Four in a Row – Review
Follow Genre: Board game
Developer: LudosLabs
Publisher: Ultimate Games
Platform: Switch, Android
Tested on: Switch

Four in a Row – Review

Site Score
3.0
Good: Puts an interesting twist on the classic formula
Bad: Frustrating control scheme and lack of traditional mode
User Score
1.5
(2 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 1.5/10 (2 votes cast)

Few games have become such a staple as four-in-a-row. The “official” Milton Bradley version of the classic token matching game was released nearly 50 years ago, and there have been countless variants, both physically and digitally. Developer LudosLabs and publisher Ultimate Games are now bringing yet another version to the Switch, although this version may not be the one you’re expecting. 

Story

We’re not quite sure if anyone was under the impression that a story would be included in Four in a Row, but rest assured, we can confirm the complete absence of any story mode. 

Graphics

Four in a Row might not boast the most impressive graphics out there, but at least the game is instantly recognizable, if only in concept. Of course, as you’ll find out in the gameplay section of this review, looks can be deceiving, because this isn’t quite the Connect Four game you might know and love. Either way, it would’ve been difficult to screw things up, as the game’s visuals boil down to a grid-like board with tokens in two colours. Additional cosmetic styles for the player tokens can be unlocked by completing challenges, but these just add a simple drawing and don’t push the bar either. 

Sound

Accompanying the gameplay is a soundtrack that is repetitive and forgettable. There are no flashy sound effects, nor is there anything else that stands out when it comes to the game’s audio. 

Gameplay

If you hadn’t guessed from the game’s title, the aim of Four in a Row is to line up four tokens in a row. As we already hinted at, this digital version isn’t your run of the mill four-in-a-row game. In fact, it unexpectedly plays quite differently from the classic board game. A typical four-in-a-row game or “connect four” as it’s more commonly known in English-speaking countries, only allows you to drop tokens in from the top row of the game board. Developer LudosLabs put a twist on this classic formula and instead allows players to slot in their tokens from all four sides. It’s a small change and makes for an interesting variant, especially since “gravity” is still a factor. 

Whether you insert your token from the top, side or bottom of the board, it will still move towards the opposite side of the grid. This means that you can effectively block the slot on the opposite side from where you inserted your token, and even allows for parts of the board to become completely inaccessible depending on how tokens were inserted. While we were pleasantly surprised by this rule change, it did highlight the absence of a classic version of the game, which seemed like an odd omission. We imagine people will be disappointed when they purchase the game based on familiarity with the concept of Connect Four only to find that the quintessential version isn’t included here. 

In fact, despite its interesting twist, Four in a Row feels like a very barebones package, which is disappointing given how simple the original concept is to begin with. Apart from the standard game, which comes with three difficulty levels and the option to play against a friend, there is also a series of challenge levels. These levels simply consist of game boards that already have a number of tokens placed on the board. Your task here is to win the game as you would normally. While a nice little distraction, there is an issue here with the AI, which boils down to poor programming. During our time with the game, there were several times where the AI could’ve won by just dropping a token, but then ended up making a completely inconsequential move instead. We deliberately made bad moves to test the AI’s responses and noticed that this pattern of making bad decisions on the computer’s side wasn’t a coïncidence. 

This robbed the challenge levels of any semblance of strategy, and they felt unsatisfying to win as a result. Clearing the challenge levels rewarded in-game currency, which could then be spent to buy different skins for the game tokens, but overall this felt like a pointless addition to an already disappointing game. Adding insult to injury, the game also suffers from an awful control scheme. Rows are selected from arrows that surround the game board, but selecting an arrow was awkward and frustrating. It took us a while to figure out what was wrong here: arrows needed to be selected with the joystick, not the D-pad, and the joystick didn’t act like one would expect, with you moving your pointer in a direction. Instead, the control scheme follows that of a circular dial, meaning you need to rotate the stick to select an arrow. This wasn’t just counterintuitive but ended up being inaccurate as well. It seems that LudosLabs was aware of the inaccuracies, as the game also requires you to press A twice to confirm that you want to drop your token, and there is a significant delay in presses. This was likely done to ensure players don’t accidentally select an arrow next to the one they actually want. Overall, Four in a Row’s control scheme feels wildly inaccurate and adds a level of frustration to a game that wasn’t very fun to begin with in the first place. 

Conclusion

With inaccurate controls, a barebones experience and lack of a classic Connect Four-mode, this is definitely a title we do not recommend. In a way, it’s impressive that LudosLabs managed to screw up a nearly 50-year-old concept in so many ways. Thankfully, if you’re itching to play Connect Four on your Switch, then you can simply get Nintendo’s 50 Classic Games, which includes a good version of the game. Four in a Row isn’t unplayably bad, but it’s frustrating and ultimately, just not fun to play. 

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Rating: 1.5/10 (2 votes cast)
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Four in a Row - Review, 1.5 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
Sebastiaan Raats


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