Review: Connect 4 (Xbox Live)
Released over the weekend, Electronic Arts' version of Connect 4 is another Nokia exclusive title. This is either a title that can help convince people to switch towards Nokia's Windows Phone, or another missed opportunity. Would you be surprised if I said it was the latter?
Version Reviewed: 184.108.40.206
The game of Connect 4 is well known; you have a gaming board that is seven columns wide, where players take turns to drop counters in from the top, hoping to create an unbroken horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line of four counters before their opponent in order to win.
Which leads to the first problem of Connect 4 - it's a rather simple game that everyone has played countless times. To try and improve the formula, the physical version of the game (now managed by Hasbro) has added some 'power chips' into the box, that lets you take another go, remove counters, and generally do silly things on the board to keep it 'fresh and exciting'... hold on let me fix that... to make it 'more random and less challenging'.
These power chips are available as an optional part of Electronic Arts' port of Connect 4, I suspect to follow the terms of the licensing deal, but also to get round one of the problems of Connect 4 on a computer - the strength of the AI. With only seven possible moves per turn, an AI looking ahead just four moves ahead has only a shade over 2,000 permutations to evaluate. Your smartphone can calculate that literally in a heartbeat.
Any AI for Connect 4 is going to be either supremely hard to beat... or stupid. Either option is not enjoyable to play, With a human opponent there's always the chance of moves being genuinely missed, but with an AI opponent it feels like playing your parents and they deliberately lose. It's not a nice feeling.
But the biggest failing of Connect 4 is the user interface. It should not be difficult to have smooth transitions between menu screens, with no blank screens or pauses when you move between the setting screens, the options, and starting the game. Yet they're there. It's a disconcerting effect.
The other effect that gets in the way is at the start of each game. A CGI box is opened, the board is taken out, and you see it placed between the players. Cute the first time, repetitive the second time, and annoying after a few days. The smart developer would have an option to disable this, but I can't seen any sign of that here.
That feeling of something missing permeates this version of Connect 4. All the right elements are on display, they're all linked together, but they don't add up to anything meaningful.
It slows the game down by getting in the way of the action. It leads you to wonder if the people programming the app missed these flaws or simply ignored them and carried on with the next item on their to-do list. Sometimes you can forgive flaws around a game, but I'm not inclined to here.
The thing about having an exclusive title is that it only works if people actually want the title, otherwise the agreement is not worth anything. Nokia and EA have a number of titles that will be marked up as exclusive, which means that the deal can be looked at as a whole. Which is good because if you were to look at Connect 4 then the immediate question would be 'why are Nokia releasing this?'
EA's implementation of Connect 4 is tired, lazy, predictable, frustrating, and is simply not fun. In the end, the name and the 'official' tag will sell it, but that doesn't mean that people will enjoy it.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at