Board games, in the correct context, are great things. Sure, the technology of moving little chunks of plastic around a slab of cardboard hasn't really evolved much in the last 50 years or so, but under the right circumstances, there's a social nicety to setting up a board and playing and chatting with other human beings. As such, plenty of board games have made their ways to consoles over the years. To a certain extent, this makes good sense. You can never lose the pieces, or deal with folks cheating, and most games will allow you to save mid-game if time is pressing.
Hasbro Family Game Night Vol 3 grabs a bunch of classic board games in an attempt to bring them into the digital age, but somewhere along the way, the fun of board games for most of the titles has been lost. Hasbro Family Game Night Vol 3 comprises four titles: The Game Of Life, Mouse Trap, Twister, Cluedo and Yahtzee Hands Down.
Your host through all the games is Hasbro's own Mr Potato Head. And he's easily the best thing about the title, hands down. Anyone who doesn't like Mr Potato Head, frankly, has no soul.
The problem is the rest of the games on offer largely don't have any soul either.
After starting the game up, you're given the choice to play online or locally with between 1-4 players and either with single or multiple controllers. A selection of eight "personas" (think Miis, Avatars or whatever virtual character naming scheme suits your fancy) are pre-configured for you. And they all share the same trait. They’re all quite ugly. That's objectively speaking. You can edit them to make them a little more palatable. Once you've selected your play characters, you head out to the game plaza to choose your title.
The Game Of Life
First up, The Game Of Life. If you're not familiar with it, it's a board game that takes you from school to a career along the way, with the winner being the one with the most profitable 'life' at the end of the game. It's amusing in real life if only because it's kind of fun when Auntie Pamela suddenly becomes a top surgeon or Cousin Trevor has multiple babies.
The animations are nice in the Game Of Life, but because it's so totally random, and the way the board scrolls makes it tough to assess where you are relative to other players, it's just not that much fun to play through, even with multiple people in the room with you. We didn't play any online games of The Game Of Life, but we suspect that'd only be worse. In order to spice things up a little, EA's dropped in some mini-games for specific tasks, but they're all awful. As an example, when picking a job card, you'll sometimes be faced with a mini-game that has you clicking on letters of a specific colour to get the most cards to pick from. It's substandard stuff you wouldn't accept as a free Flash game and it's repeated in essence in the Cluedo game as well.
There's also a very light Dance Dance revolution mini-game on offer here whenever your Game Of Life character goes to a dance. You've played better, perhaps even if you've never played a dance/rhythm game before. And if you carry on with the other titles in the pack, you’ll play it again. More on that shortly.
The other mini-games in The Game Of Life are indeed, quite mini. For example, the instructions for the "Have Children" mini-game (yes, that’s actually a mini-game, at the end of which, as a reward, you "receive" a child. Who knew childbirth was that easy?), read as follows:
Stop the flashing square to see how many children you have!
Are you having fun yet? We certainly weren't. The most excitement we could muster for The Game Of Life was when we figured out that pressing X would make the car go around the board faster.
We'd like to say that MouseTrap is undeniably cheesy, but that would skating dangerously closely to something that might be entertaining or humorous in some way. The classic real-world Mouse Trap involves building up a silly mousetrap machine to trap your friends under at the conclusion of the game. Like the Game Of Life, the truly random nature of the game combined with the lack of physical contact with the fun- to-build trap makes this a somewhat dull title to play on a PS3. Even the inclusion of a weak, PipeMania-style mini-game for laying down the Con-trap-tion pieces doesn't help. Yes, EA spelled contraption a funny way. Our sides, they were truly splitting with the general hilarity of it all.
Then there's Twister. We were very curious to see exactly how you translate Twister into a videogame. After all, the mechanics of Twister are pretty simple. And the fun is usually in falling over people, or, if you're of a certain age or gender preference, falling on them at the right time. There's much less fun in virtual people falling over themselves, but as we discovered, Twister is Twister in name only. In actual fact, it's a poor Dance Dance Revolution clone, introduced by a Travolta-style Mr Potato Head, who leads your dancers through button-mashing dancing exercises.
The same button-mashing exercises you do in The Game Of Life dancing mini-game. And that's because it's the exact same game. Yep, that’s right. EA's dressed up something that's only a mini-game in one of the other games on offer here as a game in its own right and hastily slapped the Twister name on the top of it.
This faux-Twister's gameplay mechanics are made more complex by the fact that beat patterns are shown on the bottom of the screen, but you've then got to memorise them before the empty beat patterns flow from the top of the screen. It's still just Dance Dance Revolution done very light, though, and really nothing to do with the Twister name at all. Chances are you've seen and played this kind of game already, and even if you hadn't, if you showed this to someone and said it was Twister, they wouldn't believe you. In a game that's already not very good, Twister is a notable low point.
Yahtzee Hands Down
The rest of the game offerings are a little better. Yahtzee Hands Down is a card-matching game that's notable amongst these offerings for being essentially inoffensive. It's neither terrible nor great. And when that's the best thing you can say about a game, is it really worth buying?
The best component of the package is virtual Cluedo. There's an obvious problem with virtual Cluedo and that's the secrecy of virtual cards. Cluedo handles this in two ways. While you're playing mini-games and revealing parts of the final solution via turgid mini-games, everyone can see what's being uncovered, which is equitable if not entirely exciting. It does get a bit dull for the last parts of a clue, as it quickly becomes obvious which item is being uncovered, but you have to uncover every part via the same stop-the-buzzer style game that had you birthing children in The Game Of Life. It's no more exciting when you're revealing a murder location.
As you play Cluedo you gather rumour points. Once your rumour bar is full, you can make an accusation, and that'll tell you which bits of the clue you do or don't know explicitly, bearing in mind that a full accusation, if wrong, will eliminate you from the game entirely. When you spread a "rumour" to check your accusation, the console asks everyone to "look away now" while it reveals which of your guesses were correct. It's not exactly high-tech or subtle. And good old-fashioned family cheating could still occur, but it does work, just.
Just in case you think that we're down on board games as a concept and don't get the nature of random dice rolls, we should pause here momentarily and state that we love board games. There's simply nothing like sitting around a table counting out fake money or building ludicrous contraptions or solving murder mysteries or laughably working your way through a life as represented on a gaudy bit of cardboard. The games that these titles are based on are classics. It's just that removed from the physicality of it all (especially in the shameful case of Twister), the fun bleeds away so incredibly rapidly, replaced by monotony. No amount of shiny high-definition graphics can replace or replicate a real board game. And if you buy Family Board Game Night Vol 3, we get this feeling that even if the trap doesn't quite fall right any more, or the Twister board has some suspicious stains on it, you'll quickly be reaching for the real thing rather than returning to this poorly conceived and implemented take on classic board game franchises.