GamePad games make for a bigger, more fun party. (Updated with off-screen video)
Snubbed by some party games fans because it didn't have Mario in the title, Wii Party on the Wii console was a very fun game with deeper, more interactive games than is usual in this genre. Not content with having players mash a button or rotate a control stick as quickly as they could, the mini-games would have you try to deceive your opponents, or use the Wii Remote in some novel ways to offer games that could be played around the house and not just on the television.
Many of these same mini-games are back with new twists and new coats of paint in Wii Party U, along with some new ones with their own twists that show up, but the E3 demo centered more around games that use the GamePad. Those GamePad games are a blast.
The first game I tried instructed the player using the GamePad to adopt a specific expression. In my case: "You are about to buy a car". I made my best pensive "should I buy this?" face and hit the shoulder button to snap the picture. My face then appeared on the television and the others had to guess the face I was making. Unfortunately for me, all of the choices involved "is considering buying..." so it wasn't the slam dunk I was hoping for. My "I would buy this at a high price" expression had to be more specific, but how does a "I would like this buy this car" face differ from a "I would like to buy this soda" face, I ask you?
I then passed the GamePad to someone else and had to decide if he was "about to surprise a friend" or "showing his molars". Guessing correctly would give 10 points to myself and the player with the GamePad, so it is always in your best interest to be as expressive as possible. However, purposefully guessing incorrectly can be part of your strategy if you are leading in points, and Wii Party U is rife with opportunities like this one to screw with other player by sacrificing a few points.
Another four player game, Operation: Sandbox, gave a giant tank with several hit points and one-shot kills to the player with the GamePad, and smaller tanks to everyone else. The giant tank has more cumbersome controls, with the two analog sticks assigned to their respective tank threads, while the smaller tanks are more agile and easier to control. The cannonballs that are fired actually roll on the ground, so you can use the slopes of the sand dunes to curve your shots.
There is also a selection of GamePad-only games. Two players look down at the screen and use their analog stick to control the action. I played simple foosball and tabletop baseball matches this way which were very fun. Other games, such as a marble maze, involve tilting the GamePad, requiring cooperation.
There are a lot of different modes offering various ways to string mini-games together (including a board game) that I didn't get to explore, but jumping from one game to the next in Free Play was fun enough. The scores weren't carried over from one game to the next in this demo (we kept switching people and Miis anyway), but I was assured that there are persistent stats in the game. It does track which games a specific Mii has played the most, for how long, etc.
Wii Party U does not offer online play. While I can understand the absence of simultaneous multiplayer online to a point, not even being able to send a challenge on a specific mini-game to a friend seems like a missed opportunity to me. The only online feature is the most basic form of Miiverse integration, where you can post the outcome of a game and have people comment on it. It does not appear that the imagination displayed in the mini-games' design carried over to Wii Party U's Miiverse features.
Still, there is no doubt in my mind that Wii Party U is going to be one of the best party games on the system. Look forward to its release this fall.