Back when Electronic Arts had released 2-D Click Wheel iPod versions of several Hasbro table games, including Yahtzee, we became concerned that the company might have gone to the old board game well too many times. Then came iPhone OS 2.0 and the App Store, which EA has used for an increasingly impressive series of board game ports with 3-D graphics, the latest of which is The Game of Life Classic Edition ($5). It’s based upon the nearly 150-year-old Milton Bradley game, and though it’s branded as “classic,” it actually takes cues from versions released from the 1980’s to the mid-2000’s.
Those unfamiliar with this game, also known as LIFE, can understand it easily as a turn-based, highly simplified exploration of life events: two, three, or four car-shaped players are placed on a board, and take turns advancing through spaces on roads—life paths—to accumulate money and success. You start as a late teenager and initially decide whether to attend college or immediately start a career, taking different paths depending on which you choose, and advance through parenthood, grandparenthood, and eventually end the game with retirement. The goal is to retire with the most money, though you pick up “Life Tiles” from events throughout the game that get cashed in at the end towards your final tally, generally favoring the person who retires first at a millionaire’s retirement home.
As you make your way around the board, landing on certain spaces will give you the choice to veer off your current path, change careers, and embrace either a more conservative or risky lifestyle. Practically, none of these choices require a lot of thought or planning; they merely determine the roads your car drives on, and therefore the types of spaces—make money, lose money, random event, enhance salary—it will pass over or land on. A large spinner appears at the start of every turn, and you use your finger to give it a spin; typically, a higher-number spin, maximum 10 spaces, is better as you’ll have a better chance at passing multiple salary-earning spaces, and therefore accumulating the wealth you need to win the game. Moreover, if you get lucky enough to acquire the right, high-earning career, you’ll earn more, be able to buy a better home, and have an easier time generating funds than a person who keeps going back to school or changing careers.
If any of this sounds confusing or dull, suffice to say that it had the potential to be so in a 2-D, Click Wheel iPod-friendly form, but EA’s graphics engine on the iPhone and iPod touch adds more than enough aesthetic pizzazz to make the game genuinely enjoyable. Rather than presenting the board from a remote vantage point, EA has the camera follow your car around in 3-D, passing through a mix of 2-D and 3-D scenery that’s been added to the board for visual appeal; the spinner used to determine your number of moves is also a fully 3-D object. Between the car, the board, and the spinner, EA has done a very good job of making the game’s key visual elements look interesting; it also includes a fast forward button that presents the computer’s turns at high speed so that you needn’t watch the comparatively dull progress of their lives. LIFE also benefits from a fine if limited soundtrack, and cheery, clean sound effects that go beyond the simple beeps and boops that are found in many iPhone OS titles. All the elements come together to provide a fun and arguably educational game that can help kids to understand the merits, challenges, and risks of pursuing certain career and social paths.
What’s missing? Depending on whether you’re a long-time LIFE fan, potentially a lot; there have been many iterations of the game, and the iPhone OS version uses only a single, streamlined set of rules that can’t be customized in settings screens. Additionally, the only multiplayer mode is one that sees you hand the iPhone or iPod touch over to another person, or people, rather than offering online or Wi-Fi multi-device play; you’re also limited to four players, versus six in the standard board game. And finally, there aren’t multiple audio tracks to select from as in some other EA games, so you’ll have to get used to hearing the same song again and again, or insert your own music.
From our standpoint, The Game of Life is a fun little game that is virtually guaranteed to feel worthy of its $5 asking price for one reason or another. First-time players who are curious about the theme will find this version easy to afford; even those fans who miss a rule or feature from the original board game will be impressed by the charming audiovisual presentation, which is amongst EA’s best yet for a board game translation. The name and premise mightn’t be as initially appealing as Monopoly, but there’s plenty to be learned and enjoyed here, too.
Company and Price
Company: Electronic Arts
Title: The Game of Life
Compatible: iPod touch, iPhone/3G/3GS