Review: Gameloft S.A. Uno
Not every Gameloft game is a winner, but what we've realized over the course of playing all of the company's iPod releases is that it always makes an effort to turn even simple games into more complete entertainment experiences. That formula -- the one that transformed well-worn games such as Breakout and Bejeweled into Block Breaker Deluxe and Diamond Twister -- is at play again in Uno ($5), a Click Wheel iPod version of the classic card game, which benefits from both Gameloft's sense of structure and streamlined gameplay. Updated November 19, 2008: We've added a review of the iPhone/iPod touch version of Uno to the bottom of this page, complete with new pictures.
Designed to be played either alone against the CPU or in a multi-player mode with up to four total people, Uno gives each player a set of cards that need to be matched by color or number to a communal stack in the center of the table. If the current color is green and the number is 9, you can add any of your cards that is green colored or numbered 9. Additional cards you possess can be used to change the color, force other players to take more cards, or reverse the order in which players are putting down their cards. The first player with no cards left wins the game, but must first announce “Uno” to indicate that only one card remains.
Gameloft’s user interface to handle the intricacies of the Uno ruleset is, in a word, laudable. In much the same way as Apple has made operation of the iPod essentially one-handed and intuitive through removal of unnecessary buttons and options, Gameloft makes Uno a snap to play. You’re presented with a hand of cards at the start of each round, but the game makes selecting a good card, drawing a new card, or announcing “Uno” extremely straightforward without allowing the process to become completely mindless; you still have to make a card choice, decide whether to draw, or quickly hit the Uno button before your turn ends. As a result, gameplay is fast-paced and yet easy to figure out, even as the rules change from round to round of the single player career mode.
The very fact that there is a career mode is another distinguishing feature between Uno and some of Electronic Arts’ renditions of classic games. In this mode, you’re able to play through games with changing numbers of opponents, types of rules, and conditions for victory; you get to pick the difficulty up front. To keep things interesting, Gameloft has included a rewards system that tracks your performance and adds special icons and tiles to your saved game profile, as well as unlockable background graphics. Your current status in the career mode, including points, unlocked items, and stage of play are all saved automatically for whenever you’re ready to return to the game. There’s also a custom mode where you can set a number of game parameters, including scoring, penalties, and difficulty, for single-player games.
A major fact in Uno’s favor is that the gameplay is inherently fun. The strategy of trying to get rid of your cards while forcing your opponents to take on more of their own is enjoyable, then turned on its head when a rule switch such as 7-0 is applied, requiring you to swap your hand with someone else’s whenever a 7 or 0 card is played. Even apart from the additional depth Gameloft has added, the Uno game would be fun on its own in the four-player multi-player mode; what’s great is that the game still stands on its own as a single-player experience.
Overall, it’s not the graphics or the music—both of which are nice, at times even impressive—or the standard Uno gameplay that elevate this title to our rare high recommendation and A- rating; it’s the fact that this game has enough depth and fun to keep first-time and experienced users playing over and over again. By Click Wheel iPod card game standards, Uno is a title we’d pick over all of the alternatives we’ve previously played, a testament to Gameloft’s development strategy and the quality of the classic title it licensed. We’re hoping that the iPhone and iPod touch get an equivalent or superior version soon.
Updated November 19, 2008: The iPhone and iPod touch Version of Uno
When Gameloft released Uno for Click Wheel iPods, we were impressed; a streamlined interface, nice unlockables, and good aesthetics all contributed to making a classic card game very fun on the game control-challenged iPods. Now the company has released a version for the iPhone and iPod touch under the same name, at a higher price of $8. Though we’re generally not in favor of higher prices for iPhone versions of Click Wheel games—and entirely willing to penalize titles if they charge too much for what’s included—our impression of this particular translation is a little more favorable: Gameloft has added enough to the prior version to justify a small price bump, though it has taken a little away from one of our favorite parts of the Click Wheel version.
What’s new? A couple of impressive multiplayer modes. Uno now includes an online mode, complete with user profiles, and a Wi-Fi mode to let you play against a friend on a nearby device. While the game continues to play well in single-player-versus-computer mode—novice players will lose more than they win on Normal difficulty—the option to play against friends or strangers without handing your iPhone or iPod touch from person to person is a nice one, and complete with rankings for the online mode. The “pass it around” multiplayer mode still remains an option, though, for people who want it.
As before, the graphics, music, and gameplay are all solid, and not surprisingly, the visuals have received a resolution upgrade for the 480x320 displays of the iPhone and touch. But Gameloft has stumbled a little on transforming what was a highly impressive card selection interface into something more touch-friendly. Picking cards now requires you to tap to zoom in on your hand, then tap again to pick a card, and a third time if your fingertip isn’t small enough to hit the card correctly the first time. We found that this modestly interrupted the flow of the game, which was pretty close to perfect before with the Click Wheel controls, something we virtually never say given how many games are adversely impacted by Apple’s music- and movie-friendly wheel. It’s also worth a brief note that an actual deck of Uno cards sells for $5-6 these days, so whereas the Click Wheel version was a same-priced substitute, the iPhone one is more expensive—akin to the price of an Uno deck with an additional Barbie, Disney, or Hannah Montana license, rather than just the plain cards you get here.
Given the new multiplayer modes and slightly upgraded aesthetics, offset by the higher price and less impressive controls, Uno merits a very good but not great B+ rating overall. If you have a Click Wheel iPod and don’t need the wireless multiplayer, save yourself a few bucks and get that version, but if you want a generally quite impressive rendition of this card game and don’t mind paying a bit more than you would for a classic deck of the cards, the iPhone version is a solid pick.