While at CES 2009 last January, Sean and I had an appointment with EA Casual in the Kids@Play section of the show to take a look at some of their upcoming titles that were designed for families and kids. After checking out the Sims 3, Sims Animal Crossing and Pictureka!, I stumbled onto a kiosk that was showing off the Xbox Live Arcade version of Hasbro Family Game Night (HFGN.) After spending about 20 minutes playing demos of Battleship and Connect Four, we actually headed back the next day to spend some more time with the other titles. That was my first experience with the game (didn’t play it on the PS2 or Wii) and I was taken aback at how well the board games were transferred to a digital medium.
Originally released to XBLA on March 18th, 2009, the main hub featured four of the seven announced titles ready for download. These included Scrabble, Yahtzee, Connect Four and Battleship. Since then, the remainder of the originally announced lineup (adding Boggle, Sorry and Sorry Sliders to the mix) has become available. Every game comes with its allotment of achievements, but they are all grouped together under one main list within the hub. The pricing structure is pretty straight forward, with the main (HFGN) hub being free, and each individual title listed for 800 MS points (currently). Also, I went online and priced all physical board games and it is a toss up, as some (Yahtzee, Connect Four and Scrabble) are cheaper with the board version, while others (Sorry Sliders, Boggle and BattleShip) are either the same or more expensive than the Hasbro Family Game Night version.
After firing up the game and making your initial player options (local, Xbox Live, etc), you step off the elevator into your penthouse gaming room, where you can see that the room is segmented into three alcoves that house what I can only describe as the master game board, the game play area and a trophy wall. As you move into the room, you are greeted by the one and only Mr. Potato Head. The dude is prepared to show you everything and anything, as he is decked out in his jetpack outfit, complete with goggles and helmet. He will also be with you every step of the way, providing some simply priceless moments when he starts gasping, hanging his head in shame or jumping for joy while you are playing opponents. However, he first ushers you to the master game board, which houses all of the games, options and activities you can do while in the Hasbro Family Game Night application. The room also is (or soon will be) filled with unlockable items from each game as you win and meet goals, including pictures, slippers, chairs and coffee mugs. The game also comes initially with two themes (the base and a Spy version), but several more are free to download, including Boys room, Girls room and Jungle versions. As you change the themes, the entire room decoration (even the view out the window by the game play area) change to reflect you new choice.
I suggest the first thing you do is choose the option to check out the room and everything in it as it can almost be described as a room-sized version of Sony’s Home application sans the idiots trying to seduce the women avatars in the courtyard. The main hub has such a robust feel to it without even getting into the games themselves. However, it really dawns on you that this isn’t your 1980’s board game when you fire up any one of the seven available titles and realize that there are no missing pieces and no choking hazards for the little ones or pets that will be scouring the carpet for something to put in their mouths. As for the games, they seem to offer up the original board version, as well as a bit more challenging version with lots of play and finally a super-charged or tweaked version full of cool power-ups or twists on the original game rules. There is also a custom function that lets you mix and match the game rules to suit your own tastes.
One interesting development choice was that the single vs local multiplayer functionality was built into the main hub and not the individual games. If you want to switch from single to multiplayer or back, you have to actually back all the way out past your room or into the main lobby to accomplish this. I found this to be a bit annoying, as there were times when I wanted to switch on the fly at the end of several games, but had to back all the way out to do this.
The Hasbro Family Game Night hub also includes a ‘Party’ mode, which essentially is a collection of mini-games created out of the available (full version) titles from Hasbro Family Game Night that are selected. One example is Connect Four, where a game called “Blitz!” has you using bomb chips and alternate trying to take out more of your opponents chips than your own. Another mini-game for is called “One Shot”, where you try to take out the entire board in one move in only 5 seconds of decision making time. A third is called “Match the Pattern!”, where you keep dropping chips into color coded slots until someone makes a mistake. The Party mode has choices of short, medium or long rounds. At the end of the rounds of play, the winner is the person with the highest score. So basically, it follows standard party game format, just using the individual titles as a way to concoct a new way to play. It’s a nice diversion from the normal rules of the game, but if you aren’t a party game person, just go ahead and avoid it. As for the rest of the originally released titles, let’s take a look:
Connect Four was easily the most engaging of the titles for the entire family, as both my wife and daughter were having a blast playing each other and myself in round robin play. When I first downloaded the game, the three of us spent over an hour (without even realizing it) playing against each other. The competitiveness was great, yet the fun in seeing my 7-year old learn the game and its strategies was cool. It’s always nice to tell your kid to rub it in the face of your spouse when they finally beat them. Yup, teach them good sportsmanship young.
The game is very straightforward and easy to control, and we did not come across any quirkiness (like chips dropping prematurely) that could ruin the fun. Some of the gameplay options are the ability to change the AI difficulty, choose whether column drop and the drop clock are on, how many rounds to play, what the score and time limits can be. Of course, Mr. Potato head is right there to encourage you at every drop of the chip, showing his trademark reactions, although I never got any angry eyes or evil grins.
As far as gameplay modes, you can choose form the Original, Advanced and Power Chips. There isn’t much I can say about the Original mode except that it is Connect Four in its purest, albeit digital form. The gameplay mimics the original board game, and the same basic rules and strategies apply. Of course, you can always alter the above mentioned settings in order to strengthen the competition. However, the game is great for kids as it teaches them the core fundamentals as they are learning and understanding the strategies and awareness that is needed to be a consistent winner.
Advanced mode is a bit of a twist on the Original game mode, as it adds in the wrinkles of a constant three-minutes of score as many as you can per round gameplay. Essentially, you keep dropping chips until a winner is declared at the end of each round and then the game. Where this is a step up from the base original gameplay, when a row of four is connected, it disappears, and all stacks involved move down the appropriate spots of the row that is now gone. Think of how Bejeweled works when a row is matched, and you know what can possibly happen based on the other stacks and rows.
The Power Chips mode is similar to Advanced, but adds the dimension of chips containing power-ups and decreases the three all-you-can-score per round to two minutes. Some of the power-ups include the ability to crush a whole stack of ships, block a chip from your opponent being stacked and even knocking the last chip out of the bottom of the stack. This is a real nifty way to play and adds a whole new dynamic way of strategic thinking to your gameplay. I quickly have come to enjoy this mode more than the others, as you have to constantly be aware of all aspects of the board, because you can win, o lose, in the drop of a chip. This is probably the mode than anyone that loves a good challenge while playing strategic puzzlers should play.
One thing I don’t like is that you cannot change the game mode at the end of a Connect Four game. Although the option exists to “play again”, it is only in the current mode. If you want to switch it up with another mode such as Power Chips, you are forced to end the current game and go back to the main room and start a new game with a different mode. It’s not much of an issue, but definitely would be on my wish list if there is a title update in the future. Overall, Connect Four has been digitally transformed into a great game for individuals, groups and families. The multiple modes offer something for everyone and should keep the interest and replay level high.
GamingNexus grade for Connect Four: A
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