|Developer||Marmalade Game Studio|
|Publisher||Marmalade Game Studio|
|Genre||Board Game, Family, Party|
|Platforms||PC, Switch (Reviewed), iOS, Android|
|Release Date||Mobile: July 15, 2020
Steam: December 11, 2020
Switch: March 29, 2021
You know what’s fun? Games. You know what’s also fun? Hanging with friends and family. For all of recorded history, we’ve played games with our loved ones, from primitive sports to today’s online multiplayer games. But a mainstay of family game night has always been the humble board game, and among the bastions of the genre, The Game of Life has always stood stalwart, though maybe not quite as high as its capitalistic big brother Monopoly. I, for one, loved the original board game as a kid, and when I first discovered that people were translating classic board games into video games, I hopped on board that train quickly. I had the original 1999 PC release of Life when I was a kid, and loved it to death. Then I found out there was a remake in 2015, and last year Hasbro and Marmalade Game Studios released a sequel. So, does this classic hold up on modern platforms, or are you better off breaking out the cardboard box and finding that perfect spinner balance yourself?
Sexual Content: At the beginning of every game, you’re able to choose the color of your player peg: blue, pink, or purple. Later on, if you choose to get married, you can choose the color of your spouse peg. This technically means that you can have a same-color peg wedding, which boils down to two blue pegs both wearing tuxes, two pink pegs both wearing dresses, or two purple pegs wearing a gender-neutral white outfit.
The Game of Life is about as simple as they come. Spin the spinner, move your car, and follow whatever instructions are on the space on which you land. It’s simple enough for anyone to grasp, but with enough choices and strategy to keep things interesting every time you play. The original 1999 PC release didn’t try to do much more than that. Instead, it took the classic gameplay and added some (at the time) groundbreaking 3D visuals and cutscenes, as well as the ability to play by yourself. Admittedly, by today’s standards, those visuals are less groundbreaking and more nightmare-inducing, but it’s still an accomplishment for the time.
The Game of Life 2 takes a few more liberties with that formula. For one, the game is no longer just about making money. In the original game, you could collect Life Tiles, which translated to different amounts of money at the end of the game. In The Game of Life 2, you instead collect Attributes, which come in three varieties: Happiness, Knowledge, and Wealth. At the end of the game, your Attributes are converted to points, and if you happen to hold the largest amount of a particular Attribute, you get an additional score bonus.
The sequel also shortens the game experience significantly. Every game takes between 20 to 30 minutes to play, and there’s even a fast-forward feature to make it even quicker. I like this change, as it means you can sit down and play a game real quick with whoever you happen to have around without worrying about getting locked into an hour-long expedition.
Aside from those changes…yeah, this is Life. Choose college or career to start out, spin the spinner, and do whatever the space you land on tells you to do. Tax spaces force you to pay whatever amount of tax is noted on your job card. Family spaces let you either have a child or adopt a pet, netting you one Happiness point. Job spaces let you get a pay raise or choose another job altogether. Salary spaces give you your salary for just passing over them, with no bonus for landing directly on them. Blank spaces present a choice between two activities which will give you one to two Attribute points depending on what you choose. Some of these choices cost a decent amount of money, in exchange for more Attributes.
Some of those choices take the form of competitions with other players to win cash. Compete in a laser tag tournament or costume contest, and win big. Unfortunately, you don’t actually get to do any of those things. Instead, every player vs. player interaction comes down to everyone spinning the spinner, with the highest number winning. This is a huge missed opportunity. One of the great things about translating a physical board game to a digital medium is the potential for other game modes that wouldn’t be possible in a real board game. Little minigames between players would have added some much-needed variety to what otherwise boils down to a simple spin-to-win game. These minigames could even be toggled on and off in case you wanted a more authentic experience.
Overall, I do think this Attribute gameplay element adds a decent amount of strategy to the original game. Which Attribute you choose at any given moment can mean the difference between that sweet point bonus and a failed run for the crown, and stealing said crown from someone who’s held an Attribute bonus the whole game is surprisingly satisfying.
The original board game only had one board for you to play on, but The Game of Life 2 comes with an initial three boards, at least on Switch, with additional boards available as paid DLC. In theory, this would add plenty of replay value, but it’s not implemented particularly well. The board themes are purely cosmetic, changing the overall look, music, and job choices, but the layout and space orders are exactly the same. This makes the additional DLC feel shallow and pointless. In Mario Party, every board forces you to try a new strategy in order to succeed. In The Game of Life 2, it’s not new content; it’s a new skin for the exact same content you already have.
Speaking of music, I just have to say that the music in The Game of Life 2 gets a little grating after a while. None of the songs have longer than a two-minute loop, which means you’ll hear the same melody probably ten or fifteen times over the course of one game. In addition, the main theme is played on a recorder. What an instrument choice.
So all of that sounds pretty meh. And that’s exactly how I’d class this game: meh. It’s certainly not bad. The animations for the little peg people are fun enough, the boards are colorful and vibrant, and the few new gameplay elements work fine. But other than that, it really doesn’t do anything more than any other video game interpretation of Life, and in my opinion, it does less than the original PC release. The latter had fun animations and comics for every space, and the spaces were unique, like writing a term paper or moving across the country, rather than the generic, bland choices The Game of Life 2 offers. And in that 1999 release, the music even changed styles as you moved from the 1950s to the ’60s to the ’70s, all the way up to the 2000s. The Game of Life 2 removes any of these little design flairs, making the choices themselves feel bland and repetitive, even with the slight added strategy element. You may be wondering why I keep going back to that original PC game from my childhood, but it’s to point out that Life has been done better before, and with more style and substance than anything on display here.
But then we come to the price, and this is what puts it over the edge for me. The Steam version is $10. Not bad, until you realize that that price only includes the main board, with every other board hidden behind paid DLC for $5.99 each. Ten dollars for a twenty-minute experience that, once you’ve played once, you’ve basically played for good. The Switch version is $30, but comes with only two more boards with no other content. That’s way too steep a jump for such a shallow experience. To me, the two additional boards aren’t worth $20 over the PC release, since they don’t actually change anything.
And then, once you’re in the game, the game gives you an ad for a Season Pass, which, for only an additional $20 (or $25 if you’re on PC), gives you access to all future DLC, which Marmalade Studios has already said will amount to 10 boards, 40 vehicles, 60 avatars, and 60 outfits. That may sound like a lot, but remember that this is all cosmetic. By the time this additional content releases, I’ll be done with the game and not particularly keen to go back.
All this means that for the full Switch experience, you’ll be paying $50 to play the same game with slightly different skins. Or, if you’d rather go all in at once, you can pay $42.28 for the game and Season Pass together. Let me remind you that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, and Super Mario Odyssey are only, at most, each $18 more than this game after all the DLC. Even Super Mario Party, though I think it’s a weak Mario Party game, still offers more chaos and engagement than The Game of Life 2 for only an extra $18. It at least has extra boards to play on.
Despite all I’ve said, I do have to admit that I had fun playing this with my family. But I think that’s less a testament to The Game of Life 2 and more to just how fun it is to play with people you love. It doesn’t take a masterpiece to make for a fun time when you’ve got friends around. And The Game of Life 2 is far from a masterpiece. In and of itself, that’s understandable; it’s hard to make a truly great game. But the shameless plugs for useless DLC and bloated final price point after all that makes me feel a little less charitable.
The best thing this game has going for it is its simplicity. If you’ve got a friend or family member that just can’t get into video games, this is perfect. You only have to know how to use an analog stick and one button, which pretty much eliminates any barrier for entry. That, and its online play, which in the age of COVID-19 is about the closest you can come to a real game night. But at that point, I’d still recommend something like Among Us or a Jackbox Party Pack.
Still, there is fun to be had here, short-lived as it may be. If you are still set on giving this game a shot, I’d recommend the iOS and Google Play versions. They’re $3 a piece, and that seems to be a reasonable amount, especially if you’re going to play with friends. Downloading it for a quick game night could lead to some fun mayhem. But unless you just really want to play Life on your big-screen TV, I’d skip the console and PC versions. In fact, just go back and play the OG classic with your loved ones. I guarantee you’ll have the same amount of fun, and a board game won’t keep you from falling asleep if you play it too late at night. Well…unless you’re playing Monopoly, but that’ll ruin your sleep for entirely different reasons.
Review copy generously provided by Game If You Are.
The Bottom Line
The Game of Life 2 fails to build meaningfully upon a classic title, instead opting for superfluous DLC and an inflated price point, making for a final product that feels, ironically enough, lifeless and bland.