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Reviewing party games is a bit of a delicate art. Sure, a lot of the fun depends on the strength of the title itself, but the full party game experience also hinges on gathering the right players and finding the optimum environment in which to get your game on. Nintendo has obviously realized this, and thus presented me with a unique opportunity. Rather than review their new release Wii Party in a traditional fashion, the Big N offered me the chance to host my very on Wii Party party.
Nintendo of America provided me with not only a copy of the game, but also party favors and refreshments from Domino’s Pizza – a nice little cross-promotional tie-in for National Pizza Month. This meant that all that remained for me to do was a little event planning. Understanding that Wii Party was being presented as a distinctly all-ages affair, I took a long, hard look at my proposed guest list and cherry-picked a fairly disparate array of individuals.
The players ranged in age from two to 62, with the median age being my wife, still a spry 29. Given the Wii‘s position as the most casual of current generation gaming consoles, I also considered each attendee’s level of gaming expertise. The youngsters were familiar with gaming primarily for educational purposes (although my five-year-old son is a beast at Marvel vs. Capcom 2), while the oldest players were typically only interested in things like online puzzle games. Of course, a couple of friends and I were also involved to represent the all-important “hardcore” demographic.
I’ll pause here to admit that I swore off mini-game compilations on the Wii years ago. The system is all but renowned for its abundance of poorly paced, shoddily constructed party game cash-ins, and it got to the point where I simply preferred to forget that such titles even existed. Still, remembering the few but certainly notable high points of the original Mario Party franchise, I figured all I had to lose was an evening of game time.
For those unfamiliar with the aforementioned series (from which this title borrows heavily), Wii Party offers a broad selection of fast-paced mini -games that can both stand alone and be used as part of a larger meta-gaming experience. This meta-game comes in five unique flavors. The primary example is the virtual board game that takes place in the unsurprisingly named Board Game Island mode. Herein characters roll dice and advance their Mii avatars across the tropical game board in a fairly traditional fashion, albeit with ample pauses in the action to partake in various madcap mini-games or contend with environmental obstacles. Both the greatest strength and the most striking weakness of this mode centers on the element of randomization – while never quite knowing which mini-game will come into play is exciting, realizing that a single lucky roll from an opponent can easily blast them to the head of the pack can prove frustrating.
Wii Party also offers a secondary board game mode called Globe Trot. Like Board Game Island, it also involves navigating a map. Players rely on travel cards as opposed to dice to determine movement as they visit various exotic hotpots and “photograph” their Miis at notable landmarks. The primary play mechanic of this mode involves using points to purchase travel cards and photographs, and, truth be told, the entire affair comes off as murky and convoluted by comparison.
The remaining three modes, however, simplify gameplay and maximize fun. Swap Meet challenges players to collect similarly dressed Miis, and Bingo puts an interesting Mii-centric spin on an old classic. Still, by far the most entertaining of these modes is virtual game show Spin-Off. This charmingly addictive Wheel of Fortune knock-off only takes about a half-hour to complete, and it even comes with its own garishly dressed game show host!
For those looking for an even quicker play experience, Wii Party also offers a myriad of other diversions. Pair Games features three events specially designed for duos, and House Party mode pulls out all the stops to reinvigorate the party gaming experience. The latter proved to be the go-to game mode during my own Wii Party event.
The younger children positively adored the innovative way in which the Wii Remotes were used in games like Animal Tracker (in which players scramble to identify which Wii-mote is making the animal noise that matches with the character on-screen) and the Hide ‘n’ Hunt mode that forces players to locate hidden controllers. Likewise, we adults dug the hot potato-style Time Bomb game and the self-explanatory Buddy Quiz.
Still, as the big selling point of Wii Party is the almost ridiculous number of featured mini-games, suffice it to say that these get their own moment in the spotlight. Games can be unlocked during the meta-gaming modes for free play, and Wii Party even goes so far as to offer additional mini-games specifically tailored to 1-on-1, 2-on-2, 1-on-3 and free-for-all play. These range from the inspired (games in which players are charged with precariously stacking Miis on an unsteady ship or jointly navigating through a maze) to the laughably simple (racing through a sheep-packed pasture or a haunted house) to the just-plain painful (fruitlessly attempting to outrun a boulder on a less-than-responsive handcar.)
Wii Party is very much a mixed bag, but with so many game types to choose from it’s rather easy to forgive its handful of total duds thanks to the wealth of genuinely fun material presented. Sure, the amount of enjoyment you have will be directly proportional to the number of players you have available, but Nintendo has gone to great lengths to eliminate extraneous barriers. With no reliance on Nunchuck attachments or Wii Motion + dongles, all you really need is four Wii Remotes and three friends. (Make sure those Wii-motes are first party, though, as my Nyko Wand+ appeared incompatible with the sound-based games.)
Though I feel I’ve sufficiently said my piece about the game, it’s really hard to convey the proper Wii Party experience to those who haven’t had an opportunity to play it firsthand. So I’ll offer you a chance to do just that. I just so happen to have access to two additional (North American) copies of the title, and I’d like very much to share them with the GeekDad audience. Leave a comment to this post before noon EST next Monday the 18th of October, and I’ll choose two readers at random to receive their own Wii Party party packs. Because there ain’t no party like a Wii Party.
Except for, you know, a Mario Party.
Which is… oddly similar.
WIRED: introduces some genuinely interesting Wii-mote play schemes, boasts more than 80 mini-games, Mii support makes for some hilarious scenarios, easily accessible for novice gamers
TIRED: meta-gaming modes are a tad uninspired, some mini-games are downright painful, not particularly compelling for fans of the deep single-player gaming experience, some games may not work with third party remotes
Review material, party favors and other goodies provided by: Nintendo of America