Starting with the invention of the video slot and the release of the first home console in the 1970s, casinos and video games have maintained somewhat of an intertwined history. From 1978’s Casino on the Atari 2600, through to online casino titles actually based around console blockbusters, developers have embraced the crossover that exists between both popular forms of gaming.
Early casino console titles predated their online real-money counterparts by a number of years, with developers often translating table favourites onto the small screen as fully-fledged casino sims. During this time, titles such as Beat the House and Monte Carlo dominated the genre, with players being able to experience games such as blackjack, roulette, craps and poker in the comfort of their own home.
In the lead-up to the millennium, and shortly thereafter, the introduction of high-speed internet connectivity saw such titles fall a little by the wayside as online casinos, which were able to offer players the ability to stake real money on their favourite games, became increasingly popular. Today, online casino operators such as 888 offer a large selection of casino games which are more popular than ever, with hundreds of variations of popular classics available, such as Super Stakes Roulette, Joker’s Wild and Jacks or Better, alongside thousands of thematic slot titles.
That’s not to say that casino console games have fallen entirely out of favour, however. Video game developers have continued to recognise the appeal of gambling titles, while acknowledging the demand for fully-featured ‘casino sims’ isn’t what it once was. Instead, studios have increasingly looked to leverage the appeal of online casino by incorporating gambling-themed mini-games within otherwise largely unrelated titles, ordinarily providing players with welcome downtime and the chance to earn some bonus items or in-game cash in between their primary missions.
With that in mind, today, we’re going to take a look at five of the finest casino mini-games in console gaming history:
1. Red Dead Redemption 2: Poker
Over eight years in the making, Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 released to widespread critical acclaim in 2018. An action-adventure Western classic, RDR2 received praise for its gripping narrative, sensational open-world environments and varied gameplay. Following the exploits of gang member Arthur Morgan, Rockstar’s Game of the Year featured heists, robberies, fishing, hunting, horse riding, and – as you’ve probably already guessed – a number of gambling mini-games.
Blackjack, dominoes, five finger filet are all worth your time when you fancy a break between shootouts, but RDR2 particularly shines when it comes to Texas Hold’em poker. A returning favourite from the game’s predecessor, Red Dead 2’s implementation of the casino classic is amongst the most authentic and immersive we’ve seen in the console gaming world. Players, as Arthur, must learn to read their opponent’s tells, whilst mastering the basics of the game, in order to succeed here, with sizeable amounts of in-game cash often at stake.
2. Grand Theft Auto Online: The Diamond Casino & Resort
From one open-world Rockstar thriller to another, the studio’s Grand Theft Auto Online also deserves a spot on our list. It may have only opened its doors to the public last summer, after years of rumour and innuendo, but many agree that GTA V’s Diamond Casino & Resort was worth the wait. Less of a mini-game and more of a fully-fledged casino sim within Rockstar’s thriving open world, the Vinewood resort provides players with the ability to bet in-game chips on horse racing, table games and a lucky wheel.
The high-end locale goes beyond simply being a gaming centre; it’s the setting of one of the game’s finest heists, while players can also purchase on-site penthouses and VIP memberships, which provides access to features such as high-limit tables, valet and concierge services.
3. Pokémon Red/Blue: Game Corner
The handheld games that launched a multi-billion-pound franchise, 1998’s Pokémon Red and Blue were universally praised for their memorable characters, as well as their accessible RPG battling and trading mechanics. RNG (random number generation) plays a large role in many of the games’ mechanics, extending even to a virtual ‘game corner’, a cross between a Japanese pachinko parlour, a gaming arcade and a casino. In Celadon City’s Game Corner, players can try their hand at a number of slot games, placing bets on paylines in an attempt to win further in-game coins. These, in turn, can be redeemed for prizes that include rare or valuable items, Pokémon and moves.
4. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles: Slot Machine
Iconic developer Sega has a longer history with casino games than you might first imagine. Back in 1983, the company released Pachinko for its Japan-exclusive SG-1000 console, which it followed up with the 1989 compilation Sega Casino Games for the Master System.
The success of such titles, alongside the popularity of the genre in general, may well have inspired the developers of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Sega Mega Drive. Sonic 2, widely considered one of the Mega Drive’s greatest titles, incorporated a full casino-themed zone, Casino Night Zone, into its level selection, complete with neon lights, glitz and glamour, and even rudimentary fruit machine mechanics. Developer Sonic Team took this one step further in sequel Sonic 3 & Knuckles, with a full bonus round based on a slot game, in which players can gamble their Rings in a break from normal gameplay.
5. The Witcher 3: Gwent
The Witcher’s developer, CD Projekt Red, have never been one to shy away from gambling, with the first two titles in the popular action RPG series featuring dice poker, a fairly rudimentary and largely forgettable betting mini-game. However, come the series’ finest title to date, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CDPR did away with dice in favour of cards, creating one of the greatest all-time mini-games to date in the process. A game so popular in its own right that it inspired a standalone release and eSports scene, GWENT is a turn-based card game that rewards skill rather than luck. In its appearance in The Witcher 3, the game also added an engrossing collectible element, with players having to complete quests and master their gameplay to unlock rare and higher-ability cards.
With such a rich and synergetic history, it was a tough task to select just five casino-themed console mini-games for our list. Did we miss off what you think is the best casino mini-game in console gaming history? Let us know in the comments below.