"So, why don't you play the real thing?"
Well, that question pops up again and again when a very traditional game, sport, or activity is translated into video game form, more so if we're talking about something as simple as lifelong, good ol' card and tabletop games. And while it's true that you might enjoy your time better sitting at a table and sharing some drinks and laughter with friends and family, history has shown us that some of those games can still click with audiences in a different way when sprinkled with some video game magic powder.
But I'm not talking about "the Microsoft Windows Solitaire effect" here - which had everything it needed to casually triumph among bored workers and mainstream computer users alike - and given the many takes and iterations we've seen in the past for some of these games, finding the secret recipe for that magic powder might actually become a feat in and of itself.
However, it's Nintendo we're dealing with here. Which, for the average player, always means the Holy Triforce of Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, but in fact, this is a company that started manufacturing Hanafuda cards in the nineteenth century - yes, that's before Miyamoto was born - and that, for those with a short memory, successfully made video games way more mainstream and widespread by utilising the accessible and user-friendly control capabilities of the Nintendo DS and the Wii, with the Touch! Generations line-up introduced in the mid-2000s.
A worldwide game compilation was released as part of the lineup for the dual-screen handheld by the name of 42 All-Time Classics and now, fast-forward to June 5, 2020, its follow-up is about to release on the Nintendo Switch as 51 Worldwide Games.
Now, the historical introduction is necessary because this compilation would be bland and boring had it not been for the Nintendo-way that it has been designed and presented. Because if you pay attention to the details, you can literally smell the heritage here. From those card-based bonus stages in Super Mario Bros. 3 through to the interface tricks implemented with Brain Training or Picross, not to mention all the accessibility lessons learned with Wii Sports, Play, and Music, this whole collection shines because it knows how to talk to you, how to feel right, and how to keep your interest.
I won't go reviewing these games one by one, because that would be as boring as the way most of these games have traditionally been presented. Instead, I suggest you watch this 5-minute video, which lists them all:
Done? Good. Now, I'm sure you still feel like "meh I won't play this, that, and that anyway", but trust us as I felt the same until I started playing around with this collection. And soon enough I was proven wrong, as I ended up learning some of the most obscure, dull-looking games only to discover something amazing that I could potentially keep playing IRL.
It's all thanks to how games are introduced and explained, with believable, perfectly-localised and-voiced dialogue, and beautiful, minimalistic animations, together with a bunch of tips and tutorials that interweave with unlockable trivia. It's an effort that might seem simple, but one that is informed by some very smart R&D and, again, it has some solid DNA behind it. Presenting this the lazy/basic way with a rigid layout and an accompanying text wall akin to an instruction booklet would have had me travelling back to the previous century, killing my interest in the process.
I will, however, mention the categories, as there are Board Games (Nine Men's Morris being my favourite), Card Games (did you know there's one called Takoyaki? Yummy!), Sports (who would've thought that I'd get hooked on Toy Baseball?), and Variety (Battle Tanks is as awesome as it looks and made me dream of a modern Battle City). Then, there are the strictly single-player games, which will have you playing Mahjong Solitaire and more for endless hours.
The collection is also flexible and varied in the way it's presented. I don't see many games making use of the motion-based pointer on the TV or the touch screen controls on the Nintendo Switch, but thanks to those, and to the adaptive camera (which changes naturally depending on your game mode), you'll find yourself enjoying 1v1 finger-controlled Air Hockey or Gomoku on the Switch's screen, the motion-controlled Shooting Gallery on the TV (which of course will be faster and more accurate than the alternative), or playing your cards close to your chest when each player has their console in Local Play.
What we also like is that those games that are naturally more developed and have their own standalone releases - say Golf, Billiards, or Football - are represented as a lighthearted but functional take of the game, be it a miniature toy recreation or a very simplified version. Here you will find two or three very addictive little games to come back to every now and then, as long as you don't look for the complete experiences.
I'll finally say that, other than our "Single System" solo and versus sessions, our multiplayer experience has been limited to a couple of pre-release online matches and no multi-console encounters, for obvious reasons. Online went fine (and you can also share your game recommendations globally), but I'm left wondering whether Nintendo and CA Production will challenge players "worldwide" with more ideas. Besides, a Guest Edition of the game (a free download from the Nintendo eShop, similar to DS Download Play) allows for other Switches to join without the full game, which is something I've been asking for in many titles.
Let's make one thing clear, this should not be considered a "party game" with all that a game like that usually involves, and in that regard, you better look at Super Mario Party, Mario & Sonic, or even Mario Kart and Super Mario Bros instead. This is something more laid-back when shared with a couple of players locally, but can be way more deep and strategic depending on the game of choice. But then, it's also an excellent single-player pastime, for instance for those who travel a lot and like to have less visually-stressful experiences at hand when commuting.
In the long run, I'd like to see more tempting competitive additions implemented to multiply its lasting appeal, but so far 51 Worldwide Games actually makes many tabletop oldies more attractive to learn and enjoyable to play. Playing Ludo this way isn't a game-changer, but this may help you learn Backgammon at last. It is beautiful, clear and captivating, and perhaps the very best classic board and card games collection there is.