Digital card games have had a significant rise in popularity in recent years. These modern variations commonly feature online play, micro-transactions, thousands of unique collectible cards and often require hundreds of hours to properly understand the intricacies. Given the hype surrounding this specific type of card game, you’d be forgiven for thinking classic variants of the genre had gone the way of the dinosaurs. Fortunately, this is not the case.
UNO – developed and published by Ubisoft – acts as a reminder that classic card games are still fun to play. The biggest barrier to overcome with a game like UNO is its requirement of two or more people in order to be enjoyed. The beauty of the digital version is you no longer need family or friends to participate in the action. With the Switch port you can play UNO on the go or within the comfort of your own home on the big screen any time you like.
For those who haven’t ever played the American card game, originally developed in 1971 and acquired by the Mattel toy manufacturing company in 1992, UNO is a real gem. Like all timeless games, it’s easy to learn and hard to master. It’s also very addictive once you get the hang of it. The object is to be the first player to get rid of all your cards in each round and score points for the cards your opponents are left holding. Points in rounds accumulate and the first player to reach the set amount of points wins. In the digital version there’s a single round option as well.
To play UNO, each player receives seven cards at the start of the game and the remainder are placed facedown to form the draw pile. One card at the start of the game forms the discard pile. From here, the player left of the dealer starts play. The aim is to match a card from your hand to the card on the top of the discard pile either by the number, colour or symbol (with symbols representative of the action cards). If you are unable to match a card from your hand with the one on top of the discard pile, you must take a card from the draw pile in the hope you'll then have a matching card. As a player discards their second last card, they must yell “UNO” signifying they have only one card remaining. If they fail to do this and another player catches them out before their next turn, they must draw two cards for their mistake.
In its simplest form, this is how UNO works. Each of these explained steps in the digital version of the game happen very fast. You’ll need to adapt quickly and pay attention to keep up with what exactly is happening on-screen at all times. What’s convenient about UNO as a digital title is how it makes players more aware about what exactly they have to do. Not only does the game prompt the player when it’s their turn, but it will also fade out your cards if you are unable to make a move, or a card is played where you or the opposition must draw more cards, miss a turn or the colour has been changed with a wild card. There’s no longer any human error during these types of phases. Arrows surrounding the discard pile also make it easier for players to keep track of whose turn it is next when a series of reverse cards are played.
What you will need to keep a close eye on is what button to press when an opponent has made an error during their turn and you wish to challenge them. You’ll also need to remember to tap a button in order to call “UNO” – the requirement to press buttons for these types of calls keeps the important human element of the game intact.
The extra layer of depth in UNO is tied to knowing when to play certain cards. Better players are able to have a subtle influence on the outcome of turns and can often manipulate the game to their liking. Mastering each of the action cards can be the key to success. In many cases, a high percentage of luck will also provide you with a greater advantage. This luck and understanding of the game can be combined together to at least somewhat increase your chances of winning rounds on a regular basis.
To add to the excitement, Ubisoft has also placed themed decks in the game based on its own IP. These include Rabbids, Rayman and Just Dance. Within these decks are unique active cards that change the predictability of the game. Before playing a game, there is also an extensive list of house and classic rules you can enable or disable – these include stacking, 7-0, jump-in, force play, no bluffing and draw-to-match. The activation of these more advanced rules will depend on how serious you want your UNO sessions to be.
The social element of UNO is obviously what makes the experience so enjoyable. In the Switch iteration there are a number of ways to play the game. Locally you can take on the A.I. – that seem to have good and bad days – or you can team up with a friend or family member on the same system to take on the the computer. Unfortunately, if you want to play against another person locally you’ll need to have access to more than one Switch.
The online mode where you take on up to three players isn’t the smoothest experience, but is likely where you’ll spend most of your time. Occasionally you will suffer from the odd disconnect or even the rare crash which returns you back to the Switch HOME Menu. Load times in-between turns aren’t always the best, either. Apart from these minor issues, this mode does an admirable job being as thrilling as the actual card game. Probably the biggest concern about the online is linked to the sustainability of the game's community. Provided you’re patient you should be able to find a game or host one that brings in at least two to four players. Vacant spots are automatically filled with A.I. As host of an online game you can also enable and disable the rules which can have an impact on the length and level of challenge provided. To round this off, there’s leaderboards, an emote system and medals to unlock which you can display during matches.
As Ubisoft has the rights to the UNO licence, the presentation of this digital incarnation generally aligns with the theme of the classic game. The colourful and animated themed decks created by Ubisoft are a nice inclusion, too. The only criticism linked to this area of the game are the framerate issues. It’s nowhere near as smooth as a basic card game like this should be. Compared to existing releases on the likes of the PC, the Switch version suffers from the occasional drop in frames – which is particularly noticeable on boot-up. At times there’s the odd pause loading the game’s menus, too. Once you’re into a game though, the framerate is not really as concerning because it is a card game, after all. The title also seems to perform better in handheld mode; a patch could easily iron out these problems in the future. On a more positive note the classy music, sound of the cards being shuffled and in-game noises are very fitting.
Even if you don’t have fond memories of UNO – or any memories of it at all – as a digital adaptation on the Switch it’s quite satisfying to play. Although there’s no workaround to take on another player on the same system and the online experience can be a bumpy ride – along with slight technical performance issues – UNO on the Switch still manages to emulate what makes the original card game so addictive. This version allows you to play the game on the go or have fun in front of your television with another person for hours on end. When no one you know is available for co-op, you can always attempt to find a match online or hone your skill against the A.I.
If you’re seeking a digital card game based on a classic that is pick-up and play, and stays true to the source material despite the technical shortcomings, UNO is the one for you. Just be careful as you may lose track of time with this particular card game.