Nintendo has revived its hit title 42 All-Time Classics (or Clubhouse Games in the US) that launched on Nintendo DS 16 years ago with a new entry into the series that benefits from a sleeker design, robust online mode and a wider range of games to play. Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics is not only a title that provides a lot for your money, but it also offers something very special: a multicultural celebration of fun games from around the world that will, undoubtedly, bring people closer together.
The Nintendo Switch is constantly praised for its diverse and ever-growing library of games and, although there’s an abundance of software to choose from, there’s a small gap. Upon console launch three years ago, players had very little to choose from regarding party game titles. Sure, we had 1-2-Switch but it was short-lived and failed to win over the audience – something that Wii Sports did instantly while showcasing the unique and exciting motion controls of the Wiimote. Now, we have games like Super Mario Party, Jackbox Party and the Overcooked series. They’re great games and push the notion of playing together, but none feel immediately familiar, or for some, approachable.
51 Worldwide Games is approachable. It’s immediately familiar and it’s better played with others; it’s the Nintendo Switch’s answer to Wii Sports. Not only because Bowling with a Joy-Con conjures up memories of everyone gathered around for fierce but friendly competition, but rather because it’s something everyone can and will want to play. As briefly touched on in our preview, there’s no trawling through activities that you don’t want to play in order to progress – everything is unlocked from the minute you load it up. From Shooting Gallery to Toy Baseball, Mancala to Connect Four (sorry, Four-in-a-Row), there’s an eclectic but relevant collection of games to select here. It’s a near-perfect balance.
Changing the view in the main menu means you’re spoilt for choice, with the ratio between card games, board games and ‘toy’ activities utterly fantastic. So, even if you’re not much of a fan of card games, perhaps wincing at the sight of them when your family brings them out on a Sunday afternoon (or at a party), 51 Worldwide games has so many options to choose from, that there’s no need to play the same games repeatedly. Some games are more fun than you realise too.
Without the unlockable restrictions, we found ourselves diving into some activities that we’d never normally try. You get a true sense of excitement when learning a new game like Hanafuda, a card game that helped launch Nintendo into its successful beginnings, or Shogi, a Japanese take on Chess. You’re not left to your own devices either with helpful tips, nor is there a persistent hand-holding mechanic thrust upon you if you don’t fancy it. You either watch the tutorial at the beginning of each game or you simply skip past it. Not a fan of sitting through a video guide? No problem. There are quick pointers within each activity that are easy to read and understand.
Thanks to the handy Globe Guide, the games can be viewed in specific groups. Action Games, Social Games and Solo Fun are just some of the categories the Game Guides present. The Nintendo History category was especially fun to play and inviting the Game Guide to the home screen meant we didn’t have to sift through the grid of activities to find games like Hanafuda and Riichi Mahjong. It’s an interesting way to view what’s on offer, nonetheless.
The games themselves work and play well. Card games are quick and easily played on both the TV and in handheld mode. The party focussed games like Battle Tanks and Toy Tennis use simple controls that can be easily played with Joy-Con. We did come into a few problems when playing some of the games in handheld mode, particularly with touch controls selected. While the Switch’s screen is sufficient, there were the odd accidental misplacements of pieces in games such as Gomoku and Hex. Players who aren’t too familiar with touchscreens may run into some trouble, but for the most part, it worked fine.
Part of the fun with 51 Worldwide Games is in the learning. Dipping our toes into something a little less recognisable and getting to grips with it has replaced the need to meet certain criteria in its predecessor on DS, unlocking other games with a much more cohesive and friendly approach. Instead of having to unlock games, you’re awarded trivia about the games you play for each one you try. We found this careful balance of mastering a game and learning about its origins to be much more rewarding. Of course, this process of light progression won’t be to everyone’s tastes and not having a clear goal, stamps to collect or trophies to receive may feel like a missed opportunity to some. Still, there are a few unlockables to find, adding to the aesthetic appeal. However, those players wanting more of a challenge will be pleased to learn that harder difficulties are available if you place first, or reach a certain score in each activity. Rule sets can also be tweaked; this is particularly useful if you’re playing with someone who may be accustomed to playing a game in a different way.
Trying out games and learning the rules for lesser-known games is fun, but where it really shines is when you play with real people; jumping online to play with them is pure joy. Creating a lobby or joining one is simple, there’s no friend code or password options and playing with random players is almost as fun as playing with someone you know. Plus, having the option to search for players in a specific game or selecting a random game was welcoming. We were lucky enough to play with other industry folks while on camera and within minutes we were jumping into games of Hanafuda, Blackjack and Four-in-a-row. Admittedly, seeing the faces of our opponents on video while they carefully thought about their next moves added to the experience but, as the session ended, we just wanted more. While playing online and organising your own sessions with your friends will never be the same as having everyone bunched up on the sofa, it’s a robust alternative and just as fun. It’s slick, no-fuss multiplayer that works seamlessly. We hope it works just as well once the servers quickly fill with more players when the game launches.
Thankfully, the same praise can be given to local multiplayer. With the immediate option of either playing with the Joy-Con or touch controls, the game deals out your selection of games that are available to enjoy depending on the playstyle selected. Having the Switch undocked offered just as good entertainment after dinner on the dining table playing Draughts than settling down on the sofa for Darts with the Joy-Con. Local players who have their own Switch and a copy of the game can sit their consoles alongside each other in a few of the games with Mosaic Mode. Although we weren’t able to test this feature, having the option to expand the play area in a cool way for Fishing, Tanks and others makes it a bit different than playing on a TV.
We pointed out in our preview that the game lacked a familiar Nintendo style. Mario makes an appearance, albeit subtly, but there’s no screeching Toad or sassy Peach in sight. The lack of sparkly openings and coin-chasing antics of Super Mario Party (and even Nintendo Land, to a lesser extent) works in favour and, instead, the focus is on a vast array of pick-up-and-try activities that really don’t need the extra pizazz. In its place, we have some funny and light-hearted exchanges from plastic figurines, straightforward play sessions and less faff all round.
We could go into detail about each game, like how reeling the fish in with your Joy-Con is more enjoyable than doing so in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, or how satisfying it is to land a series of punches in Toy Boxing, but there’s so much to cover. Rest assured, though, as what we have here is a polished, well-presented package which celebrates diversity and highlights the fondness of playing together while not breaking the bank.
A review copy of Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics was provided to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK.