Uno / Skip-Bo / Uno Freefall
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2007-03-16 Nintendo DS Compilation E (Everyone) DSI Games / Black Lantern

Game compilations always seem to fare well on the market. After all, everyone loves getting something for nothing, so it's no surprise that they do so well. DSI Games obviously understands this principle, which is probably why they have released so many in the past years. This time around, I had the privilege of playing one of their newest trios: Uno / Skip-Bo / Uno Free Fall.

The game starts you out by letting you create a profile that will track not only your gameplay time, but also the amount of rounds you've won in both Uno and Skip-Bo, plus your high score in Free Fall. The profile menu lets you choose an avatar for yourself, which will help identify you in its Wireless Multiplayer option. After setting up your profile, you can start an actual game, with the first choice available being Skip-Bo.

Whereas Uno is definitely the most popular of the trio, Skip-Bo is a game that may or may not be familiar to most of you. It plays sort of like "Speed" in that each player is trying to get rid of all thirty cards in their Stock Pile by adding them one at a time to one of four common discard piles. Each discard pile must start with either a one, or a five or nine, if you are playing with special rules. Then, the piles must be built in a numerical fashion, always heading from 1 to 12, at which point the discard pile vanishes, and you can start again.

Play begins once each player has five cards in their hand. Using the stylus, you can add one or all of these cards to the common discard piles, that is, if they fit the numerical order of those certain stacks. Once you have no more moves for your turn, you discard one of your remaining five in front of you, in your own personal discard pile. These cards can be picked up later and played once they do fit on a stack.

The gameplay may sound pretty complex on paper, but once you get into a game, it's fairly easy to pick up. There's a lot going on, on each turn, so I suggest paying close attention not only to what cards you have, but also the top card on your opponents' stockpile. After all, you wouldn't want to leave a three wide open for them to play their four on, now would you?

Each round ends when someone clears all thirty cards from their stockpile, and depending on the rules you have decided on (there are over a dozen options to choose from), points are awarded either based on the amount of cards your opponents had left, or simply by a set "1, 2, 3" order depending on how many rounds you have won.

Skip-Bo is easily the most complicated of the three games, and its complexity might very well be a reason that it hasn't taken off as well as our next game, Uno.

Depending on your personality type, it may or may not be surprising to hear that one of the most popular card games in existence today involves backstabbing and betraying the people you care for most. When Uno was released on X-Box Live Arcade in May of 2006, our love for the game increased ten-fold. Instead of gathering around a table with the same ole people, Uno on the 360 lets you badger and betray friends and enemies all over the world. Following in the footsteps of its 360 counterpart, the DS version of the game takes all the fun of both the real world and digital versions and allows you to carry it with you wherever you go.

Just like its Skip-Bo partner, Uno gives the player numerous options for game customization. Sure, you can jump in with the traditional rules applying, but you can also spice things up for a totally new and unique gameplay experience. The most general options simply allow you to change the number of players in the game or the number of cards you start each hand with, with the more exciting choices coming in the form of additional penalties or rewards based on certain in-game actions.

Even after making changes, if any, the game plays as simple as ever. For those that aren't familiar with the title, each player stars with a set number of cards in their possession, with the object being to eliminate those cards from your hand. Gameplay moves in a circular fashion with players removing one card from their hand that is either the same color or number as the card at the top of the discard pile. For example, if the discard pile has a red three on top, you can play either another three or any red card. Once players have only one card in their hand, they must call "Uno", signifying that fact. The hand ends when one player is left with no cards, and points are awarded accordingly, based on the value of the cards remaining in their opponents' hands.

Apart from the bland numbered cards, there are also special cards that allow for the betrayal and backstabbing that I alluded to earlier. Cards like "Draw 2" or "Skip" force other players into either drawing more cards or losing their turn altogether. These special cards also play a role in our third game, Uno Free Fall.

Uno Free Fall is a perfect addition to the trio, in that it adds a bit of spice to an otherwise simple premise. Gameplay is a mix between Tetris and Kirby's Avalanche, for those who are familiar with that SNES title.

You start with a Tetris-like game board, split into columns. Individual Uno cards will start falling from the top screen into the game board, and it is up to you to place them in such a way that you can make groups of three cards that would be allowed to follow each other in a normal game of Uno. For instance, a trio can be made out of three cards of the same color or number, but can also be something like "red two, blue two, blue reverse".

Each level ends after clearing thirty cards, and the cards fall faster as you progress. But since there are so many cards in an Uno deck, meaning that there are almost infinite combinations for trios, the gameplay overall is very simple. To add a bit of a challenge to the simplicity there is a Row Timer that, once at zero, adds a new row to the bottom of your board. Most of these cards are face down, and the only way to remove them is to first flip them over by making a trio that is adjacent to them. Now face up, you can act on them as you would a normal card.

Both of the actual card games offer a choice of speeds, but most scenarios set the gameplay to a fairly slow pace. There is no time limit on your turn, so you can do all the strategizing you want before committing yourself to a move. This is especially helpful for those that are new to the game, or those who may be less familiar with the DS interface.

As for Uno Freefall, you can expect the same slow pace to last up until around level 20, which is the first level where I ever faced anything resembling a challenge. Again, this is perfect for newbies to the game or for those that may not enjoy such a frantic gameplay experience like those offered by other puzzlers.

While there are three games on the cartridge and while each does have its own personality, the graphical and sound departments are shared by the three. Bright colors abound and the cards are crisp enough to make them easily distinguishable. Even in the hectic later levels of Free Fall, the symbols are detailed enough to keep you going.

One of the nice customizations available when it comes to graphics and sound are the backgrounds that you can choose from before beginning a game. Each background is made of more pastel shades, so that you can easily tell what's the foreground and what's not. Some of these wallpapers, if you will, include moving shapes that can be a bit distracting, but there are enough stationary options to round out the bunch.

The same thing can be said for the musical choices. Ranging from "Relaxed" to "Tense", the themes fit their names, with Tense being a frantic electronic melody that at points becomes downright annoying, and Relaxed being a nice tune for a walk down a beach, or some other calming activity.

All in all, Uno / Skip-Bo / Uno Free Fall offers something for everyone. Card game purists have the standard gameplay mechanics in both card games, while more adventurous types have the mass of varying options. Puzzlers even have a game to call their own. In the end, each game plays well enough to be released as its own title, but the fact that you get all three for one price just makes the deal even sweeter.

Special thanks to Allison Kain and DSI Games for providing a copy of this title.