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Clubhouse Games review: a comforting collection of classics on the Switch

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics has an extremely boring name, but also an extremely accurate one. It gathers together a few dozen classic titles — ranging from card and board games to things like pool and darts — into one package for your Switch. It’s not an especially innovative idea. But each of the games is presented with care and consideration, resulting in a delightful collection that’s just about the ideal comforting distraction.

What’s nice about Clubhouse Games is that it acts as an introduction to these tabletop experiences. You can pick any of the games at any time — there’s no unlocking process — and when you do you’re presented with a brief, charming tutorial video that gives you the basics. Each one is presented as a few characters chatting about the game and how it works. If you’ve built any of Nintendo’s Labo kits, the vibe is very similar here. For some of the more complex games, like shogi, you can also play through a quick guided match to help grasp the basics. Essentially, each tutorial gives you exactly what you need to know in a way that’s both pleasant and succinct.

The games themselves are similarly presented with a minimum of fuss. If you hop into a game of solitaire or checkers, there’s little there aside from the game. No flashy special effects or Nintendo branding. But it doesn’t look cheap or boring. Instead, the visuals and sound design combine to create a very tactile experience, despite the fact that you’re moving chess pieces around on a touchscreen.

One of the great things about Clubhouse is how it utilizes different control schemes for different purposes. If you’re playing darts, for instance, you can use touchscreen swipes to toss a dart in portable mode or, if you’re playing on a TV, you can hold the Joy-Con like a real dart and make a throwing motion. Bowling works in the same way while other games, like checkers, swap motion controls for standard button inputs. There are a few hiccups with the motion controls; I found darts to be a bit finicky, while bowling worked very well. (This is the Wii Sports bowling follow-up many have been waiting for.) But for the most part the controls do exactly what they need to.

When it comes to the games you already know, there’s something very comforting about Clubhouse Games. It’s been really nice to just hop on the couch and play some checkers with my seven-year-old, or squeeze in a few minutes of the surprisingly serene fishing game whenever I’m stressed. My favorite part of the experience, though, has been discovering new things. I’m finally learning how to play hanafuda, and discovering games I’d never had the opportunity to try before, like the ancient strategy game mancala. Clubhouse does a great job of presenting these experiences, too, grouping games into helpful categories like “social” or “sport,” and providing little bits of trivia as you play. My favorite section features some of the card and board games Nintendo made before it became known for the NES and Super Mario.

I’ve lost count of the number of games I’ve called “perfect for the Switch” over the last three years. But even still, Clubhouse is ideally suited for the platform, more so than just about anything I’ve played. It has games you can enjoy by yourself or in groups, and experiences that are suited for both portable and TV play. It’s not a flashy system seller — but it’s a game I’ll always want to have with me, just in case.

Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics is available today on the Nintendo Switch.

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