Review: The Game of Life (Xbox Live)


Last week's release of The Game of Life on Xbox Live was another exclusive title from Nokia. It's a curious choice of board game to convert to the digital sphere, but EA have done a really good job in replicating the experience of playing the game. Is that enough to make a strong smartphone title?

Author: Nokia

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The Game of Life is a simple game, where you move along a ribbon of squares, some with bonuses, some with forfeits, and others that do nothing at all. You move around the board, making decisions at certain points on which route to take through this ribbon of life, and when you reach the end of the ribbon and retirement, all the players' net worth is added up, and a winner is declared. Okay it's a bit of a capitalistic determination by only measuring wealth, but you have to keep score somehow!

The Game of Life

The one thing everyone remembers about The Game of Life is that, rather than using dice to move around the board, a spinner sits in the centre of the board and players take turns with this Wheel of Fortune-esque random number generator. By giving each of the numbers one through ten an equal chance of turning up (rather than the curved probability between two and twelve you get with two dice) it added to the random nature of the game.

The spinner is here in the digital game.

The Game of Life

Not only does it take up the centre of the digital board, you also get to spin it. Okay it's just a finger and a spinning action, but it's enough to create the association with the touch screen and memories of the game from my childhood.

I want to credit the developers of the game for the graphical accuracy of the title. The Game of Life went through a regeneration in 2005 to re-balance the game to be more about risk tasking than relying on luck, which means that the board on show here is not the board from my childhood. But anyone who's up to speed with Hasbro's board games will recognise everything that's going on here.

Moving the camera around the board to different areas and viewpoints, especially as your car moves, adds a sense of energy and vitality to the game. Unlike other Hasbro/EA titles, where the animations and creating a sense of watching a physical version of the game detract, here it actually benefits the presentation and the flow of the game.

It doesn't actually make the game move any faster though, and to play a relatively fast paced two player game against the computer AI is at least twenty minutes of gaming. This can be mitigated by selecting the 'fast' option when the AI opponent is playing, to zip though the animations that would normally play, but you are in for 'steady' game play here, rather than fast and furious fun.

The Game of Life

The interesting question for me is: who this title is aimed at? This isn't for the hardcore gamer, it just doesn't have enough choices that allow skill to make a huge amount of difference, and it takes a bit too long to play through. Neither is it for the casual gamer, because it's not really something you can dip in and out of.

Surely this is for the kids? This is the sort of title you can start running and sling onto the back seat of the car during a long drive for a bit of peace and quiet. It has the pass-around multiplayer option so everyone can play, they can add in a computer AI if they want, and they are quite happy with a game built on a little risk and a fair amount of luck.

The Game of Life

Practically speaking, Nokia have signed an exclusive deal with EA, and I suspect that they were negotiating on a bundle of licences, rather than single titles. That would explain some of the more 'out there' choice of mobile gaming titles that Nokia have, including The Game of Life.

Given the source material, in my opinion EA have not only done a really good job with the title, they've excelled themselves. The excitement level is kept as high as it can, it feels like the board game but at the same time it feels very much a digital product.

But good programming can't make up for a lack of genuine excitement. The Game of Life is a success technically, but it has a very limited appeal. More a curiosity than something I would be looking to play, I think I can still recommend this one, but with a strong caveat of 'try the trial first and then decide on the purchase', because it does the UI and presentation rather well.

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