Nintendo's latest Switch release is simple - but sometimes, simplicity can be the best.
Back on the Nintendo DS, a thousand years ago, I had a quiet obsession. Not Pokemon. Not Mario Kart DS, or The World Ends with You. Not even Elite Beat Agents or Ace Attorney - though I was a little obsessive over those. No - I was obsessed with 42 All-Time Classics - also known in some countries as Clubhouse Games.
This little collection of games was deceptively brilliant. Classic games from around the world gathered into one package, it was a natural fit for the DS and touch-based input. Now, fifteen years after that game's release, we're getting a Nintendo Switch sequel: 51 Worldwide Games or Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics, depending on your territory.
This game is exactly what it says right there on the box. It is 51 games from around the world collected up into a neatly-presented package as a Switch cart or download. It's a solid value package, but the easiest way to get a handle of what it's about is to see some of it for yourself - so we've put together a video that shows off 14 of the 51 included games.
All the games are bite-sized and all are based on existing things - so the game comes with a lower retail price to match - £34.99 in the UK and $39.99 in the US, or a similar regional equivalent. The fact these games are familiar is the point, however - and they run the gamut of the different ways you might want to play on the Nintendo Switch. Before we go any further, let's express the most important thing about this game: the 51 included games.
The 51 games included are as follows - brace yourself for a long list:
Mancala, Dots and Boxes, Yacht Dice, Four-in-a-row, Hit and Blow, Nine Men’s Morris, Hex, Draughts, Hare and Hounds, Gomoku, Dominoes, Chinese Checkers, Ludo, Backgammon, Renegade, Chess, Shogi, Mini Shogi, Hanafuda, Riichi Mahjong, Last Card, BlackJack, Texas Hold’em, President, Sevens, Speed, Matching, War, Takoyaki, Pig’s Tail, Golf, Billiards, Bowling, Darts, Carrom, Toy Tennis, Toy Football, Toy Curling, Toy Boxing, Toy Baseball, Air Hockey, Slot Cars, Fishing, Battle Tanks, Team Tanks, Shooting Gallery, 6-Ball Puzzle, Sliding Puzzle, Mahjong Solitaire, Klondike Solitaire and Spider Solitaire. There's also a little bonus, which is less a game and more of a fun toy.
If you're a handheld player or a Switch Lite owner, the best offerings are perhaps the solo-friendly games that you can use to pass a lot of time quickly. In this sense it's a perfect commute game; you can boot this up for a game of solitaire, or to kill time in hands of Blackjack or Texas Hold 'Em. There's some games that are essentially puzzles for a single player to tackle, too.
For action while docked, 51 Worldwide Games turns its eye towards the sort of multiplayer shenanigans that made the Nintendo Wii so beloved. Nintendo turns its hand towards bowling again here, for instance, as well as things like darts, a shooting gallery and a surprisingly real-feeling imitation of air hockey. Some of these, like darts and bowling, require you to unhook the Joy-Con controllers and use them for motion controls just as on the Wii, while others use more traditional controls.
That isn't to say that these motion-driven games are exclusive to docked Switch machines - each also features touch screen controls for those playing them handheld. Similarly, all the multiplayer games have multiple difficulties of AI opponents for you to face off against, and there's broad online support across the game.
Sandwiched between these two ends of the spectrum are a range of games that are equally at home in either setting, and can again be played with people or against AIs. There's legally-distinct, differently-named versions of classic games like Connect 4 and Uno, plus things like Chess, Checkers and Shogi, to name a few.
There's also a few more traditionally video gamey entries like an approximation of Slot Car Racing, a Battle Tanks mini game and 'Toy' versions of Boxing, Baseball and Football - simple, two-button implementations of classic sports that could lead to excited, yell-inducing multiplayer sessions among a family or among some liquored-up friends. Nintendo's history is also referenced directly in places, like with the inclusion of the Hanafuda Card game the company began making over a hundred years ago and a golf game that closely resembles the Satoru Iwata programmed NES Golf.
Make no mistake, a few of these games are rubbish. The shooting gallery is a pathetic effort that only the youngest kids will enjoy, for instance - but the vast majority are quality versions of their source games.
Between playing, this collection charms with facts about each of the included games and their history - I actually learned a thing or two. Similarly, the tutorial content that teaches you how to play each game, even more complex board games, is solid. There are challenges for each game and as you work towards mastering them, and players are encouraged to share their favorite game picks with other players online. As for the games themselves, they're all unlocked from the start.
Solo players will get plenty out of the collection in the forms of things like the solo card games and fun mini-game detours like the NES-style golf game. The multiple difficulties of AI offer a real challenge (honestly, beating the 'Impossible' AI at Shogi was a huge task), and the selection of games is decent.
It's in multiplayer, surprisingly, that the cracks in this package begin to show. Some games inexplicably have a very limited player count (in bowling a mere two), making it impossible to use as a true party game - and this is without getting into the motion controls, which to me felt undoubtedly inferior to the Wii equivalent.
It's strange in particular that a game so focused on multiplayer fun would find itself so thoroughly missing opportunities to offer more three or four player options for party play. Things like Toy Football and Darts offer tremendous amounts of breezy fun - but only for two people. It's a frustration, and it adds to the expected strains of a few dud mini-games. It also undermines one of the best aspects of this game - its simple, chilled presentation, ideal for everyone, only for the game to then lack opportunities to get more players truly involved at once. The multiplayer options should've been so much more, and online is no substitute for offline for many of these games.
Some of these issues are remedied by the ability to play more multiplayer games with multiple Switch consoles, each in handheld mode, networked together. This is easy enough to do, and Nintendo even plan to release a free app so this can be done with just one copy of the game - but it's a whole lot of faff, isn't it? I just wanted to be able to do bowling, darts, battle tanks and other silly games with more people at once on Christmas Day.
And yet... it's hard to be mad at 51 Worldwide Games. These issues are comparatively small potatoes because of the size of the package, and indeed its not-quite-budget but also not full-whack pricing. Even with a 400GB microSD card, my Nintendo Switch library has ballooned to be a difficult juggling act of deleting unwanted games as I install new ones - but I can't see the day coming when I'll deign to title from my Switch despite its shortcomings - it has too much good to offer, and that eclipses the poor execution in places.
By offering such a wide variety of experiences to please both handheld and docked players alike, 51 Worldwide Classics ends up a worthy follow-up to the DS Clubhouse Games in spite of its flaws. It quietly becomes another must-own Nintendo Switch title. It's not a big-budget, mind-expanding adventure - but it's a fun, generally solidly-constructed collection of eminently playable classics. It's video game comfort food, and has been a delight to meander through in the present day's isolation.