'Apples to Apples'

I love the "Apples to Apples" board game. I play it with family on a number of occasions, and can remember one Game Dev Night that went incredibly well because someone broke out a game amidst drinks.

So, of course, I was curious to see what THQ was doing with the game, translating it to a digital format on Xbox Live Arcade. Now, with the finished product, I can honestly say that although some of the framework from the original "Apples" is here, it ends up being not nearly as fresh.

Here's how the game works, in case you've never played it. There are two decks of cards to choose from, a green deck (with a descriptive adjective) and a red deck (various terms in which to match to said objective). A dealer picks an adjective of his or her choice, and can turn it around and make it the opposite if desired. The other players then choose the red card they feel best fits that definition. The dealer then picks the best card, and the one who dealt that card earns a point. The one who reaches a certain number of points wins.

You could play "Apples to Apples" all serious-like, but the true joy comes from some of the selections players make for certain definitions. Only a nutcase would choose "Getting Unfriended" to match up to "Explosive," alhough, in some extreme cases, we could see that happening. ("WHY DOESN'T SHE LOVE ME?!") But some of that joy doesn't translate that well in the video game.

"Apples to Apples" does offer multiplayer, both local and multiplayer, so you can match up with friends without the hassle of breaking out actual card decks. Local works better, although it can be too easy to see who gave you what card, and have some folks accuse you of playing favorites. Then there's online through Xbox Live, in which you can choose from different gameplay rules, such as Classic, Baked (where the winner gets to choose the next green card), and others.

There are two problems with online play. The first is that the game actually has glitches. There are times wrong cards can be picked or time runs out when you're doing something as simple as selection. As a result, a session never really feels like it's working out as well as the actual board game.

The second is the lobby. Every time we went in for a session, there was literally no one available to play. Either the game isn't as popular as THQ was hoping, or folks just aren't interested in playing "Apples to Apples" online - especially with more faithful board game adaptations like Hasbro Family Game Night available.

There is a single player component to "Apples to Apples," but it's basic at best. You simply match up letters in a hidden word grid to earn points, while some peculiarly animated apple cheers you on for each match. Some of the definitions are enjoyable, but the gameplay never really changes enough to make you feel like you're accomplishing anything. As a result, it gets old.

It's too bad the gameplay and sessions never really stack up, because the "Apples to Apples" presentation is charming. Its animated apples are cute and humorous, and the card layout is easy on the eyes. The music isn't bad, either.

Had THQ ironed out the online experience and maybe made the price a little more enticing for a wider audience ($10 may be too much to pay, considering that the board game is sold for just a little less), "Apples to Apples" could've been an ideal party game. Instead, it's just a quirky experiment that never really pans out. Some things are just better in person.

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Video Games: 'Apples to Apples'