Review: 'Apples to Apples' (XBLA)

How does this classic party game fare on consoles?

Does it disqualify me from reviewing THQ's console take on the card game Apples to Apples considering I'd never heard of it until last week? What I mean to say is, I'm not really well-versed in a lot of card and board games (the tragedy of life as an only child until I was in my teens), so I'm the guy who kind of gives you a blank stare when you ask to play a hand of some card game or other (I've only played like three hands of real-world Uno in my entire life). So I approached Apples to Apples as a kind of foreign territory.

It's a word comparison (vs. word matching) game, where you're presented with a word and its synonyms on a green card, then presented with three red cards with words that might possibly fit the original word. For the console version, the twist is that there's a grid with jumbled letters and you'll have to find the the matching word before the time limit runs out. Pick the right and you get a time bonus. Oh, and when trying to find the comparison word, you kind of have a hint as to what it might be thanks to your "judge," a costumed apple (a pirate, a princess, an astronaut) that kind of gives you an impression of the trait of the word you're looking for.

One of the major challenges in matching the right word is the syntax. Say your judge is the "Princess Apple," and the word on the green card is "stylish." Your three red cards have the words "jeans," "flamenco," and "Shania Twain" (Apples to Apples uses a lot of pop cultural references). In a case like this, the syntax is relatively easy, but sometimes, as with the "Hippie Apple," it's maybe not so easy to discern the point of reference. Handily, each apple is given a one word personality trait that helps you figure out which word you're look for, which is especially useful in later rounds where the red cards may not even have the word, just a brief description below it cluing you in to what you're looking for.

The single player rounds go by pretty quickly, although I did find myself getting stumped a few times by that syntax issue. Selecting your words or passing to the next green card is clean, quick, and easy, so the flow of play is never really broken. Playing through single player opens up avatars and challenges for the game, and you'll probably get through this mode withing an hour or two.

But the meat of the game is going to be multiplayer: you can play locally with up to six players and the same goes for online where you can mix the modes up a bit, making the judge a human player, for instance. Again, this is where you're going to spend the bulk of your time more than likely, and Apples to Apples is a lot more engaging when you're being challenged by/messed with by other humans.

Apples to Apples is available now on Xbox Live for 800 MS Points, and will be coming to PSN on December 20th for $9.99 with Facebook and mobile versions to follow in 2012.

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