The Switch helps bring some new life to these classic tabletop games.
Back in 2005, Clubhouse Games by Agenda launched exclusively for the Nintendo DS, or as I knew it in Europe, 42 All-Time Classics. The game featured a bunch of card, board, and parlor games, teaching me the rules of blackjack, passing the time with a balancing game, and owning online players in billiards. It’s 2020, and Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics is now available for the Nintendo Switch and brings back the magic with some modern improvements.
Developed by NDcube, Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics takes over the success of the original and comes with a focus on providing the player with numerous games to learn, enjoy, and discover from across the world. As the title suggests, there are 51 of these classic games available to play from the off with no unlocking required.
When starting the game, I had to choose and customize a human character that bears resemblance to a board game piece. For some reason, Clubhouse Games asked what my favorite food is and what my main aspiration in life is, so already I had embarked on an existential crisis on what I want in life when all I wanted to was to play billiards.
You can view all the games as a whole with no information, or individually with a brief rundown of what to expect from a game. There’s something that Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics does to shake things up though, which is introducing a globe. This interactive area features numerous Game Guides scattered across the globe that are available to “invite.” These guides are essentially playlists in the form of “people”, ranging from categories such as Solo Fun, Historical Games, and even Nintendo History.
Whichever playlist you’ve chosen will appear at the start of the list of games for easy access, and usually have around 5 games available related to the category. It’s a nice way of suggesting games to play, especially if you’re overwhelmed by the choice of games and don’t feel like choosing. As you can see from the screenshot below, all 51 games can be crammed onto one screen, which makes for quicker browsing.
I personally preferred jumping right into games I knew I wanted to play. Each game comes with a tutorial video that plays before you go to its hub screen. The tutorials can be skipped but also play every time you open the hub screen which becomes a nuisance. Each of these videos are fully voiced with cheesy dialogue that mostly just acts as entertainment while the video does a better job of showing how to actually play.
Also available from the hub screen for every game is the option to see relevant hints or unlocked trivia. There are also small toggle options for changing some rules and game types such as choosing who goes first or how many matches you play. But there’s so much negative space on the screen that it baffles me as to why controls aren’t shown in this area. When you start a game, bowling, for example, you get indicators to show what controls can be used. In this case, touchscreen controls and motion controls.
Why wait until the game starts to display this information when the control schemes could be easily outlined in some of that negative space? This would save the player time of having to go into the game to discover the controls.
The information throughout Clubhouse Games seems to be problematic which stems from trying to look sleek and minimalistic. The fonts are thin, white, and blend into the bright cyan background, while the button prompts usually appear small and round the edges of the screen. The reference guide that contains hints and trivia is also incredibly small both in docked and handheld modes.
But when it comes down to the games themselves, they’re brilliant fun and come with pleasing graphics and realistic physics. The majority of games are styled to look as if you’re playing them within a digital room. Backgammon is on a table rather than taking up the whole screen, for example.
The touchscreen precision with my finger felt brilliant, even on games that required a finer touch. However, a touchscreen pen would be a preferred option for some games. The controllers work nicely for games that are tap focused such as chess or mahjong, but for anything that requires dragging, it feels slow when using the thumbsticks. There are some games that make use of the gyroscopic motion control which works remarkably well, but the number of games using this feature feels far too low.
It’s almost as if a lot of potential was missed with some games utilizing the motion controls. Billiards would have been nice to use the Joy-Con as a cue, flicking the Joy-Con could have rolled dice, and one feature I’d have really liked is the option to press a button to enable some sort of free-camera so I could maneuver my camera around some tabletop games. The controllers also utilize the HD Rumble with different strengths and patterns for different actions such as reeling a fish in, hitting an object, or even just lightly rumbling to remind you that it’s your go.
I feel like Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics lacks in offering rewards to players, While I can get a whopping 3 stars in some games, all I seem to get rewarded with is some trivia. I recall the 2005 DS version unlocking different styles for your games if you did well enough, and I think offering the player that bit of customization would go a long way in not only adding some personalization but also accessibility.
As I mentioned earlier the font choices on the cyan background are an eyesore, and being given the chance to change that color scheme would really benefit me. I’d also like to be able to have a variety of styles for games, even to the point of having themed pieces…imagine something like Animal Crossing chess if you will. A bit like Tetris 99.
Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics isn’t just single-player, it’s also available to play as a couch game with a second player on one system using a Joy-Con each. There’s also the option for up to 4 systems being connected together in what is called “Mosaic mode” that finds one game spanning 4 Switch screens.
With the single system multiplayer, I was disappointed that you couldn’t link two sets of Joy-Cons. To put it this way, the darts game, when using motion controls, works much better using the right Joy-Con, but the left Joy-Con winds up not only feeling uncomfortable, but the controls become inverted because it’s a left-handed controller.
As for the online experience, I wanted to enjoy it, but the problem is, unless you’re using Nintendo’s mobile application for voice chat, there’s no way of communicating with another player. The lack of emotion and communication between you and the player makes the online experience feel incredibly hollow. Where’s your text chat, Nintendo? There’s also the issue of locking the player into a match online. In single-player, you’re able to pause the game, open the reference guide for the game, and even leave. In online mode, you can’t do any of that and are locked into the match unless you close the game down.
Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics is a fantastically fun game that offers hours of pick-up-and-play fun and is brilliant with friends and family. The lack of communication and locking players into games dampens the online experience. But with a total of 51 games to play at will, both offline and online, and with enticing graphics along with realistic physics, this game is a joy to play.