IGN Review of Clubhouse Games
It's absolutely amazing and inconceivable that it took this long for a company to produce a series of simple single and multiplayer parlor games for the Nintendo DS. Had nobody at any studio watched anyone with a Treo play Solitaire for the entire duration of a continental flight? Or checked out those web-based Java game sites to see what everyone's playing online? A year and a half after the Wi-Fi-capable, touch-screen handheld system from Nintendo hit the scene, we can finally play Solitaire -- and more than three dozen other familiar card, tile, and simple action games -- on it. The package is exactly what the system needs as it hits that pick-up-and-play market with spot-on accuracy, and with its huge focus on multiplayer -- both online and off -- this is one of those rare "must-have" games for the DS library. Even if its sterile presentation isn't going to knock your socks off.
Clubhouse Games is what the box says it is: a grouping of familiar and not-so-familiar board, tile, card, and parlor games that utilize the Nintendo DS capabilities and fit the system's pick-up-and-play mentality. It's also a game that hits that "non-gamers market" that Nintendo's shooting for -- most of these games aren't anything more than handheld renditions of popular games that can be pulled down into an Internet Explorer browser window for free. But the Nintendo DS versions are clean and capable and work well within the restrictions of the two tiny 256x192 displays.
42 games are available in Clubhouse Games, most of them playable right from the start. You've got simple games like Memory and Old Maid, to classic can't-miss games like Checkers and Chess, to generically redesigned classics of Battleship, Stratego, and Trouble. There are action games like Bowling and Darts, as well as some oddly addictive teeter-totter balancing game that gives the package its own rendition of Jenga or Kerplunk. There's something for everyone here, and for those that need a taste of the action, owners of the cartridge can send any one of the batch to empty DS systems for a taste test. To unlock all the goodies you'll need to head into the "Stamp Mode" where you'll play through a structured tier, earning stamps for victories in order to move on. Luckily, you get stamped if you lose as well, so if you manage to suck it up in Chess or Poker you're not stuck in an infinite play -- you'll eventually move on to the next challenge regardless. You'll just progress faster if you're good.
The package tends to aim for the "quantity over quality" angle, so the versions of games such as Texas Hold 'Em aren't as full-featured as dedicated versions -- the inability to raise a bet or even go "All In" shows that the development team simply wanted the name in its bulleted list than to offer a deep rendition of the game. And the Billiards game, a rendition of Nine Ball, is so shoddily developed that you would be kind to say that there's actually ball physics going on in this micro-sized table. Still, most renditions are functional and fun -- Solitaire and Shanghai Mahjongg are key players in this package and they're done well, if produced with a minimal of options. It's not the best way to learn a game, as tutorial is limited to in-game text windows that requires lots and lots of reading comprehension -- an interactive tutorial would have been far better for some of the more mysterious games like Koi-Koi.
Nintendo definitely didn't miss the boat with Clubhouse Games, as it's one of the few games in the DS library that pushes the internet play function of the system. We would have cried foul had this game shipped without it, but Nintendo's there for us -- and most every one of the games that can be enjoyed in a multiplayer capacity can be done so with Nintendo DS systems that are cities, states, and countries away. The game uses the expected "Friends Code" system as well as random Worldwide functionality -- if you've got the friends in your list you can jump around all over the place and use a full-featured PictoChat-like drawing program to yuck it up with the pals. On the flipside, Worldwide functions are just a little more limiting -- chatting is reduced to simple commands like "Nice game!" and "One more time!" and you have to search within a specific game to find a match-up. So, if you wanted to play a round of Darts but the majority of random games are in Texas Hold 'Em you'll never find a pairing.
Strangely, the biggest complaint about this package is that, despite being released by Nintendo it really doesn't feel like it was. Clubhouse Games is a tight package with a great variety of games across all different tastes and styles, but the presentation lacks that Nintendo polish -- as if, like Tenchu, the game was picked up by Nintendo for publishing late into its development. We're not pining for Mario or Yoshi-themed decks or Mahjong tiles, just something that speaks "Nintendo" to us other than the branding on the splash screen at start-up. The quiet addition of Hanafuda -- the game that made Nintendo huge before videogames -- is a nice step in the right direction, but it doesn't do enough to fit the expected Nintendo mold.
And then we run into the inevitable problem of a game that tries to be everything at once: the idea that there should've been more. Putting a ton of card games in there is fantastic, but it always seems to raise a desire for the one or two games that didn't quite make the cut. In our case, we totally wanted multiplayer, online cribbage on the DS, but it's not in this batch of titles. But you can't blame the developer entirely for some omissions -- I mean, the game would still be in production if every card game ever made had to be included. They had to draw the line somewhere. It at least leaves the door open for games -- like Telegames' long-in-development Ultimate Card Games and Ultimate Pocket Games -- to fill the void in 2007.
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