You can say whatever you like about Nintendo, but they’ve proven time and time again that simplicity can easily outdo complexity. It’s a pillar to their game design that’s seen them successfully navigate seven console generations, and based on the success of the Switch, they’ll be at it again for quite a while longer.
Their games can take in the glory of Mario’s escapades, Samus’ adventures and Link’s quests, but they’re balanced against offerings that are so simple other companies would pass them over. From Brain Training to Wii Sports, these are the games that everyone, and anyone, can appreciate, and with 51 Worldwide Games, Nintendo have lined up another.
51 Worldwide Games boasts a title so obvious that Ralf Wiggum, Tracey Jordan and Patrick from Spongebob would only have to have the shortest of short conversations about to get to the bottom of it. Even so, I’m going to patronise you to the fullest extent by telling you that 51 Worldwide Games features fifty-one – that’s right, you can count them – games, diversions and amusements from around the globe.
They’re predominantly classic board and card games, but Nintendo have got a little frisky here, with the inclusion of versions of golf, football, tennis and bowling to name but a few. I imagine that there’s something here for everyone.
The royalty of the boardgame dynasty are here in force; Chess, Draughts, Backgammon and Four-in-a-Row sit alongside more esoteric offerings like Mancala, an ancient strategy game, and Nine Men’s Morris, a favourite of everyone’s top imperialists, the Romans.
Nintendo have simply taken these 51 games, given them a light and gentle dose of likeable presentation, and buffed them all up with helpful hints and interesting trivia for you to unlock.
Every game here begins with an introduction from 51 Worldwide Games’ charming toy family. They’ll gamely banter with each other while you vaguely start to understand what the game’s about, and then they’ll leave you to it. They’re not always the best tutors, but they are amusing enough to put up with every time you load something up, even when you can skip past them.
They definitely help to get younger members of the family engaged in what you’re about to play, or when you’re introducing someone new to a game, though I can see some people finding them too twee. They make the Brady Bunch look like anarchists.
If you don’t get the gist from the family’s video tutorial, the How to Play option is right there afterwards, giving you a much more in-depth look at the rules of each game and hints on how to win. You can skew the odds deeply in your favour by paying attention to these – ideally when the rest of your friends or family are distracted by trying to put their Joy-Con wrist straps on.
For the more complicated games, Nintendo have seen fit to include assists that’ll keep you playing, even when you might not have a clue what’s happening. Games where you have to play certain cards at certain times, or that rely on a player’s ability to count, are made easier by clear and comprehensive highlights and guides. Thankfully, once you’ve learned the rules, or if you’re playing a game you know well, you can turn them off, but they’re absolutely brilliant for introducing you to something new.
It’s not just board and card games though. There are more action-orientated games, with Air Hockey, Golf and Billiards bringing something slightly less cerebral to the mix. 51 Worldwide Games even resurrects the spirit of Wii Sports, with the return of the classic Bowling, as well as an all new representation of Darts, both of which use the Joy Con’s motion controls, letting you get truly involved in the sportsmanship, or perhaps utter frustration, of motion controlled gaming.
Just as with the old Wii remotes, you’ll be swinging your arms as vigorously as you can trying to get a bowling ball to go straight down your lane instead of someone else’s, while Darts requires a touch more finesse, a flick of the wrist at the right moment being the key to success.
They’re both slightly more finicky than the old Wii Sports games used to be, and in doing so, they’re a tougher sell for family multiplayer gaming. Along with a swing or throw, you have to hold down certain buttons, and position your Joy-Con in the correct way. It’s not as intuitive as you might hope.
Wiimotes didn’t particularly have a right way or a wrong way beyond pointing forwards, while a Joy-Con seemingly can, and my eight-year-old soon threw his arms (and Joy-Cons) up in horror when he couldn’t get the knack right for the bowling. Older players will likely be fine, but it’s notably less universal than the absolute simplicity of Wii Sports was.
No matter what you’re playing, all of the games are pleasantly represented. Card games give you a game board or gaming table to play upon, while other sets give you a mostly two-dimensional view of the action after a brief 3D pan across. They’re nice. There’s not much more to say about them, but combined with the charming presentation, it feels like Nintendo put some effort in here.
As you play more of the games, and ideally win, you’ll unlock trivia about a particular game. Some of it is especially Nintendo related, due to their origins as card and game manufacturers in the 19th Century. Hanafuda – a deeply addictive, if utterly confusing Japanese card game – is amongst Nintendo’s original line-up, and the company have been manufacturing and selling them for over 130 years (I learnt that by utterly trouncing the computer at Hanafuda – eat my Cherry Blossom Viewing!). You can even earn specially themed sets of cards to use in certain games too if you’re good enough.
Nintendo have undoubtedly aimed for 51 Worldwide Games to be at the centre of a get together with friends, whether you’re playing together physically or responsibly distanced by the internet. There’s online lobbies for up to four players, depending on the game, and you can play local play with up to four other Switches in tow.
51 Worldwide games can do some very clever stuff with multiple Switch as well, so you can line them up together to form giant Slot Car race tracks or, amusingly, a full-length piano. It’s a shame that the likelihood of having four consoles in one place isn’t terribly likely, so not many will make use of this, but it’s a cool feature.
Nintendo aren’t nickel and diming players here, so if you’re playing locally with multiple consoles, you only need one copy of the game, and up to three others can grab a free download from the eShop to play together. It’s great to see, especially as 51 Worldwide games isn’t likely to send people rushing out for multiple copies, no matter how charming it might be.
51 Worldwide Games is just as playable on your own as it is with others. The AI has varying degrees of difficulty, and you should be able to find a level that suits you. That said, in a few of the games, the Normal setting is incredibly tough, when in others it’s a walkover, so there’s a bit of a learning curve.