Where does Nintendo’s “Clubhouse Games” fit in a post-mobile (and COVID-19) world?

When I heard Nintendo was bringing back Clubhouse Games, first I was shocked they still remembered what I thought was an obscure minigame collection. After that I was shocked so many other people apparently enjoyed the 2006 original. 2006 was a long time ago though, and I wonder if this sequel can or even should occupy the same niche the original did.

In 2006 Clubhouse Games was part of the wave of “causal games” or what were sometimes then called “non-games” for the original Nintendo DS that helped the portable system explode among people who weren’t hardcore PlayStation or Xbox users. Y’know, games like Nintendogs, Brain Age, and New Super Mario Bros. Some of those games fit my college life perfectly at the time, including Clubhouse Games, but 2006 was also pre-mobile gaming for all intents and purposes.

The original DS had a ton of software that, along with the then-new touch interface, made it perfect for killing time in a way even the Game Boy Advance wasn’t. There was a point back then when I spent every morning working out a Picross puzzle while cooking breakfast. Most days I would do Brain Age exercises or play solitaire in Clubhouse Games between classes. Even larger DS games like Hotel Dusk and The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass fit surprisingly well into my daily life. I even bought a New York Times crossword game for the DS that I got plenty of mileage out of.

Now Clubhouse is back with even more games and some very pretty graphics. Most of what’s in it though along with that crossword game however could probably gotten in a smorgasbord of free mobile apps. How many people are even playing Checkers, Chess, Connect Four, or Mancala instead of Candy Crush and PUBG?

Maybe most people didn’t use Clubhouse as a time-killer in 2006 like I did. The original did have online and offline multiplayer but I’m not sure how much multiplayer took off for the audience that made the DS the bedrock of what eventually became the mobile gaming audience. In any case, it seems like multiplayer is going to be a main selling point of the new Clubhouse.

Most of the games in the new set seem to be built around two or more players, and the online infrastructure on the Nintendo Switch is a lot more robust than what the DS had. Local multiplayer though could end up becoming more important for this game, especially amid COVID-19.

Board games sales are surging right now, and every once in a while Nintendo touts a “tabletop” feature in a Switch game whereby multiple people can use the system’s touch screen when you lay it flat on the ground. I haven’t really heard of that taking off though, or really any local multiplayer game on Switch come to think of it, even during these unique times. Some of the games in the new Clubhouse seem to be trying to use the Joy-Cons and local multiplayer to evoke the feeling from when Wii Sports took off with families in living rooms. Could that give Nintendo another pandemic hit on the scale of Animal Crossing?

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