakfast. Its good-natured mix of anagrams and maths — each round played against a strict 30-second time limit — would seem ideal fodder for an officially licensed mobile game; and so it proves to be with the imaginatively titled Countdown - The Official TV Show App.
Tick! Tick! Tick! Tick!
Fire up the app and you can delve into a full 15-round game of Countdown. There are 10 letters rounds (make the longest anagram from nine vowel and consonant tiles blind-selected by a player), four numbers rounds (get closest to a random three-digit value, using six numbers, again blind-selected), and the conundrum (buzz-in when you crack the brain-bending nine-letter anagram). Pleasingly, when you select numbers, you can — like on the telly — get ‘one from the top/any other five’, simply by tapping a button, thereby giving you one large and five smaller numbers to work with.
Elsewhere, Countdown is similarly authentic, usable and fun. During rounds, the famous music plays and the clock ticks down, ominously getting closer to the screen during those tense final moments. In letters rounds, you tap and confirm words before picking your best when the 30 seconds are up. Numbers rounds are trickier regarding input, but the app has a smart whiteboard that lets you tap out sums using number tiles and operators, and use previously completed calculations as the basis for subsequent ones. You also get ‘undo’ and ‘clear’ buttons for when you really mess up.
DO-DO. DO-DO. DO-DO-DO-DO! Bong!
Plenty of thought has gone into mobile play, too. A full 15-round Countdown can be a bit daunting, and so you can instead opt for a five-round ‘quick play’ (two letters and numbers rounds, and the conundrum), or to just play a single round in ‘practise’ mode. The app stumbles a little outside of solo play: two-player mode is same-device only, which can be a bit tedious and loses head-to-head tension, and computer opponents are a bit uneven.
Also, ‘practise’ could use an option without the clock, to give wee kiddies a chance. Or, for that matter, Stuff reviewers who’d have totally got that tricky 437 in the last numbers round with an extra two seconds.
But really the only thing missing is the presenters. Countdown the app appears to envision the future of the game show, when all humans are dust, but Channel 4 is still broadcasting. There’s no place here for an affable host, glamorous maths genius, and various celebs lurking in ‘dictionary corner’. All that remains are blue tiles and that ticking clock upping stress levels until gaskets blow planet-wide, through countless brains trying and failing to make something clever out of XCIUVBQOL. As terrifying as that might sound, it beats badly animated Nick Hewer and Rachel Riley avatars staring forth from your smartphone, urging you to pick another tile.