If you grew up in the past 30 years, you probably know all about Connect 4. It's a fairly simple game-- you drop a chip in a slot, and if you get 4 or more in a row, you win. Hence the name. The offspring of checkers and tic-tac-toe may not seem like a game that could benefit from a digital makeover, but new modes actually made this an incredibly enjoyable experience. If you can get past the server issues, that is, or were lucky enough to not encounter them.
$10 (800 MS points)
Technically not a standalone game, Connect 4 exists as "downloadable content" for the free 250 MB Xbox 360 Live Arcade Hasbro Family Game Night application. Basically, it's like this: you can download a complete suite of Hasbro board games absolutely free, but it's going to cost you $10 a pop to play any of them. It's like downloading an entire Namco Museum collection for free, but each game is going to cost you.
The actual controls are about as simple as they get-- you move the red or yellow disc to the left or to the right, and then you drop it. That's it. There's nothing here that couldn't be done on a phone or on nearly any game system, which makes it very accessible for players of nearly any age or skill set. Kudos for keeping it simple, EA.
It's a treat. The basic game is the same as you've always known, drop the discs into the slots, get 4 or more in a row and you are the new winner. It's a great quickie diversion to play with a friend, and the other modes are pretty nifty-- it turns the discs into bombs, score doublers, or force-field generators which prevent the other player from dropping a piece on top of you. The new strategies involved here make the game surprisingly more enjoyable than you might expect out of a digital variation on tic-tac-toe. These extra kinds of pieces, which are optional if you'd rather stick to a classic game, made this a game I want to keep playing, frequently.
Unlike Scrabble, there's a computer-controller opponent in Connect 4 so you don't have to play against yourself or by your lonesome. However, just like Scrabble, you may experience problems when connected to Xbox Live. In over 50% of the times we tried to play Hasbro Family Game Night, we found out that if you are connected to Xbox Live, and you aren't able to connect to EA's server, the game locks up Connect 4 (or any game in Hasbro Family Game Night) in a demo mode. What's worse, when you can connect, the servers to play online frequently drop randomly, which may lead to some very angry messages from other players. I've been trying to make it a point to try the game daily for almost two weeks just to confirm this, and I'll update the review if this problem goes away. It's sort of a deal breaker if you ask me, and since you're reading this...
While this game uses the same servers and can have the same problems we had with Scrabble, the good news is that a Connect 4 game may go quickly enough so that you'll actually be able to finish a game online before anything goes wrong. Of the four games, this one is the least likely to give you any trouble. When you can connect to EA's servers, it usually works well-- just like local play, and it's a blast to play against strangers. Particularly with its new modes.
As of the night we wrote this review, the EA servers (which are separate from the Xbox Live servers) wouldn't even let us sign on, though-- so we're considering online play to be essentially broken at this time. Feel free to ask around on forums like the official one to see if this is still the case. The real crime here is that I want to play these online-- actually, playing these in the middle of the night with strangers across the world sounds like a wonderful alternative to sleeping. Unfortunately, EA's servers and/or programmers decided that it was worth including the code for online multiplayer but weren't too big on making sure it was up and running.
Is It Worth It?
I'm not someone who likes board games, or rather cleaning them up, but I find myself going back to Connect 4 time and again-- because it's fun. Also, because EA's server hiccups often prevent me from playing the previous time I booted it up. Of all the games, this one seemed to gain the most from the jump to a game console because it's very difficult to employ exploding chips in the real world.
The only things this game has going against it is the price ($10 for Connect 4 when the entire collection of games is $13-$40 on the Wii or Playstation 2) and the incredibly spotty EA servers. If you play your games while signed out of Xbox Live, though, you're going to have a fantastic time with this one.
April 9, 2009