Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Videogame Classics - Clubhouse Games

If you play games on your PC, then chances are you've seen the variations on the Hoyle games series. I'm a particular fan of last year's Hoyle Board Games, which offers numerous board and dice games (variations on Yahtzee), a crazy cast of chattering characters (my favorites being the dinosaur, the bear, and the pirate parrot Capt. Scurvy), and and endless amount of unlockable material for your own character. Not only do you get to customize your own player icon, you get to clutter your space with lots of wonderful junk like stuffed animals, lava lamps, and junk food.

Needless to say, Hoyle Board Games is great fun. Moreso than it deserves to be.

If there's one thing that Clubhouse Games achives at, it's in showing that a similar style of game can succeed on a portable games system. Throw in wifi and you have a bona-fide classic. I can't say that Clubhouse Games is as good as Hoyle; it lacks that personality that all those characters brought to the fore. But it's the next best thing.

Clubhouse Games is a wide collection of 40 (or 42) games. Roughly half are card games, all the usual suspects like blackjack and poker and hearts and rummy, yadda yadda. All the usual board games are present, like checkers, chess, and backgammon. There are even some nice parlor games like darts, billiards, and a little bowling game that is more fun than it has any right to be.

It seems to be such a scattershot collection, but most of them work. If there's something you don't like (and I'm sure a few games won't be played more than once), there's more than enough to divert your attention. Clubhouse is part of Nintendo's Touch Generation series, which is an effort to capitalize on the interest of non-gamers and former gamers who just grew up. The folks who were sucked in by Brain Age and Nintendogs.

The videogame nerds who obsess over every 100-hour console epic likely won't even bother with a little collection of games like this. Whatever. It's their loss. The DS has always been the home for the quirky and off-center, especially the sort of games that work best in short bursts. The ride on the bus, for instance. This is probably one reason why Sony's Playstation Portable is such a disappointment. By the time you've finished waiting for games to load, your ride's already over. You could have better spent the time with a DS, or better yet, a book.

I'm a fan of these sort of games, probably more because of age than anything. I don't have the time or energy for anything more complicated than this. Unless, I suppose, that God Almighty is a real big Final Fantasy fan, and wants to hear my insights. If that's the case, my end of the conversation will be pretty sad.

Ah, yes, nearly forgot. There's one real beef I have with Clubhouse Games, and it's this - the publishers were too cheap to pay the money for a number of popular licences games. Games like Uno, Battleship, Parcheesi (however it's called), and Othello/Reversi. Instead, they change everything around just a little bit, or with the card games, make you use a regular deck. It's cheap as hell, and there's no excuse for it. Goodness knows, this game couldn't have cost that much to make, despite all the impressive bells and whistles. Compared to most other DS titles, the budget must've been chump change.

Also, while I'm at it, I wish there were some dice games like the ones on Hoyle Board Games. Okay, maybe I should just be honest and ask for a DS version of Hoyle. Clubhouse is a triumph, and shows just how perfect Nintendo's portable is for such a title. I want my Capt. Scurvy, dagnabbit!

So, yeah, Clubhouse Games is a terrific little game for Nintendo DS. It's definitely one of the standout titles in the library, the next great game after you've burrowed your way through Brain Age and Big Brain Academy.

If I had to give it a grade, I'd give it a 9 out of 10. Dock one point for the cheapskate version of Uno, and the lack of any talking parrots.

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