Ever popular with the young and old alike, board games have been the activity of choice at family gatherings for many years now. Video games have exceeded them as the first port of call for parents or those looking for easy entertainment, but you can’t beat a good session of Monopoly or Cluedo to get the rivalries and energy flowing. One of the premier board game manufacturers, Hasbro, has teamed up with EA to bring four of their most popular games to the DS, a system that shares much of the audience and ease of accessibility of the original tabletop versions. A match made in heaven, or to be put on the top shelf of the broom cupboard with all the other dusty boxes?
Family Game Night's four games are Connect4, Bop It!, Battleship, and Operation, each of which is presided over by Mr. Potato Head. All have additional options besides their standard method of play, and all allow wireless play, either with just the one cartridge or multiples. You can also pass one system between two people, adding to the rest of the options to make the games every bit as accessible as their non-virtual counterparts. Online isn’t included, but for games like these, you really need to be in the same room anyway.
First up on the selection grid, after you’ve created a profile, is Connect4. Anyone who doesn’t know the basics of this one must’ve lived under a rock for many, many years. Original mode takes two players and gives them red or yellow chips; each take turns to slot their colour chip into a grid, first one to score a line of four horizontally, vertically or diagonally wins. Fun for two players, but an utter bore against computer A.I, even with difficulty settings and the choice of a longer playtime. The other mode, Power Chips, is what players will come back for as, unlike original, you keep playing for points well beyond the first and previously only line of four. There are also special chips that double your score, knock other chips out of the way, and block the other player. It's a fun take on an established formula, and the touch screen control, works just fine.
Second in line is Battleship, again something everyone should know how to play. In case you don’t, a reminder: players rearrange and hide five ships of varying square length on a 10x10 grid of squares, then each take turns firing a single shot to guess where the enemy ships are. When all five of a player's ships are shot down, they lose. Again, like Connect4, the classic mode isn’t something for a Billy-no-mates - blasting your familiars' ships into oblivion is where the fun is. Salvo mode is where the single player can get their kicks. Participants are allowed multiple shots per round akin to how many ships they have left, allowing for faster, more frantic matches that are fun even against A.I.. The choice of tougher opponents, more rounds and even super-weapons for both modes ensures some strong replayability potential for Battleship.
Next up is a relatively new toy to the world of board games, Bop It!. Bop It! is a small handlebar-like grip that challenges the player/s to grab, push, or shout into parts of the device as instructed, often in a hectic and unpredictable manner. This is faithfully replicated on the DS touch screen, but really isn’t a wise choice of game for a compilation such as this, as the real toy is the kind of thing you really need to hold in your hands.
The regular mode sees you either twist the ends of the toy, tap the button in the middle, or shout into the microphone (the latter can be turned off if you don’t want to startle old biddies on the bus) quickly after being instructed to do so. Combo mode is largely the same, except the commands are in a sequence which you have to memorize and then repeat, which mixes up proceedings nicely. Adding to this variety are options you can change for both modes: vox, the standard command speech; colour, which lights up the parts of the handle you need to deal with; beat, that uses different sounds for the parts of the toy; and random that mixes all three up. Mash-up is where master players will visit, as it uses the three mentioned modes, but gradually gets harder as you progress. All this adds up to make the Bop It! game the one with the most longevity, if not the one most suited to a virtual replica.
Lastly, we have perhaps what is the most well known game, Operation. The real world game sees you carefully pulling out small unusual items with a tweezers-like tool, from the gaps of a patient operating table without hitting the sides. That experience is largely replicated here, with the DS stylus the perfect stand-in for the tweezers. But such a simple tap-and-drag mechanic would make things too easy, right? Yep, which is why EA have added a narrow track you have to guide the item around to get them out of the table. Each item - be it a butterfly, wooden leg, or even a dog - has its own behaviour while you’re trying to remove them. Too many hits to the side of the path causes an automatic failure and a return to the starting point for the object. Original mode is as you’d expect: picture flashes up on screen, you find the item and try to drag it out of the body. Hit too many sides, and you’ll need to stabilize the patent, here named ‘Cavity Sam’, by tapping the screen along to his heartbeat. Speed Operation is largely the same as original, except you’ll now be timed for removing the pieces, adding even more frantic movement to the game. The extraction type (which determines how many things you want to extract), and the difficulty options ensure a customized playthrough, for a fun game well suited to DS replication.
As extra incentive for playing, Family Game Night features a few dozen unlockable awards, obtainable by completing objectives that add many hours onto playtime. These can be used to customise Mr. Potato Head’s features and unlock additional backgrounds, of which there are only a few by default. Very few games can truly replace the timelessness of board games, and Family Game Night is no exception - but as an alternative, consisting of pleasant visuals, comforting, riveting music, and ease of access, this one does its job well.
Each game feels authentic, despite not all being entirely suited to video game format. No button control limits play to the touch screen, but there are no issues with it, and extra modes for each game inject variety to an otherwise limited palette.
Functional visuals, clear and concise instructions for each game and static - though highly limited in number- backgrounds accompanying each game.
Cheery and upbeat tunes are the order of the day here.
Four fun, accessible games that are easily transferrable and playable. Not one for the single player, but in pairs longevity is potentially limitless.
Not a game you can fault really, as whilst the appeal is limited, Family Game Night does a superb job of replicating its real life equivalents for its target audience. Multiplayer is quick, easy, and most importantly accessible, and aside from one weak offering, the games hold up well with a wide variety of switchable options.