When I was at school, a kid had what I thought at the time was the most amazing game cartridge of all time. It was for the original Game Boy if I remember correctly, and it included over a hundred games. Not knowing any better back then, everyone wanted one of these amazing cartridges, but the boy didn't know where he got it from and the local shops weren't stocking this now quite obviously dodgy cart. Fast forward to today, and a kid somewhere is probably wowing his mates in a similar way, this time with Nintendo's 42 All-time Classics on the DS.
It's not exactly the same though. While the kid at my school had a cartridge that included some well-known video games, 42 All-time Classics features well-known games of the pre-video games variety. For kids who have had PlayStations since birth, card games, pub games and classics such as Chess and Battleships (although going by a different name here) probably seem like they came from the Dark Ages, but a good game is a good game, no matter when it was invented.
Card games have received the most love in this collection of games, with a number of basic, intermediate and advanced games on offer, covering the likes of Blackjack, Rummy, and Texas Hold'Em. While each game has some basic settings that can be tweaked, it's not quite the same as playing with other people in real life, but given that they're all playable from a single cart on the DS, they're not bad at all.
Board games are likely to be more recognisable by the majority of people, and these too are categorised, this time into basic and advanced. Basic includes old-time favourites like Checkers, and the bored at school favourite 'Dots and Boxes', which is what graph paper was clearly designed for. The advanced selection covers the deeper games, with Backgammon and Chess being the two most famous of the bunch.
Next up is a selection of so called 'Variety' games. Dominoes is probably the most recognisable game to a UK audience, but Word Balloon is basically Hangman (albeit a version that regularly dishes out such common words as "vehement") and Soda Shake is essentially a test of nerve, asking each player to shake a fizzy drink bottle and hope it doesn't pop on their turn. Whether Soda Shake is really an all-time classic is debatable, but it's a fun diversion.
A collection of single-player only games has also been included, with office-workers favourite Solitaire being the pick of the bunch, and ideal to play while waiting for a train, or if your boss has finally become aware of your work-time activities (or lack thereof). Escape, which sees you shifting around a number of blocks, is also a nice enough game, but it hardly seems like a classic.
And that brings me to the final group: Action games. I'm not entirely sure who came up with the name, as they're not strictly all that action packed, but this section provides the most video game-like games of the collection. The problem is that most of them verge on being unplayable. The nine-ball pool game is perhaps the biggest offender, lacking the kind of basic features you'd expect to see in a student project. Ball physics are virtually non-existent and playing a shot accurately is a nightmare.
Darts and Bowling are only marginally better, but also suffer from shoddy controls. As much as Sony's Gangs of London on the PSP was a poor game, its mini-game renditions of each pub game are significantly more impressive than those found in 42 All-time classics. To make things worse, the background tunes during the worst games have an ability to drill into your skull, but after a while they seem to take on the form of current chart hits; either that or the difficulty in trying to hit a double in darts has altered my mental state.
Even though a number of the games aren't great, or even good by today's standards, there are 42 of them. The games that are true classics and don't feature butchered controls work very well, and every game (bar those for lone players only) can be play against friends locally or over the internet. It's a superb feature, and even if you only play each game a couple of times, offline and online, you'll probably get your money's worth.
A semi-traditional progression-based game has been included, tasking you with playing through each game, earning stamps at each, and Mission mode adds some dastardly difficult challenges to proceedings, but the games are best played with friends, which couldn't be any easier - normal issues about Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection service aside. As a game to wile away time, you won't find much better on the DS, with short online games quickly turning into prolonged sessions. Thankfully, a clock is always on display in the corner of the screen, so you won't lose track of too much time.
Diving into 42 All-time Classics expecting brilliant versions of each game will leave you disappointed, especially if you're most interested in the pub games. Card and board game fans will find a lot to enjoy though, and the online integration and solid support for the lone player make a game that is well worth its budget price. This isn't a collection of games in the traditional wacky mini-game sense so won't be for everyone, but know what you're buying before you make the purchase and you're unlikely to find yourself without something to do in the foreseeable future.