Minigame collections tend to have a bad rep for being cheap, low-budget affairs that usually don’t provide any more than a mere few minutes of lukewarm entertainment. But Nintendo has long proven to take this particular genre a bit more seriously than others. Out of nowhere, Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics was announced, marking a franchise return after a fairly long hiatus. Now that it’s back and in glorious HD, it’s easy to say that this is one of the most polished party collections that I’ve played.
You, me and serenity
Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics really stands out as having a lot more character and charm than a minigame collection has any right to have. It has a sleek, polished aesthetic that is very inviting. On top of that, the design of its interface is simple and accessible to any type of player: young, old, inexperienced, or pro.
Each of the 51 activities has a cute (but skippable) intro cutscene that actually features decent voice acting and breaks down the objective behind each game in an entertaining way. But if you need even more insight, there is also a short instruction manual for each game that can be accessed.
A helping hand
There’s no doubt that the majority of players won’t have ever touched some of the games in Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics before, like Takoyaki. But as noted, each game is explained in great enough detail so that even a total newbie can jump into the experience.
On top of that, many of the board and card games will actually allow you to undo your most recent move if you’ve made a mistake. There is also an assist feature (that can be toggled) that will show you what you need to do next as you’re playing. For those unfamiliar with a game, or who just might be super casual players, this is a really neat feature to have. Many games will also allow you to use different rule sets and adjust certain parameters to further tweak the gameplay experience. The object of the game will also be called out on screen before the match starts, as yet another reminder of what you need to be doing.
AI = Actually intelligent
The computer-controlled players in Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics here are actually pretty formidable. In most of the mind/strategy games, even on Normal difficulty I didn’t observe a lot of mistakes or blunders from them. You can crank it all the way up to the “Impossible” difficulty for some games, though I was not brave enough to test just how skilled that setting was.
Playing against the AI is always a bit strange because they can either be too perfect or laughable. Clubhouse Games seems to strike a fair balance between the two. In the more mechanic/action-based activities like Darts and Billiards, the computer seemed even more balanced, perhaps since these games are more reliant on skill than strategy.
Of course, Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics does feature a multiplayer option. However, there are some caveats.
Local multiplayer comes in three forms: playing on a single system with multiple Joy-Con or using the touch screen, or playing on separate systems in the same space. The thing is that, depending on which of these conditions you’re playing under, not every activity will be available.
Two-player mode with the Joy-Con gives you access to 40 of the 51 games. Playing with two players using the touchscreen drops that number down further to 25. So, that makes Clubhouse Games a good local multiplayer experience primarily with the flagship Switch console rather than the Switch Lite. Of course, you can pair Joy-Con with the Lite or just use its touchscreen, but having a flagship Switch for local multiplayer is the more convenient option.
The fact that two players are sharing a single screen makes it impossible for each player to have their own private hand in a game like Last Card (name-change of Uno), which is why multiplayer options become more limited. This is where the equivalent of LAN Play comes in.
If you have multiple Switch systems locally, then you can access games like Last Card for local multiplayer. There is actually a supplementary free version of Clubhouse Games on the eShop meant for this very purpose. All you have to do is download the app to the secondary Switch units, and they can all connect to the single main system that has the full game. It would’ve been nice if this also came in the form of a companion app for mobile devices, but that’s not the case.
There is online multiplayer as well, allowing you to play with specific friends or random players. I tried random play but never got a connection presumably due to a small player pool during review embargo. In any case, you select three games that you’d be interested in matchmaking into, and you just have to hope someone else has chosen at least one of the same games.
Since most of the activities in Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics are card or board games, the control methods are pretty simple. Most games require use of only one-to-three buttons, hence why using a Joy-Con on the side is so feasible here. Two games, Darts and Bowling, make use of motion controls. They work relatively well for what they’re worth, though it’s still a bit less comfortable to use the Joy-Con compared to the larger Wii Remote.
HD Rumble is also used here extensively. You’ll feel the rattle and taps of the different game pieces in the palm of your hands. For instance, in Yacht Dice, you have to shake the dice around in a cup before throwing them onto the board. You can actually take one of your Joy-Con and shake it around; the rattling of the dice is simulated with the HD Rumble. Holding it up to my ear, it sounded like authentic audio reproductions. All of this really ties into the almost unnecessary amounts of high production that were put into the presentation of Clubhouse Games.
If looks could kill
To reiterate, Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics has a very polished aesthetic. In typical Nintendo fashion, this is a very bright and colorful game, but also notably realistic. Unlike the stylized party games of the Wii days, Clubhouse Games utilizes the Switch hardware to deliver impressive graphical effects and high-quality textures.
The materials of the different objects look almost meticulous. For instance, the metallic figurines in tabletop games like Soccer and Baseball have noticeable scuffs and scratches due to the abrasive nature of the games. The wooden tabletops almost look real here. And there’s an intense use of bloom and depth of field, along with an extremely tight field of view, to really make it seem like these games are sitting on a table in front of you. The animation for the cards in other games is also really well done; they realistically bend and curve, and their glossy print reflects diffused light authentically.
Ultimately, it’s oddly satisfying seeing and hearing how these virtual game pieces are shuffled, smacked, pushed, and placed. For such a casual title, none of this was necessary, but it is deeply appreciated that the team made all the extra effort. It ends up more of a soft simulation than a simplistic virtualization of real-life games.
With all the activities I was interested in trying in Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics, I really enjoyed myself. Even simple ones like Dots and Boxes really captured me due to the well-balanced AI and very accessible learning curve. This is a minigame collection that you can really take with you anywhere, and there’s bound to be at least a few games that will allow you to have a good time with some friends. And once the servers become more crowded, you’ll also be able to enjoy these activities right from your room. This certainly beats having to pack up a real-life board game, which usually ends up missing a few pieces after some time.
Granted, many of the included games in Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics can be found as standalone apps on mobile devices (and even on Switch). However, none come to mind that have the same level of polish that this has. Clubhouse Games uses the Switch hardware in creative and technical ways, and Nintendo’s signature quirky charm oozes all around here and makes for a fun collection that provides basically endless amounts of entertainment.
A review code was provided by the publisher.