Genre: Board Game
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: March 18, 2009
Hasbro Family Game Night for the Xbox 360 is an interesting experiment in publishing. After all, the game was originally released on the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Wii in late 2008, and it's only coming to the Xbox 360 this year. That in and of itself isn't unusual, but what is different is the method of distribution. For the Xbox 360 release, EA choose to publish the game as an Xbox Live Arcade download rather than in disc form and sell each of the bundled games individually. The good news is that this allows you to just buy the specific games you want. The bad news is that purchasing à la carte means you're spending a total of $70 for the whole package versus $40 for the Wii version or $20 for the PS2 version. Because the games are available separately on XBLA, we've decided to review each one individually rather than as a bundled package. Here, we're taking a look at Connect 4.
Connect 4 is a simple game at its core. There is a vertical game board that is seven columns wide and six rows high. Two players take turns dropping their colored chips down into the columns in an attempt to get four in a line vertically, horizontally or diagonally. The first person to "Connect 4" wins the game.
Although it may not be a fast action title, Connect 4 appeals in the same way as puzzle games such as the ever-popular Tetris. Each move needs to be scrutinized, as it is possible to set up a force situation where your opponent is bound to lose two to three moves out. What looks like a straightforward play could be the setup for a winning maneuver.
Individual rounds of Connect 4 are relatively quick, with a typical round lasting less than five minutes. This makes it easy to sneak in a few games when you are otherwise limited on time. It also makes Connect 4 a good choice for a party game where you have a lot of people swapping in and out of the hotseat. One caveat to this, however, is that the Family Game Night interface doesn't make it easy to switch players on the fly. If you're an overly protective Achievement whore and don't want anyone else playing under your gamertag, you'll want to use a generic login if you do the pass-the-controller group thing.
Knowing that the default game is a simple affair, EA has attempted to liven it up a bit with two additional modes: advanced and power chips. Advanced mode brings a bit of that Tetris line-clearing action to the Connect 4 board. Each round in advanced mode starts off with a three minute clock and plays as normal until one player clears a line. Instead of scoring a win, the line disappears, and the player gets one point for every piece cleared off the board. The remaining pieces then fall down to fill the holes. As a result, it is possible to set up some multi-layered chain reactions where the secondary matches are worth more points than the initial clearing move.
Power chips mode builds on advanced mode by adding special power chips to the board. Here, the round clock is set at two minutes, and cleared lines disappear without ending the game. You draw chips as normal but always have two chips in hand. One is "on deck," and the other is the one that's actually played. These chips can be swapped during your turn in case you want to save a specific power chip for later. The available power chips include one that blocks your opponent from dropping a chip into the same column for one turn, one that pushes the whole column down, forcing the bottom piece to drop out, one that doubles your score when cleared, one that crushes all pieces in the column and one that explodes to destroy all nearby chips.
Visually, Connect 4 looks just like the physical board, though the pieces have mysteriously changed from the traditional red and black to red and yellow. It doesn't have any bearing on gameplay, so it seems like a change that was made just to do something different. Call us nostalgic if you like, but the old color scheme worked fine, so if it's not broke, why fix it? The color change also seems like a mistake since nostalgia is going to be Connect 4's main draw.
While the two new modes provide interesting twists on classic play, Connect 4 doesn't hold up as an engaging game when playing against the AI. This is a game that really needs to be played against a human opponent, but even then, the relatively short nature of the matches leaves you feeling like something's missing. EA is to be commended for attempting to add depth to the game, but there's only so much that could be done.
As a result, it's difficult to recommend Connect 4 at its asking price of $10, unless you have a house with a youngster or two who's bound to spend time dropping the colored pieces into rows of four again and again. Otherwise, resist the pull of nostalgia and wait for this one to go on sale for $5 or less.