With much of the world still in some form of lockdown at the time of writing this review, many have resorted to board games or playing cards to keep themselves occupied and help while away the hours. It could be argued, then, that Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics (or 51 Worldwide Games if you're outside of North America) has come at just the right time for some.
This hefty compilation is a sequel of sorts to 42 All-Time Classics (known as Clubhouse Games in America – we're so glad Nintendo is consistent with these titles), a 14-year-old DS title which offered a generous helping of parlour games, many of which came with local and online multiplayer. This time, as the title suggests, there are 51 games on offer, and there’s a greater variety than there was before.
Obviously, you’ve still got your fair share of board and card games. In terms of the former, there are just under 20 board games to choose from, ranging from the obvious ones like Backgammon, Chess, Draughts and Ludo to more unusual choices such as the brilliant Mancala, Connect 4 (known here as Four-in-a-Row) and Shogi.
Meanwhile, there are 13 card games to choose from, and again your familiarity with them may vary. Everyone will at least be aware of the likes of Blackjack, Texas Hold’em Poker and Klondike Solitaire, whereas games like Pig’s Tail, War and Takoyaki may be new to some players. In a nod to Nintendo’s 131-year history as a card manufacturer, you can even play its speciality, Hanafuda (with the option to unlock Mario-themed cards).
One of 51 Worldwide Games’ main issues is most notable when it comes to these card games: the instructions aren’t as in-depth as we’d hoped. Each game comes with a quirky introduction in which little figurines of people discuss what you’re about to play. These intros try to give a brief rundown of the rules but they’re so focused on performing their (frankly atrocious) skits that it’s not uncommon to still be a bit confused by the time it ends. There are separate help sections that give written rules for each game but these too are a little on the light side, and could really have done with extra detail for some of the games.
This isn’t really an issue with the more skill-based games in the compilation, which is the category where this Switch edition is arguably far superior to its DS ancestor. Whereas 42 All-Time Classics didn’t offer much in the way of action beyond bowling, darts, billiards and a weird soda bottle-shaking game, there are a whole host of games here – we counted 18 – where your gaming abilities are tested rather than your logic or luck.
Most of these ones are beautifully presented, too. There’s a lovely top-down golf game with a surprisingly pleasant water effect. The fishing game uses a similarly serene effect, while the lanes in the bowling game are nice and shiny. Most charming of all, though, are the quintet of ‘toy’ games – tennis, football, curling, boxing and baseball – which are all designed to look like the sort of old-school metallic toys that Nintendo would have made in the ‘60s and ‘70s, with levers and gizmos all over the place. It’s all just brimming with character.
Naturally, whatever your poison happens to be, multiplayer is one of the most important facets of this compilation. There are a variety of options depending on which game you’re looking to play: some of the two-player games, for example, can be played on a single Switch using the touch screen. Others can be played on a single Switch with up to four players, each wielding their own Joy-Con. Obviously, this doesn’t work with the likes of Dominoes or some card games (such as Texas Hold’em) where you don’t want opponents to see your cards; these games can only be played with multiple Switch consoles. There's a silver lining here though, as Nintendo has also announced a free-to-download 'version' of the game that you can use to play multiplayer with someone who owns the game proper, a bit like Download Play in the DS days. Considering it opens things up tremendously without forcing people to fork out twice, it's all very welcome indeed.
There’s also a very clever ‘mosaic mode’, similar to a trick that also featured in Super Mario Party. If you have more than one Switch, you can place them next to each other and draw a line between them all to make a larger play area; this means a bigger lake in fishing, a larger track in Slot Cars and more keys in the bonus piano mode that’s included for no apparent reason. We’d love to tell you how well this feature works, but given that close-quarters contact is currently outlawed in this country, we couldn’t get near enough to someone with another Switch.
What we did happily dabble in, however, is the online multiplayer. This lets you play 44 of the 51 games against players from all over the world and works about as well as you’d expect; no great surprise given that the sedate, turn-taking nature of most of the games means there’s no need to worry about lag or anything like that. You may think that finding a game may be tricky when the player base is effectively split into 44 smaller chunks, but it’s actually quite straightforward.
Once you connect, you’re shown all the games that support online multiplayer. You select up to three games you’d like to potentially play against someone, and are then returned to the single-player menu so you can keep playing on your own while the software tries to match you up with another player on the server. To make sure players aren’t waiting forever, any games that have been selected by someone will have a little token next to them on the menu – this lets others know there are players interested and encourages them to choose the same game.
This clever matchmaking trick aside, the online multiplayer is functional enough but fairly bare-bones in the grand scheme of things. You look for a game, get matched with someone, silently play the game without any way to communicate with them (not even a preset list of phrases) and then move on once someone wins. The whole thing’s very impersonal, so if you were hoping to make friends with a stranger who shares your love of Nine Men’s Morris, you’re going to be disappointed.
There are other general offline niggles that you should also bear in mind. Some of the games are limited in scope and don’t offer an awful lot to do. Golf only has nine holes, Slot Cars only has three tracks, the Shooting Gallery (a nod to Wii Play) only has the same three short rounds. As entertaining as these entries are, chances are you’ll exhaust your attention on them long before you’re done with some of the others. It isn’t all bad news, mind you, because some of the games offer plenty instead; the brilliant Mahjong Solitaire (or Shanghai Solitaire, if you’d rather) offers no fewer than 60 levels to play through.
We also struggled to care about the Guides. As you play through the games you’ll unlock more little figurines who appear on a big world globe. You can select these ‘guide’ figurines and they’ll give you a playlist of up to five games that fit a certain theme: games that use touch controls, luck-based games and so forth. They don’t really appear to serve any other purpose than simply recommending some games for you, and don’t provide unique challenges or rewards or anything like that.
These are the few negatives in a game that’s overwhelmingly positive, however. Whether you’re taking part in a lengthy Ludo session, chilling out with some Spider Solitaire or invoking the spirit of Wii Sports with a spot of Joy-Con motion-controlled bowling, chances are you’re going to be having a lovely time doing it. There’s even an incentive for single players, too; each game gives you medals for achieving wins on certain difficulties or scoring a certain amount, and getting all 161 medals will take a hell of a long time.
Compilation games like Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics always have a variety of hits and misses depending on your own personal taste, but there's a wide enough variety of board, card and action games here that you're sure to find a number that will appeal to you. Everything's presented with charm and warmth (terribly-written cutscenes aside) and there's an enormous amount of content on offer, whether you plan on playing solo or with others. The perfect game for lockdown? Quite possibly.