A criticism that is often levied against the Wii as a console is that many of them spend most of their days buried at the back of a cupboard, only seeing daylight at birthday parties, Christmas and Bar Mitzvahs. Nintendo itself seem to think that there is some truth to this, as Wii Party is perfectly pitched at such occasional-gamers, but does that mean that the rest of us should give it a miss?
The Wii’s ground-breaking motion controller has obviously played a huge part in the console’s success, but (arguably) equally significant is the face of the system – we are of course talking about the effortlessly endearing Miis. It comes as little surprise then that in Wii Party, Mario and co have been jettisoned in favour of these odd little computer people; it is immediately apparent that this was a good decision. Wii Party is after all a game to be played with your friends, and what better set of characters to play out the on-screen actions than…err….you and your friends!
While Mario may have been removed, in terms of gameplay, Wii Party is to all extents and purposes the next in the long line of Mario Party titles, and gamers used to the series will find relatively little to surprise them here. The usual collection of mini-games are present and correct, all of which are entwined within various game modes that range from simple board game formats, to bingo and more abstract events. Events are broken down into three main categories – Party Games, Pair Games and House Party – with each category containing numerous game types; the first two are fairly self explanatory, while House Party focuses on smaller, bite-sized team games. The breadth of the overall experience is impressive and ND Cube has clearly put a lot of thought into how gamers would like to play. There is a lot of variety in terms of the length of the games take (ranging from 5 minutes to a full hour) and a good mix of competitive and co-operative combinations are also explored.
It’s fair to say then that Wii Party has taken the ‘something-for-everybody’ approach, and in this it largely succeeds. However, a word of warning: approach the game with a certain mindset, and there’s every chance that you’ll come away unimpressed and frustrated by the random nature of many of the games. While your gaming ability will help you win many of the mini-games, this alone may not enable you to steamroller over the opposition as you are regularly at the mercy of the roll of a virtual dice. The fact is that Wii Party shares as much in common with Snakes and Ladders as it does with videogames and this will no doubt be a turn off for some. Importantly, while Wii Party might not always be fair, it does manage to present a level playing field, something that is massively important for a title aimed to appeal to families and groups of gamers with varying ranges of videogaming experience.
By casting its net so widely, unfortunately not all of Wii Party convinces. Of the Party Games, only Board Game Island and Globe Trot succeed in tying the 80+ mini-games together in a cohesive and compelling format. The rest – Mii of Kind (spot pairs of Miis), Spin Off (think: Wheel of Fortune with mini-games) and Bingo are minor distractions, with the gaps between mini-gaming disrupting the overall flow.
The two-player Pair Games are a similarly mixed bag, but they do contain on of the package’s highlights: Balance Boat. In this cooperative mode, players must place 20 Miis on the mast of a boat while keeping it balanced. Success or failure in mini-games effects on the size of the Miis that you are given, which in turn impacts on the ease with which you can achieve your goal. It’s a simple concept, but one that works well, allowing the mini-games to take centre stage.
What of the mini-games themselves? On the whole, they are a varied and interesting selection; all are easy to pick up and play (with many requiring little more than single button presses or timed waggles of the remote), many have more depth and many are shallow but hilarious. Nintendo has a long and impressive history of crafting small yet perfectly formed slices of gameplay – of reducing gaming down to its essence – and Wii Party’s mini-games live up to this heritage. Whether you’re herding sheep, horse racing, battling in space, karate chopping logs or playing Zombie-tag with Hitler (well…that happened with us!), games are short, snappy and generally fun. The games also make full use of the Wii remote’s capabilities, which not only helps keep things varied, but also make Wii Party an ideal place for new gamers to learn many of the basic concepts of gaming. There is also a fair degree of innovation; Hide n’ Hunt for example requires you to hide the remotes for your opponents to locate and Time Bomb is a clever twist on pass the bomb.
Wii Party is destined to split opinion; experienced gamers looking for an arena in which to flex their prowess will be left sorely disappointed and will find much to criticise; there’s no question that some games can feel unfair, and the board games are from the 1-step-forward-6-steps-back school of gaming. However, it is perfectly pitched for light-hearted, family gaming, in which setting an unlucky roll of the dice and the jeers and heckling that follow are as much a part of the experience as what’s happening on screen. If you can see past its shortfalls, can embrace the teeth-gnashing frustration that comes with winning everything but still coming last and if you can gather a group of like-minded people to join you, Wii Party can be a real party-popper.
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