Arc System Works published an adaptation of one of my personal favorite board games, Othello, on the Nintendo Switch eShop last Thursday. While it’s pretty difficult to mess up something so straightforward, developer MegaHouse Corp. delivers a no-frills, barebones experience that may be overpriced even at $4.99. It does, however, provide an interesting peek at what the absolute minimal effort looks like for a game on the Switch.
The concept of Othello is simple: players must convert double-sided chips on the board to their color, and the player with the most chips showing their color at the end wins. Players take turns placing a single chip on the board, and can convert chips already on the board by trapping them between two of their own color. Chips can be converted across horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines, and you can trap multiple chips in multiple directions with a single move. The game ends when either all 64 spaces on the board are filled, or no more moves are possible.
Arc System Works advertises the following features for the game:
- Play on your TV or on the go
- For 1 or 2 players
- 16 difficulty levels for single player AI
This digital representation of Othello is satisfactory, at best. The 2D graphics are colorful and crisp, but sparse. It’s hard to get black and white chips and a green board wrong, but the simple blue diamond-patterned background is reused on most screens, with only a green and pink variation for overlays and player backgrounds. Of the few animations in the game, the ones for chips flipping over and win/lose overlays are only a few frames in length, and look cheap for their lack of fluidity. It’s disappointing overall, as MegaHouse Corp. passed up every opportunity to add charm to the game and instead kept it unapologetically basic. By comparison, Microsoft Solitaire Collection features a number of animations and little graphical touches in a game that otherwise would be (and has been, in the past) a plain screen full of playing cards. These sorts of additions can make a player’s actions feel more satisfying, as long as they aren’t overdone. There’s just nothing of the sort in Othello.
The game’s two music tracks are simple and repetitive. This is another title that seems to have been designed with the assumption that players will keep it muted. If a future update for the Switch ever allows for users to play custom music in the background of certain games like the Xbox One now does, it’ll pair nicely with Othello. For now, you are better off keeping the volume down.
The game’s feature set is right on par with its lackluster audio and visual presentation, and here’s where we get into some of the quirks that come with being such a shallow title on the Switch. Upon launching the game, the first thing you’ll notice is that you aren’t prompted to confirm which user profile to use (if you have multiple users on your Switch, that is). This is because absolutely nothing is saved by this game. There are no real settings or preferences to speak of, and no scoring or game replays, so nothing is written to a user profile. Because of this, the Switch apparently does not record time played for the title, so it won’t show up in the list of your recently played games on your profile page.
You can use the joy-con controllers both attached and detached, but they turn off and desync when the game launches if they’re detached and not in the grip (the shell that turns joins a pair of joy-cons into a single controller). This brings you to a title screen full of notifications that the controllers are disconnected, which isn’t a great first impression for the game to make. And while it supports detached joy-cons being held in any orientation, you have to manually set this through a menu. The game doesn’t pick up the grip order you’ve chosen through the Switch’s controller settings because of that desync at launch, and since nothing gets saved to your profile, you have to set your joy-con orientation every time you start the game. There is touch screen support, which is actually nice when playing the game against a live opponent on an undocked Switch. Somewhat baffling is that the game isn’t compatible with the pro controller at all, and won’t detect it even if you jump out to the Switch’s home screen and sync it, then return to the game.
Sixteen levels of difficulty are available for AI opponent in single player mode, which seems like thirteen too many. Is the difference between levels eleven and twelve that the AI declares, much like the Dread Pirate Roberts, that it is actually not left-handed, and switches to its nonexistent right hand? There’s a hint mode that automatically shows you valid spaces for your next move and which chips you’ll capture for each one. This is good, especially if you’re learning the game, and both players can turn it on or off independently in two player mode, which is actually great. It’s on by default, though, so you’ll have to turn it off every time you launch Othello since, again, the game doesn’t save any preferences. Two player mode is local only; while there is no online multiplayer support for any Switch game right now, I don’t expect for this game to receive any such functionality at any later time.
If you really like Othello, or think that you’ll enjoy having it on a Switch you can pass back and forth with a friend, it’s a perfectly playable title. It’s just so low-effort that it should probably be two dollars cheaper, otherwise you could do just as well with a (most likely free) smartphone-compatible version.
Arc System Works official Othello page:
Nintendo eShop Othello page:
A barebones but functional package that lacks charm
- Faithful adaptation of the board game
- 2D sprites are crisp
- Hint system can be used independently by players
- Only $5 USD
- Lackluster presentation
- Repetitive music
- Doesn’t save any preferences or settings
- No pro controller support
- Should probably only be $3 USD
- A barebones but functional package that lacks charm