Connect 4, Operation, Battleship and Bop It – games that have become household names with which we are all familiar. Translating Battleship and Connect 4 into digital versions for the Nintendo DS was always going to be an easy task; the challenge for EA was to digitize Operation and Bop It to try and emulate the success of their real-life counterparts. A further challenge was to spruce up these games that we've played oh-so-many-times-before – give a lick of paint to Hasbro's Family Game Night; that much-needed fresh appeal. Was this a successful Operation or did they Cop-It?
Starring Hasbro's prolific representative, Mr. Potato Head, Family Game Night provides the player with four timeless classics to play on their DS. And, to make things even more pleasant, the loveable spuddy host is always there for you in the background – providing moral support, tossing a coin to see who takes first turn and looking rather dashing. (He even dresses up for you and provides you some new backgrounds for the game if you do well enough – what a decent chap!) Designed for multiplayer, you can play this one by sharing your DS (Play Pass), letting friends download the games in Single Card play, fully open up for floor with Multi-Card play or just elect to play by yourself against the CPU. There’s a good variety of ways to play this one, but sadly online gaming is no option here. However, with decent visuals, a few scenic backdrops to change around and easy to navigate menus, this title is nicely presented… but how do the games themselves fair up?
Connect 4 – the ever-immortal game of champions – requires players to battle wits with each other in the relentless struggle to line up four coloured chips on a 7x6 grid. Each chip is dropped from above and the first player to connect four of their chips (diagonally, horizontally or vertically) is the winner – simple and fun, but nothing new. This is why in addition to this classic game of gladiatorial combat there is also a tweaked game mode that will truly push the player to their limits: "Power Chips" – ones that cause certain effects when dropped (blowing up adjacent chips, preventing an opponent placing chips above or flattening chips underneath). When playing in this mode, the first to connect four chips is not the winner; instead it works on a points system with a time limit: connected lines disappear Tetris style and play continues until the time runs down. (N.B. single card play doesn’t let you access this mode, so you’re better off with Play Pass or multi-card if you want to unleash the true power of Connect 4.) All in all, what we have here is the standard Connect 4, but with a little more oomph to it – entertaining, if still quite straightforward.
Battleship, like Connect 4, sticks to its usual format while adding in a few extra game tweaks: namely, power weapons and Salvo mode. Each player has five ships covering differing lengths of the 10x10 grid (a five, four, a couple of threes and a hard-to-find two-lengther). These are placed anywhere along the horizontal and vertical axis, with the objective of both sides being to blindly fire missiles at the opposition’s grid in an attempt to hit and sink their ships. In the regular mode, each player takes one shot per round; in salvo mode, the players can fire a missile for each of their ships remaining afloat, but this time around there are decoys randomly placed throughout the grids. Power Weapons are just modified missiles that fire over larger areas and are usually evenly split between the players, so all they effectively do is speed the game up. With no real skill involved here, playing against a "normal" or "genius" CPU really makes little difference, but it’s still a great blast to play and certainly lends itself to entertaining two-player multiplayer battles (single card play is limited again with no power weapons or Salvo mode), making this piece of nautical nostalgia as addictive as ever.
Operation is actually the game that deviates the most from its real-life roots: instead of simply lifting up pieces from the patient (Cavity Sam) with tweezers, you must guide them through winding, narrow corridors inside the body by means of the stylus and avoiding the sides at all costs. The objects Sam has (we assume) ingested for comic wit (a frog in his throat; butterflies in his stomach – oh how you jest us, Sam!) have an irritating habit of moving about and making matters a bit more complex: the frogs expand, hearts beat, mobile phones vibrate and cheese and wood…er, spin. Points are awarded for successfully extracting the piece in a timely matter, with extra point kudos going to you if you don't hit the edges; however, if you do hit the edges once or twice (depending on difficulty mode), Sam starts to flake out on you, requiring you to stabilise his heartbeat in a bubble popping minigame – run out of time in this and it’s game over. All in all, this revamped Operation is great fun for solo play or multi-card multiplayer (single card multiplayer is a lot weaker as there is only one path with which players take the piece down over and over again – you’re better off with the Play Pass mode). This is another solid member of Family Game Night – one that won’t flatline on you.
Last (and certainly least!) is Bop It. The translation of the popular rhythm reaction toy to DS has been a bit of a Flop It. Interacting with the 2D Bop It device via the touchscreen, you won't be Bopping, Twisting, Pulling or Shouting it; you will be tapping, sliding, siding and... trying-to-shout-it-but-usually-failing-as-you-can’t-hit-that-pesky-button-ing it. It should have been obvious that a direct translation of the game would never have worked; just like with Operation, Bop It should have been re-modelled to suit the DS's control input a bit better – the inability of the developers to do so is the game's downfall. More often than not, you'll find yourself victim to the plights of using the touchscreen to interact with the device: it's too much of a precise science for a game that relies on quick actions – all to often we heard the cries "I did shout/pull it!" reverberating through the halls of Nintendo Life Towers. There is a combo mode where you have to remember the order of the beats and there are several different ways for the commands to be shouted to you, but the controls are just too fiddly and frustrating to make the experience worthwhile. Bop It makes us think of this as more Family Game Plight than Family Game Night! ...Maybe that’s why the first background for Bop It is one of a gutter – it’s where it belongs!
Family Game Night is a fairly decent distraction if you play it by yourself; with single card multiplayer it becomes an entertaining, if somewhat limited experience; and in multi-card mode the game comes into its own with the floor fully opened up for some highly enjoyable two-player games. If you've got someone to play this with, it's a great way to pass the time on those rainy days – just like with the physical versions of the games (apart from Bop It, which we would have gladly swapped for the real thing or a paint drying simulator). What we have is a collection of three decent games that pretty much do what they set out to do and one game that falls on its face. You won’t sit down for hours with this title, but if you want to play these games on the move without lugging about their physical versions then Family Game Night might well be alright on the night for you.