Another old-time favorite board game materializes as a revved-up PC adaptation. This time it's The Game of Life, an old-staple board game originally from Milton Bradly that should be as familiar as they come, but my memories of it are vague. I remember enjoying it when I was young, my memories being mainly centered on that big spinner in the middle of the board. Spinning it was fun. There were also those little cars with plastic pegs to insert, and the board was colorful. But I don't really remember anything more specific than that. Not like Monopoly where there were familiar street names like Park Place and spaces like Free Parking. Reminiscing about The Game of Life is like remembering sugarcoated cereals that aren't available anymore, both having been colorful and innocuous childhood treats. The PC conversion of The Game of Life brings some of the charm of the original and tampers very little with the formula, but as with several other board game conversions, it fails to make much use of the PC's potential.
The Game of Life allows up to six players to gather 'round the ol' monitor to take turns spinning the wheel, or rather clicking the pointer that spins the wheel. (Could you really gather six people around a computer?) At most I could imagine two, maybe three, seated around a computer playing this game. The ability to allow multiple players seems better suited to allowing one person to play multiple characters, say one person playing as two against one or two computer opponents. Any more than two computer players and the game is drawn out to a greater length than is humanly possible to sit through. For solo play, I found that playing two characters to one computer character made for the most interesting play. That way you get to play more often than the computer, and you get to watch the computer have its fun without having to endure too much noninteractive tedium.
The actual gameplay is fairly lighthearted. In fact it's practically nonexistent, but then I wasn't expecting Starcraft-like strategizing as I began the game. Along the lines of other board game adaptations involving movement along a set path, this one involves nothing more complicated than clicking a picture that simulates the spinning of the famous plastic dial. But obviously I wasn't expecting to be spinning the actual thing; what I expected was a colorfully animated facsimile, and that's what the game delivers. Other gameplay elements have been left intact. Once the dial's spun, a player moves along the track the specified number of spaces and plays out the scenario listed. These include things like "Produce rock video, Pay $100,000" and "Find buried treasure, Collect $80,000" and come with cartoons and voice-overs that bring them to... life. Some spaces involve playing little minigames (the most complicated that the gameplay ever gets here) like picking squares to match prize dollar amounts. The game board itself looks good and is actually a treat to pan over to check out all of the little scenes.
In the beginning, you either choose the route to a career or to school. Along the game path of either choice you eventually hit the space to get married, without so much as the choice of your partner's gender (that could've been a cute '90s gesture and would've given a fresh twist on all the baby-rearing that goes on in this game.) Along the game path the music that plays in the background changes era every sixth of the way, going from the '50s all the way through to the 2000s (which sound suspiciously like the '90s).
So here we have a game in which not much choice is offered and from which the set path cannot be deviated: You go to school, you get a job, you get married, you have a baby, you endure things like having your tattoos removed or watching your stocks soar, and then you retire, to a lovely estate of course. No wonder I promptly forgot all that Milton Bradley tried to teach me in Life when I was little; in the words of an old English crooner, "It says nothing to me about my life..." For those who have found themselves traveling along this path, Life will probably play more like the harmless diversion it is while evoking some pleasant nostalgia.