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Family Games: Pen & Paper Edition - WiiWare Review

Game Info
Family Games: Pen & Paper Edition

WiiWare | Icon Games | 1-4 Players (local multiplayer) | Out Now | 500 Nintendo Points
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote (pointer)
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Review
10th February 2011; By KnucklesSonic8

On "paper", Family Games seems like a great idea for a WiiWare title. I mean, who doesn't have fond memories of playing games like Tic-Tac-Toe and Hangman with classmates, friends and siblings as they were growing up. (If, by chance, you haven't experienced this when you were young, I honestly feel bad for you.) Icon Games hopes to provide players with a means to rekindle past memories of favourite childhood pen-and-paper games with loved ones, and perhaps even create new ones. And for only $5, relatively little gets in the way of having some simple fun with this adequate title.

    When first accessing the game, players will start off by creating a profile for themselves, and potentially their other family members as well. Nine different games are presented in a very straight-forward manner by means of a personalized Main Menu. In addition to selections for each of the nine games, you can also access a general Options menu and enable multiplayer tournaments from here, and even activate a kitchen timer to keep things moving. There's also a set of Instructions inside this menu, but I personally would have liked to be able to access these mid-game more easily. For more detailed rule customization, each activity also has a series of settings that can be toggled before the game gets under way. 

    Moving onto gameplay, Battle Fleet is the first activity in the collection, a simplified re-creation of the Battleship board game your kids may already be well acquainted with. To begin, the first player places his ships in different places on the grid, giving thought to strategy and the inclinations of the opponent. Using the pencil cursor, you'll pick up each submarine and place it in a spot where you most feel comfortable. You can press the B Button to rotate an active ship, and press 1 to confirm the placement of all your pieces. When playing with an additional human player, a note will appear on the screen reminding your partner of the "No peeking" rule.  

    
Spots that have been incorrectly-selected on the opponent's grid will appear as lines with blue water, or a red-orange explosion will pop up when you've landed a hit. When you've successfully destroyed a whole ship, a little boy yells out "Ship Destroyed" in a cute-sounding voice. Aside from the normal gameplay, there's also the Salvo game mode. Here, players get to take up to a maximum of nine guesses in one turn, depending on how many of their submarines are still left in play. This means that if you're getting creamed by your rival, you'll be at a severe disadvantage once your turn rolls around. Still, it's a nice alternative way of playing this classic game.

    Next is Squares, also known as 'Dots and Boxes'. You have a grid full of dots, and each turn you create a line to join two of them together. Create four connections and you'll create a square, claiming it as your own colour. It can be kind of fun once in a while, but most will probably gravitate more to the other games in the collection. I did have a problem with how this game was executed, though. Even on the largest grid, the playing field is just too small. I doubt it would have been very difficult to enlarge the dots so that it would make better use of the screen, and make them easier to point at and select. Oh well.

    
The third game in the collection is actually a solo affair. In Matchsticks, you have a series of puzzles that form shapes using unlit matches. When you start a puzzle, there will be a directive at the top of screen telling you what you need to do to clear the level. At the bottom of the screen is a moves counter that tracks the number of times you've adjusted a match. In the first one, for instance, you need to remove four specific matches that will leave five equal squares. At first the requested task may not seem plausible, but by looking at it in a different way, the solution becomes clear.

    There are 25 puzzles in total, with an additional Time Mode to be unlocked for encouraging replayability. This game's inclusion may admittedly seem out of place for a game that focuses on multiplayer activities, but you can still involve those in the same room as you, making it a group puzzle. It's only a minor complaint, but I would've liked to see a Reset button of some sort that automatically put all the matches back in their default positions, instead of requiring the player do that manually. Otherwise, it's a decent activity.

    Hangman is yet another game that's mostly designed to be a solo experience, but that's not to say you can't involve the family in this one either. There are a good number of categories to choose from including Music, TV Shows, and Games. Some of the answers will bring back memories for you and your family members when you first see them, which could potentially have some interesting results. A Challenge Mode also exists where you try to solve as many puzzles as possible using a shared amount of lives. And finally, there's a "Create Word" option where you can make your own puzzle and get someone else to solve it. I think there was some unused potential there with how that aspect was executed, but that aside, Hangman is an obvious fit for this collection.

    In 4-in-a-Row, you drop playing pieces onto a stackable grid system in hopes of being the first to create a horizontal, vertical or diagonal sequence of four. Score and Time Modes switch things up a bit where you need to create sequences continually until a target time or point total is reached. So it ends up being more like a match-three game in a sense. One thing I didn't like about the game was that there was no sudden death or deciding after a draw. Instead, the game just ends there, and it really shouldn't. Otherwise, even though it may not have the same level of tension as Connect Four in Clubhouse Games, this is still fun to play.

    Now, Morris was the most difficult for me to get into partly because I never played it before outside of this game. Anyway, your goal is to eliminate as many of the opposing team's pieces from the board, to the point where they can no longer make an acceptable move. You do this by blocking them in a corner, or creating a line of three which allows you to remove any of the rival's pieces. At the start, players take turns placing pieces on the board; then, you can travel along the linear paths one space at a time. Depth comes into play with the ability to jump and travel along diagonal paths. It's ultimately not as accessible as the other games, but the more complex nature of the game (at least, compared to the other games) is very appealing here. 

    The eighth game in this collection is Tic-Tac-Toe (referred to as Noughts and Crosses here). I shouldn't even have to go into detail about this one, since it's so straight-forward. I liked the fact that you can have matches on 4x4 or even 5x5 boards, but since this also increases the number of X's or O's you need to get in a row, it actually makes a draw much more likely. No big deal though, since I'm sure this will be the game where most will spend the least amount of time with. 

    The final game in Family Games is Safecracker, a simple logic puzzle where you need to guess four hidden numbers by deciphering a series of cryptic clues. For each guess made, the game will respond to correct answers by giving you a black or white dot. Black dots mean that you got one of the numbers right, and the white ones mean you got a number right but have it in the wrong spot. What makes the game challenging is you're not told which specific entries each of these dots refer to. To be honest, I was surprised to see this even appear in this collection. While I do personally enjoy playing this from time to time, the fact that there's no multiplayer appeal to be had almost makes you feel like a different game should take its place.

    Overall
, I think the game selection is pretty pleasing especially given the price. That's not to say they couldn't have gone a little further, though. I still say they could've added one or two more games. But as is, it does a good job in what it offers. Family Games' presentation is very appropriate here. The lined paper along with the random coffee mug stains, pencil smudges, and crayon drawings make the game feel like an interactive notebook. It's nice to see that from time to time, things are switched up with the background contents even if they are very minor. 

    There are only one or two songs in the entire package, and while they are decent, I did have a problem with the fact that there weren't more to listen to. Worst of all, hearing silence during a multiplayer game isn't even a little inviting.

    At the end of each activity, a results screen will appear, crowning you the winner or the loser depending on how you did. When this occurs, a stick figure will perform various poses to reflect the outcome, like performing a victory dance or trying to prevent a weight from crushing down on him. In the background, you'll also see a simple Sun drawing or a grumpy thundercloud. Everything here is very basic, but also somewhat amusing. And hearing a crowd of people cheer you on or boo you while a little boy yells "Yay!", "Nooo!" or "Loser!" is kind of cute. But honestly, hearing these negative comments so frequently got incredibly annoying.

    
Aside from the simple aesthetics, Icon Games has implemented quite a couple key touches here and there to make for a more memorable experience. The most obvious one being the Rock-Paper-Scissors match that takes place prior to the start of all multiplayer games. I thought it was amusing for the first couple times, especially with the accompanying sound effect of hearing a large rock destroying a pair of scissors. 

    To encourage replay value, Icon Games also included their own set of unlockable achievements known as Bottlecap Awards. You'll earn one for doing things like solving a Hangman puzzle without making a mistake, for example. Oddly enough, even poor performance is rewarded, but I suppose this was done to "motivate" younger players in some way. You also have a Work Report checklist that tracks your wins and losses and even encourages you to defeat the computer on all skill levels. This too serves as a way to regulate progress in a game that would otherwise become "over and done with" rather quickly.

    For only $5, you can't go wrong with Family Games. Some of the games included don't work as well for providing lasting enjoyment and replayability, but for the most part I think they chose some solid picks that will appeal to multiple audiences. If any aspect of this game sounds appealing and you can see your family having fun with this from time to time, there's not much that should keep you from getting it.


20/30 - Good

Gameplay 7/10 - Good picks overall, custom rules and secondary modes in games like Battle Fleet and 4-in-a-Row, minor tweaks could have been made
Presentation 6/10 - Visuals are appropriate, minimal audio serves as the game's biggest issue, basic concluding animations with rather annoying voice clips
Enjoyment 3/5 - Not all games are well suited for multiplayer sessions (the main focus of this package) and some simply don't have lasting appeal
Extra Content 4/5 - Good value for $5, mysterious Bottlecap Awards, Work Report encourages replay value, could have had more games

Equivalent to a score of 67% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by KnucklesSonic8
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