Clubhouse Games
Reviewed by Danielle Riendeau
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-11-17 Nintendo DS Compilation E (Everyone) Nintendo / Agenda

Clubhouse Games is based upon the greatest idea for a portable game ever: "lets take a plethora of popular card, board, and action games, tie them up into one neat little package, and unleash it on the hordes of bored subway riders across the nation!" But no matter how cool the concept is, or how much content is packed in, if the games themselves are no fun, this clubhouse won't be worth the trip. Luckily, that's far from the case.

The game is organized simply but logically, allowing the player to jump in and out of games and modes with ease. Upon entering the Clubhouse, single players choose one of three modes: free play, stamp, or mission. Free play allows the gamer to dive right into the action, offering the majority of its 42 games right up front (the rest can be unlocked in stamp mode). Stamp is a more traditional challenge mode wherein the player needs to successfully complete each game, and mission mode offers heady challenges in selected games, rewarding the player with more icons. A robust wi-fi feature allows players to compete online in any of the multiplayer games (39 out of the 42), and the game boasts an excellent chat mode and even a gift exchange for giving opened games to your friends. Like all online DS games, it uses the "friend code" system.

The games themselves are largely fantastic, and placed into groups according to type and required skill level. Basic card games include easy fare such as Old Maid, Sevens and Memory, while the intermediate group offers Blackjack, Hearts, Seven Bridge, Rummy, and several others. Real card sharks will go right for the advanced card games such as Texas Hold'Em, Five Card Draw, or Contact Bridge, though the options for betting are somewhat limited. Despite this flaw, I still found myself fighting off the "just one more game" syndrome, especially in Texas Hold'Em.

Also addictive are the board games. The basic set includes Chinese Checkers, Checkers, Dots and Boxes, Hasami Shogi, Turncoat, Connect Five, and Grid Attack, which all prove to be faithful adaptations of the classic games. The real fun is in the advanced board games, especially for those who like to sink their teeth into a bit of strategy. Chess, Backgammon, and Field Tactics are each impressive, and I was eager to learn to play Ludo and Shogi. Learning some of the more obscure games was actually a rather rewarding experience, despite the lack of in-game tutorials (all of the rules and tips are text-only, but they can be accessed at any time and are reasonably well laid out).

The action games category is made up of Bowling, Billiards, Darts, Takeover and Balance, the latter a quirky little diversion that threatens to soak up far too much of your time. Each action game is fun and fast-paced, with Darts and Takeover standing out as the most fun overall. One word of warning, however: these games require precise movements that may not be possible on that morning commute. It's immensely frustrating when you throw a gutter ball just because the bus stopped too quickly.

On another note, the games in the variety category are perfect for gaming in moving vehicles. Soda Shake is a wacky Warioware-esque minigame involving? shaking a soda bottle, while Dominoes, Koi-Koi, and Word Balloon offer simpler, longer games.

Rounding out the selection of games are the one-player-only Solitaire, Mahjong Solitaire, and the mind-boggling puzzler Escape. Escape recalls the best of any Zelda block puzzles (only far more perplexing) and mahjong solitaire really roped me in with its incredibly simple, yet addictive game play.

In terms of presentation and controls, Clubhouse delivers. The controls are stylus only and perfectly responsive, which becomes especially important in the precision games like Darts and Bowling. The graphics and music are simple, clean and effective, evoking a jazzy upscale setting during most games, and a more exotic, Asian-inspired style in games such as Mahjong Solitaire and Koi Koi. Though some might complain about the rather stark presentation (this is Nintendo, after all!) I found it refreshing and perfectly complimentary to the "clubhouse" atmosphere.

Clubhouse is not without some minor flaws. Though it offers an incredible array of games, the lack of certain features is disappointing in some cases. This is most glaring in the aforementioned Texas Hold'Em, where there is no option to "go all in" or even bet a specific amount. Likewise, the absence of any in-game tutorials can be frustrating, especially for first time players attempting to master the intricacies of chess or field tactics. And though it's simply a matter of taste, some players might find the straightforward presentation to be unappealing. However, these are certainly minor issues, none of these gripes are serious enough to mar a great experience.

Clubhouse Games is the result of seriously great concept backed up by a killer execution and a huge addiction factor. It offers game play perfectly tailored for the portable crowd: it's packed with variety and can be played in tiny chunks or in marathon sessions, depending on your tastes. What it lacks in features or snazzy graphics, it more than makes up for in sheer variety and challenge. I'll never go on another road trip without it!

Special thanks to Allison Guillen and Nintendo for providing a copy of this title.