Review: Midnight Play Pack (Nintendo DS)

Midnight Play Pack
Genre: Mini-game/Casino Games
Developer: Gameloft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 06/24/08


Generally speaking, if you want to make a handheld game for the DS, but you have no idea what you actually want to do, it seems that the best solution is to make something mini-game oriented. This doesn’t guarantee the product will, in fact, be good, but it minimizes the potential for bad elements, It also allows for the damage to be contained to a minimum. Gameloft seems to have taken this idea to heart. After Miami Nights, which could charitably be described as “not very good at all”, they’ve developed Midnight Play Pack, a collection of five games that, individually, might not be worth much, but combined make a surprisingly solid little concept: five bar/casino games (well, four, anyway), in one DS cart, for a budget price. It certainly seems like a winning idea, but let’s take a look and see what’s what, and if it all works well.

Each of the five games has something of a story to it (mostly in the tournament modes) that amounts to wanting to win cash prizes and such, and as they are rather minimal, let us instead look at the game modes, because HOO BOY there are a lot. There are five, count “Ëœem, FIVE games to choose from: Block Breaker Deluxe, which is the normal Arkanoid-esque game we’ve all been playing for two or more decades; Solitaire, which, if you’re reading this, you know what that is (it’s in the Games folder of your computer, after all); Poker, which isn’t actually NORMAL Poker so to say; Pool, as in billiards; and Bowling, as in throwing a ball at some pins. Now, normally, that would be enough to say, “Ëœwell, okay, that’s neat”, but OH NO, there’s more. Aside from each game being a full-fledged game in its own right, with tournaments and such, Poker offers three different play modes (Texas Hold “ËœEm, Omaha, and Omaha Hi-Lo), as does Pool (8-Ball US, 8-Ball UK and 9-Ball) and Solitarie offers six (Solitaire, Golf, Pyramid, Yukon, Freecell, and Spider). In other words, there’s a whole lot to do.

Visually, MPP looks best when there are no character models on screen. Sorry, but there it is. The hand-drawn art is well done, and most of the games generally look serviceable to good. Super Block Breaker is the visual king here; it’s bright, flashy, and looks stylish and slick, and blows the rest of the game out of the water visually. Aurally, the various tunes change from game to game; some feature more casino-sounding tracks, others feature techno or rock-esque tracks, and it all works in context well enough. The sound effects are what you would expect; card flipping, bowling and pool ball striking noises are commonplace, and generally sound good all in all. There’s the odd bit of voice acting here and there in some games, and while in Block Breaker Deluxe and Poker, for instance, it’s cute and works, in Bowling it can become a bit annoying after the tenth time your character says “Come on!” when you throw the ball. Still, it’s not bad or anything and it’s done well enough to be good.

Now, as noted, there are five games in MPP, so rather than try to discuss everything altogether, we’ll break things down on a game-to-game basis to make things more palatable.

PLATINUM SOLITAIRE: Solitaire is pretty much a universally known game, and as such, it’s hard to do it “wrong” in any sense of things, because how could someone ruin solitaire? Platinum Solitaire, in this respect, does a pretty good job of making the experience a little bit more interesting than your typical experience, largely by offering six different games and two different modes to play through. You’re offered Quick Mode and Casino Mode to play with, each with different base rules: in Quick Mode, all six casinos are unlocked for you to play in, losing doesn’t cost you anything, and the games are rated based on time (as in, how long a game will take), success % (as in, how likely you are to win) and difficulty (as in, how hard the mechanics of the game are to play with), while in Casino Mode, all but the first casino are locked and have to be bought into, you have to make bets to earn cash, and games are ranked by Jackpot (how much it pays out), success %, payout (how much you make outside of a Jackpot) and difficulty.

Each casino has a “favorite game”, and by playing said game at said casino, the Jackpots are doubled for that game in Casino Mode (in Quick Mode it doesn’t seem to make a difference, but then, since you aren’t betting it really doesn’t matter). As noted, there are six games (and six casinos) total; normal Solitaire, Golf (match the draw card to one higher or lower card from the table and repeat until you have to draw again), Pyramid (add two cards up to get to thirteen to remove them from play), Freecell (similar to normal Solitaire, but with different placement and movement rules), Yukon (also similar to Solitaire, but with really different movement rules) and Spider (use two decks of cards to build suits, then send them up to the base). All of the games play well, but aside from being able to change the rules of Solitaire between draw one or three, there’s not much to do aside from unlocking the casinos in Casino Mode. If you like various games of Solitaire, this will be great, but if not, you can pretty much get by on Pyramid, Golf and normal Solitaire to unlock everything, as those are (arguably) the easiest games to bet and win at. Platinum Solitaire is probably the easiest of the games to work with and it’s a cute time-waster, if nothing else.

MIDNIGHT HOLD “ËœEM POKER: Unless you actively play Poker, this one is probably going to lose you at first, as it’s the hardest of the games to learn if you know nothing about it. Midnight Hold “ËœEm Poker offers three Poker games to play: Texas Hold “ËœEm, Omaha, and Omaha Hi-Lo, and while all three work off of the same basic premise (you get a number of cards, and between the cards you have and the cards played on the table, you have to make a hand that beats the other hands on the table), they’re all somewhat different from one another, and somewhat different from traditional Poker. If you’re a big fan of various kinds of Poker, mind you, you can slip into the game easily, but if not, you’ll probably have to play the tutorials to understand what the heck is going on.

Midnight Hold “ËœEm Poker offers single and multiplayer options (though it’s multi-cart only, it seems), so you can play alone or with friends. The multiplayer options are pretty robust for the sort of game this is (you can choose game type, betting limit, amount you need to buy into the game, and the location to play at which determines how many people can play), and if one or more friends have a copy of this, you can poker your heart out (up to six players can play simultaneously), but otherwise, single player is where you’ll be spending your time. In Single Player you can either instantly jump into a game with Instant Play (where you just start playing and go), run through various tournaments with the Tournament option (which gives you various locations to play in and characters to choose from, with the goal being to win all of the various tournaments and Bracelets that show how awesome of a player you are), or you can play a simple Cash Game (basically an Exhibition game), where you can pick the game type, pot limit, and your character to play as before playing a game as dictated. As you complete tournaments or Cash Games you can unlock other characters and outfits to use, though this doesn’t impact the game in any significant fashion, so it’s more of a case of personal interest than anything else. Poker fans will find playing through the tournament and solo options to be entertaining, but the characters are all pretty generic and the game itself probably won’t do much for you unless you’re a poker lover.

MIDNIGHT BOWLING: You’ve heard the phrase, “Simple to play, complex to master”? Well, Midnight Bowling more or less exemplifies this saying; it’s very, very easy to play and learn, but very, very difficult to really get down to a significant degree. Midnight Bowling basically plays about how you’d expect it to; every frame, you drag your ball into the lane, then toss it down the lane and try to hit all ten of the pins (or however many are left standing). Bowling itself is not very difficult to understand, and if you have any sort of idea how it works, it’s easy to jump into and play; each frame represents a round of two ball tosses, with the objective being to knock down all of the pins. If you do it on the first try, that’s a strike, if you do it in two tries, that’s a spare, if you fail, the amount of pins you knocked down is added to your score, and if the ball misses the pins it’s either fenced (if it hits the back of the lane without striking a pin), or a gutterball (if it goes into the sides of the lanes). Thus, playing is fairly easy to grasp, but to play WELL, you’ll need a steady hand and good speed when throwing the ball, as a throw that’s too slow won’t knock down much while a throw that’s too fast will probably go wild. You can slide the stylus over the ball as it’s going down the lane to put some spin on it, so as to keep it from going into the gutter or to direct it towards something specific, but otherwise, the game comes down to your throwing, and how straight and steady you can do so. At first, the game will probably be frustrating (especially if you have unsteady hands) but after a while you’ll get the hang of it nicely, and while throwing a perfect game will probably take a while, outscoring the CPU will probably be an easy task.

Midnight Bowling offers single and multiplayer modes (again, with DS multicart play), and you can choose your character, outfit and ball in most every mode, where characters are rated differently based on power of their throw, precision of the throw, and rotation of the ball, balls are rated on their weight, with heavier balls being more likely to strike but less likely to control, lighter balls being less likely to strike but easier to control, and normal weight balls falling in the middle, and outfits… well, they’re just there to dress your character up differently. You can either jump into Instant Play, which just lets you start playing with no options to choose; you can jump into a tournament, which lets you go through various characters to earn money (and, oddly, is the only mode with a specific adjustable challenge); you can jump into Free Play, which allows you the option to practice your game, challenge the CPU, or challenge another player on one DS (which is a neat mode that makes the multiplayer a bit better all in all); or you can take on various Challenges (where you bet to see if you can complete the challenge presented). There are several different characters, balls and outfits to unlock, three different difficulties to challenge in Tournament mode and a bunch of challenges to go through, which makes Midnight Bowling one of the more interesting games on the cart, though it does take some getting used to.

MIDNIGHT POOL: This game is almost the exact opposite of Midnight Bowling; it’s much easier to learn to play, but offers less in the way of things to do and unlock, making it a similar, but different, experience. Pool, as noted, offers three different play modes; US 8-Ball (sink striped or solid balls, then the 8 ball, to win), UK 8-Ball (sink yellow or red balls, then the black ball, to win) and 9-Ball (sink the balls in order from 1-9; whoever sinks the 9-Ball wins). All of the games basically work off of the same principle: on your turn, you hit the cue ball (white ball) at one of your balls (or, when unclaimed, any ball); if you hit the ball into a pocket, you go again, but if you don’t, the next player goes. Knocking the cue ball into a pocket (“scratching”) or hitting an opponent’s ball (“fouling”) give the opponent the option of placing the ball on the table to make an optimal shot, and if you knock in the final ball illegally or scratch when you pocket the ball, you lose (the only exception being in 9-Ball; if you knock the 9-Ball in legally, IE by hitting the 1-Ball into the 9-Ball to pocket it, you win instantly). There’s also the matter of “lag”, which is used to determine who goes first; it either amounts to “hitting the cue ball across the table so it hits both banks, with the shot that remains closest to the second bank after hitting it being the one that goes first” in a matter of skill… or flipping a coin, which is a matter of luck (and, when the coin is a US Dollar coin and it’s being flipped prior to playing a game of UK 8-Ball, makes the situation rather comical). The actual gameplay of Midnight Pool is very easy to adjust to; moving the cue (stick) around is done with the D-Pad, changing the position the cue will strike the ball is done by tapping the on-screen icon to do so and adjusting it with the stylus, and hitting the ball is done by drawing back the stylus, then moving it forward to strike the ball. The game offers you angle arrows to show you where shots will go, if you want the help, though you can disable them if you wish for a challenge. Either way, the actual gameplay is VERY simple to manage and it makes the game good for casual or inexperienced gamers while still appealing to those looking for a challenge.

So, yes, as is expected, there are both single and multiplayer modes to choose from here, and while, again, multiplayer is generally multicart only, unlike Midnight Bowling (which offers the option to play two-player on one DS), Midnight Pool offers nothing of the sort, which if a bit baffling (as it seems a perfect opportunity to do such a thing) and disappointing. Single player offers Instant Play (just jump in and play, though in an odd note, you can continue playing as the person you defeated against the next person in rotation), Arcade Mode (one game against an opponent of selectable difficulty), Story Mode (play against opponents around the US for cash as part of living your chosen character’s dream) and Challenges (trick shots for cash and such). Earning cash in the various modes is used to make wagers on games, but otherwise it’s not really useful or anything; in Midnight Bowling, the cash you earn is spent on characters, balls and such, but here, you can unlock everything just by playing through Story Mode, and the only thing that characters and cues and tables change is the aesthetics, which has no impact on gameplay, leaving your total cash as something of a meaningless record of your performance, like a score, only less meaningful. Midnight Pool is generally easy and fun to play, and if you have a friend with the game it’s a blast, but otherwise it’s generally more limited than other games on the cart.

BLOCK BREAKER DELUXE: Hands down, this is the game of the cart, period. Basically, it’s Arkanoid, and that’s not at all meant to be a slag against it; it’s fast-paced ball bouncing, block breaking gameplay with all of the standard expected elements (power-ups, ball patterns, boss fights), along with its own little novelties. If you’ve never played such a thing (HOW?!?), here’s the deal: you control a little paddle at the bottom of the screen and bounce a ball up at colored blocks, with the intention of breaking them. That’s it. BBD plays by Arkanoid rules, meaning that certain blocks do certain things, though it isn’t a rip-off by any means; it plays by its own rules. Certain blocks are normal or require multiple shots to break through, as expected, while others have more interesting effects, like dropping power-ups, exploding (and blowing up surrounding blocks), changing color or breaking to change the layout of the game environment, and so on, and some are simply invincible or, in some cases, invincible on one side only, leaving you to figure out the way to hit the vulnerable side. In an odd twist, there also bricks that, when hit, start up games of Poker, Craps and a Slot Machine, which can increase your cash in-pocket, which is both amusing and useful. There are also all sorts of power-ups to help you out, like the usual shields (one chance to save the ball if you can’t hit it with the paddle), multiball (which, in an odd twist, is multiplied with every power-up you get, which can mean four or five balls in play or more at once… woof), magnet (the ball sticks to the paddle), lasers (you can shoot the blocks), and the other normal compliment, as well as some more unique power-ups, like the yo-yo (press L to bring the ball back to you, meaning you can move and drag the ball into blocks) and gigaball (the ball destroys everything it hits, including invincible blocks). Playing the game can be done with either the D-pad or the stylus, depending on which makes you more comfortable, though the stylus generally seems to be the easier of the two to work with. The game is also the only other game that’s single player only, though that’s not a big deal in this case.

The idea behind BBD is that you’re competing against bar owners across the island you’re on (they run the BBD machines and control the bosses you face), with the intention of beating the final BBD champion and taking his yacht, and of the lot of the games, this one generally makes the most use of its storyline, minimal though it is. Each bar represents a stage you have to get through (five in all), each with a more hectic setup and interesting boss to face at the end. As you play the stages, each one has a “gift” in it; acquiring all of the gifts allows you to trade them for power-up upgrades at the beach (which also involves playing more BBD levels) and, if you collect all of them across the five stages, this allows you to unlock the Underground Arena for even more of a challenge. There’s also “The Siren”, which enables you to play random levels at your leisure. The game saves at the end of each round of play and when you’ve cleared a location, meaning you can stop playing and come back at any time. As noted, you can buy power-ups from the shop (once they’re unlocked) that increase the performance of power-ups or add additional power-ups to your roster of tools, meaning that the cash you earn has a purpose (especially once you start getting three-hit shields or magnets that can store three balls at once), making the game feel more fruitful than some others on the cart. In short: there’s about an hour or two of core play time to the game to get through the five major bars/casinos, but there are also so many other things to do with the game that you might well get most of your replay value from this one game.

All five games come with the ability to reset your progress in them, so you can start over if you want to unlock everything over again, though only Midnight Bowling and Block Breaker Deluxe have any unlockables that impact gameplay in any way, so resetting the other three games probably isn’t really a necessity. It’s also unfortunate that, of the three games that offer multiplayer, only one offers same cart play; while Poker might have been difficult to manage (and DS Download play apparently wasn’t an option for the game), Pool would have been easy to implement single cart multiplayer for, and that would have been nice to see. Also, MPP goes through a not unnoticeable amount of loading time when it’s booting up games and loading playfields, which dilutes the “pick up and play” nature of the experience a little bit when you’re spending five minutes loading up games across thirty minutes of play. It’s not crippling, but it IS noticeable.

All told, though, for twenty bucks, Block Breaker Deluxe justifies the purchase of the Midnight Play Pack by itself; even if you already own Arkanoid DS, it’s an awesome retooling of the experience that’s loaded with replay value, lots of fun, and pretty much sells the experience all on its own. Platinum Solitaire is simple to play, offers six different games to play around with, making it a nice little diversion when you’re on the train or bus or whatever, and it’s simple to play around with as well as being as fun as Solitaire can be (and eighty bazillion Windows users can’t be wrong, right?). Midnight Pool and Midnight Bowling offer up entertaining and playable experiences that are fun, with Pool being easy, but limited, and Bowling being a bit harder, but more fruitful as an experience. Midnight Hold “ËœEm Poker will appeal to poker fans, but might be a bit awkward to the casual player, though it’s fun to play around with since, hey, it’s not YOUR money, right? The game could have stood for a bit more multiplayer options, some of the games are significantly deeper than others, and the loading time can be bothersome at times, but by and large, Midnight Play Pack is an awesome, inexpensive time-killer that has a lot to do in one cheap cart, and it’s definitely worth checking out.

The Scores:
Game Modes: UNPARALLELED
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: GOOD
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: GREAT

Final Score: VERY GOOD.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Midnight Play Pack is a cheap time-waster that’s surprisingly fleshed out and fun to fool around with. Block Breaker Deluxe, the star of the show here, is a whole lot of fun, features a ton of play and replay value, and is surprisingly fun and different. Midnight Pool is easy to play, Midnight Bowling is satisfying and has some depth to it, Midnight Hold “ËœEm Poker is fun for poker fans, and Platinum Solitaire is an excellent and low-impact way to waste time on long trips or when you’re bored without requiring significant commitment. The multiplayer could have used some Download Play or solo DS multiplay options to flesh it out a bit, there are some noticeable loading times, and on the whole, only two of the games offer any noticeable depth, but for a budget price, Midnight Play Pack offers some entertaining games and a decent amount of stuff to do. It’s worth checking out, even if all you play is Block Breaker Deluxe.

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