Review: 42 All-Time Classics
Posted 21 Oct 2006 at 00:03 by Mark Cullinane
One rule of thumb I've personally always followed is this: avoid game compilations. According to a video game law which I've just made up, the overall quality of a game is directly proportional to the number of games therein, so a title boasting 10 games in one should be approximately ten times shoddier than a stand-alone title. It was with extreme caution, then, that I approached 42 All-Time Classics, a collaboration between little-known developer Agenda and Nintendo.
After hours of playtesting both single and multiplayer modes, I'm delighted to report that this fine effort shatters my ill-conceived law into smithereens- for 42 All-Time Classics not only exceeds all expectations, but within it's admittedly narrow remit delivers a compelling, addictive, and remarkably generous all-round package.
The games themselves come under several categories: Card games, divided into three levels of difficulty, from the simple Old Maid to the more complex Five Card Draw and Texas Hold'Em ; Board games, ranging from the likes of Chess, Draughts and Connect 5 to the more esoteric Chinese Checkers and Hasami Shogi; and the 'action' games, which include Bowling, Darts and Billiards amongst others. There's also a small sprinkling of single-player games, including the ever-popular Solitaire, and an interesting block-puzzle game called Escape.
Upon first booting up the game card, you're asked to input a name and choose an avatar for your profile. In terms of single-player, you're presented with three different ways of playing the array of games on offer. Free Play allows you to select any game you want, and select CPU difficulty and rule sets for individual game. Stamp Mode forces you to play each set of games in order, awarding you stamps based on your level of success. Finally, Mission Mode sets individual challenges for each game, based on time or other criteria. Small additions they may be, but they add important focus for the single-player mode. Further bolstering the title's longevity for the single player are the selection of unlockables- new themes, music, avatars and even new games are all up for grabs- if you're persistent enough.
The games, as I've described, are a pretty diverse bunch- but how do they stack up in gameplay terms? A lot better than you think, is the short answer. The sheer breadth of games here means that there really is something here for everyone. All, naturally, make full use of the touch-screen and dual-screen features of the DS- indeed, this type of game feels like a wholly natural fit for the DS. Navigating decks of cards with the stylus is a perfectly intuitive action. So is moving chess pieces around a board, or drawing lines to connect boxes in Dots and Boxes. Likewise, manipulating bricks onto a wobbling platform in the fascinating Balance game is completely intuitive. That said, whether you actually enjoy many of the card games is a moot point- needless to say, card game haters need not apply, as these games comprise about half of the title's overall total. The execution, though, is impeccable, although perhaps some of the games could do with more options in the rules to cater for different playing styles.
It is the Action category, though, which was always more likely to fall flat on its face. Integrating effective stylus control into bowling, darts and billiards was never going to be an easy task. Two out of three ain't bad, though. Darts and Bowling both use a very simple, very intuitive control scheme- just grab the dart or ball with the stylus, and swipe forward in a straight line towards the dartboard or up the alley. The speed and straightness (or otherwise) of your stroke determines how you do. It works just fine, and with a bit of practice both games are entertaining, if limited, in their own right. The less said about Billiards, the better- suffice to say, the ball 'physics' (or lack of them) completely are laughably inept. Still, we're more than willing to forgive the developers for one bad mistake- especially when the multiplayer modes are so damn good.
42 All-Time Classics boasts some of the most fully-featured multiplayer modes ever seen in a handheld game. Full 8-player single-card download play is available, with no restrictions or dumbing-down to speak of. This is where the game's much-lauded PictoChat-style chat feature comes into play. Through an ever-present tab at the bottom of the touch-screen, players can write messages or send pictures to each other. Hilarity ensues, etc. It's a nice touch that we definitely want to see integrated into more games in the future.
Even more generously, any of the title's 42 games can be individually downloaded to any DS' within wireless range as presents to other players, at least until their system is switched off. But the icing on this cake of multiplayer greatness is the full Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection support. Apart from a couple of the single-player games, all are playable online, with many supporting up to 8 simultaneous players, which is a first for DS online play. Even better, the text chat interface also works online- but only when playing against friends with whom you've swapped friend codes. Otherwise, communication between strangers is limited to some generic phrases- 'Well done', 'Hard luck' and the like. Which is alright by me. After all, we wouldn't want Auntie Mabel to be shocked by some American teen's foul-mouthed raving, would we?
Indeed, the whole presentation of this title is extremely user-friendly, and geared towards non-gamers as much as the rest of us. The menus are clean, bright, chirpy, and thoroughly functional, if not particularly inspiring. The same adjectives can be applied to the music, which is occasionally grating but generally unobtrusive. One particularly nice touch is the fact that detailed rules for each game are easily accessible, at any time, and are only a tap away, through the Rules tab which is constantly at the bottom of the screen. The rules are concisely laid out, and will definitely come in handy, especially in some of the more confusing card games, as well as the likes of Hanauda and Mahjong. That said, it would've been nice to see the written rules supplemented by hands-on, interactive demonstrations of how some games work, as some of them are really quite complicated.
I've spoken about the generosity of this package already, but the knockout blow is yet to come- the price. 42 All-Time Classics, bewilderingly, clocks in at a mere 30 euro or 20 pounds sterling. The game's quality, longevity and entertainment value warrants a full price point more so than most other DS games. For this reason alone, 42 All-Time Classics is a genuine steal.
A collection of card and board games is never going to rock gaming to its very foundations, but this one is such a solid production that you can't go far wrong with it.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Low in price, but high in quality, 42 All-Time Classics is one of the surprise highlights of the Autumn DS line-up.
Huge array of games
Excellent local and online multiplayer
Too many card games?
Slightly sterile atmosphere