Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit is a happy little comedy panel show/ game show hybrid which was originally created by comedians Steve McNeil and Sam Pamphilon during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013, and then transferred to television on Dave at the end of last year. The genial and very recognisable Dara Ó Briain is in the host’s chair, with Steve as Sam acting as team captains, and video game journalist Ellie Gibson as the resident expert. The show invites celebs to join the teams each week to play a series of video games against each other. These days I think the kids just call them ‘games’.
I warmed up to this little Bejeweled Blitz gem last year and was happy to see it’s been recommissioned for a second and third series. More proof that with the internet fueling the mobile revolution and people in all age brackets spending more time in front of screens that gaming is no longer niche. However Go 8 Bit knows its audience and is fondly retro and a warm nostalgic hug. The panelists are asked to come on and nominate their favorite games to play. They range from the ancient arcade classics to the modern commute time-killers, and from the massive studio franchise to the tiny indie developers. The games are adapted cleverly to make them TV friendly. Studio audience participation is encouraged where the audience bet on which team will win each game and that affects the overall points total.
It’s a bizarre and eye-catching set done out in blocky, colourful Tetris/ Minecraft style. Cleverly the whole thing rotates like a Lazy Susan for the game play sections “Lets go clockwise!” shouts Dara. It’s not just a gimmick – it’s a clever way to fully use the studio space.
Dara is an enthusiastic presenter and commentator. This is exactly his vocation, calling on his wide and varied geeky interests in science and tech, controlling the comedians, and comparing the action. All the four regulars are unashamedly knowledgeable. Ellie and Dara are the more likeable pair on the show. Steve and Sam are a bit annoying, but they have to be competitive and lob a bit of macho banter around to whip up the appropriate vibe.
I really like Ellie and I see why the show needs an all-knowing expert (like Richard Osman on Pointless) but is she a bit stuck in the role of mum, telling the kids what the rules are, or a teacher giving them the game history? Or is it great to see an extremely well-informed and enthusiastic female journalist speak on a subject incorrectly badged as traditionally male? I still can’t be sure. The show itself does well for female guests – with only one episode so far having a full male line-up.
The final game usually involves some physicality and dressing up – using motion sensors and the human body as the controller. Sometimes the games can be quite slow, so funny commentating is essential. Oddly it’s quite possibly one of the most competitive shows on TV. There’s a lot of shouting and cheering, and sometimes jumping on the furniture. Everyone gets so involved so none of these reactions seem over the top.
The music and graphics, as you’d expect, are pitch perfect. You can tell the whole team love the subject matter. Every detail is appropriate right down to the text for the end titles looking like its been pulled straight from Ceefax. The tone is chirpy and cheeky. It’s irreverent and series 2 is slightly less madcap and chaotic, which is fine. There’s no need to hang on to the sofa for dear life every time it moves around. We got the joke the first time. The title made Mr H shout “That’s not 8 bit!” at the games for a few episodes, but it seems entirely logical to widen it out to a celebration of all computer games, not just ones from our misspent youth.
Go 8 Bit is excellent weekend post-pub viewing. It’s well put-together and great fun. The disasters (like diving into a wall over and over again) also make you feel much better about your own game play inadequacies.
All of series 1 and series 2 is now available on UKTV Play. Good luck to you if you want to find a particular episode. UKTV Play catch-up has one of the most irritating and unfriendly interfaces. You have to scroll through every episode of a show to find the latest one. And it’s only in standard def and there’s frequent pixellation interference on their smart TV app. But the blocky shapes look right at home here in nostalgia land.