I'm not sure if it's just my age, but lately I've been playing a lot of cards. Real life cards that is, with games like Gin Rummie, Texas Hold 'Em and even Snap taking up a fair amount of my evening's entertainment. One such game I've really gotten back into is UNO. A score-based game where the object is to start with seven cards and finish with none, with real life power-ups and some serious tactics.
When Microsoft announced UNO for Xbox Live Arcade, the Xbox Live crowd had another classic card game to look forward to - within weeks of its release the title became the most played Arcade game, and for good reason. UNO itself is an excellent game, and the Xbox Live Arcade version doesn't disappoint.
The basics of UNO are simple enough for anyone to learn, with the objective simply to be the first person to use all your cards: Red, Green, Blue and Yellow, with draw cards, direction reverse and colour change. Aside from the colour change cards, you're able to change colour with the same numbered card of a different colour, or by using an alternate coloured miss-a-turn or reverse card. There isn't really much more to the rules than the description above, but with the addition of the anniversary edition there are a couple more options to consider, but we'll talk about that a little later in the review.
Presentation in UNO is excellent, with possibly the most easily navigated menu for an arcade title, meaning you're only ever four button presses away from an online game and even less for offline. Why is the number of button presses important? Jumping in and out of games is something I'm rather fond of, and with UNO I can go straight into an offline game for 5 minutes of fun to alleviate my brain after a hard day's work
On the music side of things, the menu music isn't at all bad, but where the game really excels sonically is the in-game music. There's only one track for normal UNO, but it's damn near perfect. The looping lounge samba-jazz-muzak isn't designed to get your attention, nor to bore you to death, yet it sits in the background, gently stroking your aural senses whilst not being in the slightest bit intrusive. All this talk of presentation and music is just window dressing on an excellent game with really addictive gameplay, and some excellent multiplayer, but let's get my one and only gripe out of the way now shall we...
Playing UNO in real life is great. It's great because you can see how much you annoy your fellow players and react strategically to the unfolding game. In UNO on the 360 you can only play offline games on your lonesome. There's no multiplayer option at all offline, and whilst this is probably to be expected for a card game, it's worth pointing out. Thankfully, UNO over Xbox Live more than makes up for its offline shortcomings.
To demonstrate this, I grabbed my 'bestest buddy' from my friends list and laboured, well, steamed through a few of the game modes. He generally plays sports games like Madden (badly of course) and occasionally ventures into the realms of Street Fighter and PGR3 - not your typical UNO player then. He loved it though. The one defining point for him being the population of the game. No matter what time of day or night, there's always someone online, and the mix of people playing is incredibly diverse.
Fast paced or slow and methodical, the action in UNO is both engaging and enjoyable, with Partner UNO being one of my personal favourites. Partner UNO is a two-on-two variation of the single-player mode, but either player can win the round for the team. The use of reverse or miss-a-go cards is paramount to winning this game-type, with a misplaced reverse often costing you the game. Of course, there's much more to UNO than simply laying cards - jump into a private chat with your partner and plan which colours to lay and which strategy to use in order to achieve maximum effect and points.
One notable addition to multiplayer is the ability to customise the game, changing scoring from standard to progressive mode. So, laying a pick-up-two card over another raises the stakes to four, and so on - the first person unable to lay a pick-up-card has to pick up the total number of cards. It's little things like this that make UNO such an enjoyable game, and one almost everyone should download. UNO won't be perfect for everyone though: If your temper frays at the slightest nudge, avoid this like the dodgy end of town, or you'll be ripping your slowly receding hair out before the end of your first round, especially online.
The average win-to-loss ratio in my experience is 3:7, with the losses mounting up more so in single-player online than partner UNO. Partner mode gives you that little bit more control over the outcome, and because it's slightly more tactical it gives you the chance to rack up a few wins before the onslaught of the soul destroying losing streak you'll probably experience when you first venture online.
Although I love every aspect of UNO, there's one feature I've not been able to look at as yet. The Xbox Live Vision camera is supported by the game, but it isn't available in the UK yet. Come October, expect this to push some serious bandwidth over Xbox Live as almost everyone online is looking forward to the camera accessory. UNO is a masterpiece in casual gaming, and with the addition of downloadable card packs the game is extended even further.
Without games like UNO, Xbox Live Arcade would feel a lot like a retro museum. There are a load of great games on the Live Arcade, but games with such broad appeal as UNO aren't as common. Certain players may scoff at the likes of UNO being a killer-app for Microsoft's excellent service, but it's a fine addition to your hard drive. Whether you want something to relax with or you want to play competitively for the best part of a day, you can't go wrong with UNO.