Do you often play the latest AAA releases like Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted 4 and think, “Geez, I wish someone would really push my console’s limits for once”?
Do you wish your favourite card games as a child were available digitally, for you to play online, with a friend or against up to three AI opponents? Well wish no longer, my friends, as the geniuses at Ubisoft have delivered the ultimate eighth generation console game: UNO!
Sarcasm aside, while Uno may not be a contender for Game of the Year at this year’s Golden Joysticks, it’s definitely a game, which entitles it to a review, and so here we are.
If you’ve never played the actual card game of Uno before then firstly, shame on you. Secondly, here’s a quick idea of the rules: each player starts with seven cards and the first player to clear their hand wins the round. Cards are one of four colours (red, blue, green or yellow) while special “action cards” are black. The coloured cards are numbered from zero to nine or they have one of three symbols on: a stop-sign that skips the next player, a +2 to make the next player pick up two cards, or opposing arrows that reverse the direction of play. Coloured cards can be played if the colour, number or symbol matches and black cards can be played on top of any other card. The player who wins the round adds together the value of everyone else’s remaining cards and that becomes their score. Numbered cards are worth their face-value, symbol cards are worth 20 and action cards are 50 points each; with a round usually scoring 50-100 points, the first player to reach a set number (Say 500 points) wins. Simple, right?
So let’s get to it. To play Uno is, understandably, a simple affair. Decide how you want to play (single player, 2v2 or online multiplayer) and you’re ready to go. Games load really quickly and the rules are easy to understand; even if you’ve never played it before, after a couple of rounds you’ll have it down-pat. You can alter the rules, too, to play the game however you like it. For example, you can allow “+2” cards to stack, so as long as players have “pick up two” cards to play, the first player who doesn’t could have to pick up six, eight or even ten cards or more. There are also modes where if you play a zero, everyone hands their cards to the player to their left, or a seven lets you swap cards with any player.
Once you get into the round and things become more complex with the stack of cards in the middle getting messier and some players having an amount of cards that’s well in to double figures, you’ll be pleased with some of the minor touches that have been made for clarity’s sake. For instance, each player has a number by their player-ID to indicate how many cards are in their hand, as four or five is easy enough to keep an eye on, with 16 or 17 significantly harder. Also, as you move through your hand to decide which card to play, rather than use an arrow or a glowing aura, the card you currently have selected is popped out from the pack slightly, making it easier to see and harder to make a mistake. Of course these neat touches can’t stop you from making your own silly mistakes, but hey, that’s part of the fun!
Starting a standard game is easy, yet playing against three AI opponents is, in some ways trickier than playing against humans; you can’t bluff the AI, which limits your options. But that’s the nature of playing against a computer. While playing, before you place your penultimate card you must declare “UNO”. Fail to do so and your competitors may challenge you on it, forcing you to pick up two cards, or if the AI fails to do it, you can challenge them instead by quickly pressing a button once they play their card. It’s nice that the AI makes mistakes too – and they don’t challenge you every time; it’s easy to not notice when they don’t declare, so the whole process feels far fairer.
The whole game does have an overall quality feel to it, including the sound design. There is faint, soft background music playing which was some kind of jazz/salsa hybrid and the sounds of cards being chosen, placed or picked up is pleasing enough. The presentation is very neat, too; menus are slick and easy to both use and understand while the gameplay flows clearly and at a steady pace – although this pace can, occasionally, slow a little too much. When a good run of number cards has been played and a player uses a “skip” card, the game pauses momentarily to establish which card has been played with a large, friendly “no entry” type graphic filling the centre portion of the screen and a gentle arrow points to who has been skipped. That would be plenty for most people, but the game then pauses again after the graphic has disappeared and the player indicator moves to the person who’s been skipped, where a smaller, identical icon appears just over that players cards, before play resumes with the next player. It’s by no means terrible, but it can be a minor gripe for sure.
Another minor concern is the lack of content besides the core game. While you can change the rules to your liking, it’s still the same game once you start playing. It may have been interesting to see a little more variety introduced; with over 30 variations of the regular Uno card game, a couple of different modes wouldn’t have gone amiss. Then there’s the card design. To start with you have standard, black-backed cards or a Raving Rabbids theme (another property of Ubisoft, the game’s developer) but with almost 100 varieties of deck designs in the real world, you could expect a few more to be included in the price. Sure, there are promises of future DLC being added, but there’s none available at the moment and with properties like The Simpsons, Family Guy, Disney/Pixar, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Angry Birds, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Dr. Who and a whole bunch of Marvel and DC characters potentially waiting in the wings, it’s a real shame we don’t get to see and play with some of those now. It is worth noting, however, that the Rabbids pack does add some new gameplay elements, like sending a Rabbid to rig the deck so the next player who draws a card receives some extras as a penalty, but again, it’s a small change, not a whole new mode.
On the plus side, what options and designs there are, are great. Playing multiplayer either online or locally with a friend is easy to set up, though the local two-player does have a caveat: you can only play as a team, 2v2. This was disappointing to begin with, but it actually makes sense, as if you could see each other’s cards, you could screw each other over very easily. This could be amended by adding an option for more than four players (traditional Uno can be played with up to 10 players), but for now playing as a team is enjoyable enough. I found it easy to get into online multiplayer sessions, occasionally taking over from players who had quit a game, rather than starting from scratch myself, but I still managed to win a few hands. There are some rule combinations which led to a couple of my online sessions going on for a little long, as nobody held their cards for long before they were swapped with someone else’s, or if you couldn’t play a card, you were forced to draw from the deck until you could play one, where normally you’d just draw one and move on. These rules on their own are fine, but together were a bit of a handful.
Ultimately, if you enjoy Uno then you’ll probably enjoy this version of it. At £7.99 it’s perhaps a little pricey for a game you may play very rarely and the lack of more than 2v2 local multiplayer is a shame. There’s been little change since the PS3/Xbox 360 version, but that version was solid enough that it’s no great loss. The file size of 3.5GB was puzzling for me, as the initial download was stated as 1.5GB and I can’t see where those extra gigabytess have gone, though that’s still fairly small for anything this gen, it seems. At the end of the day, it’s Uno. If you like Uno, you’ll like this, if you’ve never played Uno then you probably will too – and if you don’t like Uno (once again, shame on you) then it’s no surprise that you probably won’t get much from this. As far as card games on PS4 go, this is certainly number one… er, I mean, numero UNO.