Review: UNO (WiiWare)

Gameloft WiiWare card games, take two!

Like many American board games, Uno was started by your average Joe making sets in his house and selling them to friends and neighbours before getting picked up by a big outfit and made into a classic. It's a fun social game that's been around for nearly 40 years now and is played around the world. Given the game's enduring popularity it should come as no surprise to see a WiiWare version released and who better to release it than Gameloft, one of the first purveyors of downloads for the Wii.

Before getting into the WiiWare version of the game, let's go over the basics. UNO is a multi-player card game where the goal is to play out your hand before your opponent(s). There are four colours (in place of suits) with each colour having cards numbered from 0-9 and then special cards to Skip other players, Reverse the direction of play or force the next player to Draw Two cards. On each player's turn they may play a card from their hand so long as it either matches the last-played colour, is of the same type (e.g. 8's can play on any other coloured 8) or is a wild card; if none of these is true the player draws and play moves to the next person. If the card is a special card then its effects are immediately applied. Wild cards can be played to change the colour if the player so desires, but Wild Draw Four cards can only be played if the person playing the card has no other options in hand. Once players are down to one card on hand, they must declare UNO! If someone else calls UNO on the one-carded player before they do, the light-decked one is penalized by picking up more cards.

Gameloft's version of UNO is very much in line with the rules outlined above. If you've ever played UNO the game will be immediately familiar, though the card faces have been updated to replace the English words of the original card release with more international-friendly symbols. Like most Gameloft games, UNO has a nice, clean look to it. You can create up to four different profiles based on Miis and then you're dropped into the main menu. There are three main game modes: Quick Play and Tournament, which are both solitary modes, and then a local or online Multiplayer mode. CPU-controlled players are represented by what look like Miis given the Gameloft treatment: they're a little slicker, though not the typical "sexy" characters from past Gameloft card game efforts. Also unlike a typical Gameloft game, the CPU players are devoid of personality outside of having three different reactions to getting poked by your cursor. This might not seem like a big deal, but UNO is a social card game, so playing against a room full of speechless Miis that do nothing but occasionally frown or wave is less than inspiring.

Given the lack of any tutorial outside of the Operations Guide, the single player modes are certainly useful for learning to play the game — even experienced players will need to get used to the fact that you're expected to click an icon to declare UNO! Tournament Mode presents the challenge of playing through 15 different matches which start out as one-on-one games and work their way up to full 6-player matches with different rule variations in play (such as disallowing bluffing when playing Wild Draw Four or adding additional penalties to players on the receiving end of Draw Two chains). There's an incentive in the form of allowing players to unlock different background colours and card backs, but given the former aren't terribly interesting and the latter all feature the same UNO logo with different colour combinations it's not really enough to draw anyone but people looking to treat their insomnia or UNO junkies looking for a fix. The fact that you play against varying numbers of opponents in the Tournament does raise the question of why you cannot choose to play games with anything other than 4 or 6 players in the other game modes (or why target scores are limited to a choice of 250, 500 or 1000), but honestly you'd probably have more fun playing solitaire with a real deck of cards (UNO or otherwise) than either of the single player modes.

The local multiplayer version of UNO has to be the dumbest idea since Hasbro Family Game Night took a stab at Battleship on consoles. Of course Hasbro Family Game Night instructed players to look away from the screen during other people's turns, but in UNO you're looking right at player one's hand from the beginning and then the other players in turn without pause. You could view it as adding a memory game aspect to the proceedings, but you should be asking yourself why you'd want to sit with your friends pointing remotes at a screen to play a game that's probably already sitting on a shelf in your closet.

Clearly the only mode that should be getting used at all is the online multiplayer. For the most part it's pretty good, but there are a few issues that are slightly annoying. If you choose to just join a game rather than start a custom match you'll get dropped into a game already in progress (if none are in progress then you'll get a fresh game against CPU-players after the 60-second countdown). When you join a game already underway you'll replace a CPU player — this could be a little unfair since you don't get a fresh hand, but rather pick up the hand of the bot being replaced. You could easily be declaring UNO with your opening play and ending the game with the next — well done!

Since most people will be playing online using an array of canned text comments you'd think that the developers might have made them easy to select, but you'd be mistaken. After clicking a little icon next to your Mii to bring up the available selections, you'll see multiple pages with a few choices each that can only be scrolled through by clicking on the right arrow (no, they didn't even bother to provide a wrap-around feature). No (DPAD) or (+)/(-) shortcuts here. By the time you've found something you want to say, not only will the moment have passed, but it will be your turn again. Depending on your sensibilities there is some fun to be had by being a jerk thanks to the presence of "Hahahahaha" (click right three times) and "Are you out of your mind?" (click right five times), which has to be the best piece of canned dialogue to ever grace an online game.

Of course what got everyone's attention was the fact that this is the first WiiWare game to feature WiiSpeak support. It's a no-brainer in a social game like UNO and it works well except for one big problem: friends of friends cannot hear each other. Having two people attempting to talk to you at once who don't realise they're talking over each other is funny for about 30 seconds before you just want to turn it off — exactly what kind of testing went into this game before publication? Even if you and all your friends have swapped Wii codes to allow speech you cannot always talk to each other thanks to odd decision to remove speech and text communication from the game results area following a match. In the game and the lobby you can chat away, but after the match you can't even congratulate people on their performance or exit the game — even the home button is disabled on the results screen!

Setting up a custom game allows you to try out rules variants and set the target score (no online tournament option, though) and number of players. Custom games will allow friends you've registered (using special 12-digit UNO friend codes, of course!) to find you, though you can also open it up so that anyone can join in to replace the CPU players that you'll initially be facing. Players who quit are immediately replaced by CPU players or online humans, which means that games aren't interrupted by people quitting in the middle of a hand. There's some incentive to stick around in the form of a leaderboard that won't count points earned in games you duck out of. Despite the issues noted, this can be a fun online game if you have no one to play cards with at home and it's likely to have an enduring online community given the popularity of the real thing.

Conclusion

UNO is certainly a classic card game and highly recommended, but this WiiWare version falls short of the mark by splitting its focus between unnecessary offline modes and an online mode that could have used some more polish. If you like the idea of playing an online card game then you can certainly have some fun with this, just be sure everyone has Wii Speak and has swapped codes first!