51 Worldwide Games (known in America as Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics) is pretty much what the title says, but with a few interesting twists and unique additions. The Nintendo Switch exclusive releases on June 5 and compiles together 51 popular table and board games, while taking advantage of the hybrid system in different ways for a more accessible and varied experience.
We at Gamereactor have been playing for some days now, and while our review will land sometime before launch, for now, we've compiled (yeah, we're into compilations as well) 5+1 things you should know about this collection and what makes it special.
51 Worldwide Games has something other classic game compilations didn't seem to achieve, and that is how it convinces us to try out games that we had been avoiding for decades (even though they've been around forever). The main culprit is the clear, casual way in which every game is introduced, with fully-voiced introductions in the form of a dialogue between two characters: one in the know, one unfamiliar with the game at hand. It's not quite like when your lovely grandma taught you Nine Men's Morris back in the day, but the conversational approach makes it both cute and convincing.
This, together with a clean, beautiful presentation (including a lovely intro for each game and an easy-to-read interface) had us taking a look at things such as Mancala or Chinese Checkers. And, once it has captured your interest, you can learn more with the "How to Play" step-by-step tutorials, including tips, curiosities and more. So, all in all, we're seeing ourselves discovering some of these classics, even to the point of learning how to play them IRL afterwards.
We kind of expected the "Nintendo touch" to differentiate this game from other classic board game compilations, but only now have we realised how this has several implications.
To begin with, this is the "spiritual successor" to the successful 42 All-Time Classics, which released on Nintendo DS circa 2005-2006. However, this seems to be developed by Nintendo themselves within their Clubhouse brand, and not by Agenda, and we'd say it feels more like that. For example, it feels like home with the Wii-like typography and background music. And Nintendo was born as a Hanafuda manufacturer after all, wasn't it? (That is, of course, one of the card games).
Having said that, don't expect Toy Tennis, Toy Football, Toy Boxing, or Toy Baseball to be based on their motion-controlled Wii Sports counterparts (don't let that font type fool you!), as these recreate mechanical, metallic toys with fixed, on-rails figures as characters. And, believe us, they're lots of fun in 1v1! Oh, and by the way, Golf is clearly inspired by the top-down NES games and the like, so no physical swinging here either.
Interestingly enough, Bowling and Darts are actually motion or touch-controlled, either by a Joy-Con move or a finger swipe on the touch screen in handheld mode. Halfway there, the Shooting Gallery, which is clearly inspired by Wii Play, has you using either the analog stick or the gyro-based pointer, which, some resets aside and always missing our beloved IR-pointer, works surprisingly well compared to other games (and gives us hope for Mario Galaxy).
The titular "Worldwide" term means several things as well. On the one hand, the main menu is presented as a globe, which makes little sense in local play as not every category is represented by a specific location on the map. However, it is true that we're learning about and playing games from around the globe, including Italy, England, India, or Africa (and, of course, China and Japan).
There's naturally a nice selection of Vegas casino-like games as well (BlackJack, Texas Hold'em, etc) which we're sure will provide the longest playtime from many of you, be it solo play or otherwise.
And that's where the other worldwide aspect comes into play, as every game can be played solo, vs the CPU, or multiplayer, and that includes both local and online play. We've actually played a few rounds of the latter, which was easy to set up and fluent, with a private room created by a host and then an entertaining, stable session that started with our victory in a game of Sevens against Nintendo and some other media outlets. We missed in-game voice chat but, for a game like this and given how many VoIP apps we've got access to these days, it's a minor, solvable inconvenience.
We wonder, then, if the online mode will potentially grow into more than random/private sessions, which takes us to...
The game itself grants you medals and keeps track of personal best scores which, together with the ability to customise rules, turns it into a very addictive challenge. Will Nintendo use this competitive potential to go beyond global online rankings and the like? We could think of tournament modes, online challenges and more, but perhaps the game needs to become a Tetris 99-like hit for that to happen.
At any rate, the CPU difficulty and the medal system, together with some good old fashioned household rivalry, should extend this game's lasting appeal beyond the norm.
While we expect Single System to be the most popular way to play in the long run (1-4 players, same console, be it TV mode, tabletop or handheld), and even though Online allows distant players in, it's worth mentioning that there's also Local Play with Wi-Fi Local Communication for up to four consoles (hey we can dream of eSports-like tournaments, can't we?). For this, each one needs a copy of the game, but Nintendo is also releasing a free eShop download called Guest Edition, which allows for three consoles to connect to a host Switch for "a selection of games" in Local Play.
Finally, we would've loved to try out the Mosaic Mode (weirdly called Tatami in other languages), which puts up to four Nintendo Switch screens together to work like a single multi-screen tablet. It's a concept we saw back in one of the first Switch trailers, where you align the mosaic by sliding your finger on the screen to tell the system how the units are laid out. This changes the layout of some games and takes us to the 50+1 "game", which is more of a gizmo.
We're talking about the touch-based piano you can play music on. If you go Mosaic on it, it expands the key range to a bigger piano, while shaking the Joy-Cons acts as maracas, castanets, drums, or tambourine in a Wii Music tribute. You can also set up two rows of two screens for a two-tiered electronic organ. A gimmick, yeah, but pretty cool if you ask us.
In the end, we can see ourselves playing 51 Worldwide Games up until review and beyond, and then enjoying the real, physical version of some of these classics for the first time thereafter, so even though we would've loved it to release earlier during these confinement times, we're really looking forward to it on June 5.