Is this game the life of the party or the party pooper?
The release of Wii Party is a rather ironic event. The party game genre is one of the most abundant on Nintendo's system, and it's a genre that Nintendo helped make popular thanks to the likes of Wii Sports and Wii Play. Now we have Wii Party, a game that is seemingly following the trends made by the company years ago rather than re-inventing it. But after hours of gameplay I now understand what Wii Party was trying to do, and the end result is stunning.
Wii Party is in many ways a spiritual successor to Mario Party. If you are a fan of that series then you are bound to recognize several elements, such as the board gameplay and many multiplayer modes that house hundreds of mini-games. The big difference is that Wii Party strips the concept down to its bare essentials in order to make it more accessible towards the casual gaming audience. This works as a double-edged sword. On one hand, players that grew up with Mario Party will feel as if Wii Party lacks the depth and character that made the franchise so popular among many fans.
But on the other, the pacing in Wii Party is great. A common complaint about Mario Party is that it has too many things that slow gameplay down to a near halt, such as multiple traps on one game board and waiting for the player to finish his or her turn. Wii Party avoids this by speeding up gameplay. Many players feel as if Mario Party is more about luck than skill. While Wii Party also has moments when luck is needed to be successful, the overall game rewards players for their skill, and at the end of a game it is likely that the winner was indeed the best player. This creates a far more satisfying party experience where no one feels cheated. It may make the game look shallower than it really is, but considering that the Wii series has always been about inviting everyone to play and have fun, this works wonderfully.
Luckily, Wii Party does offer various modes of play for every kind of gamer. Board Game Island is more streamlined and requires less involvement from the players, where as Globe Trot emulates Mario Party's gameplay really well. In this mode, the participants play on a globe. The objective is to go to hot spots around the globe and collect souvenir photos. The player with the most photos wins the game. Again, this is a simplified version of what the Mario Party games used to be. Rather than having multiple objects and traps that slow down gameplay, Globe Trot uses a card system. Players select a card, and depending on what's on it, they can either use it right away or save it for later. This presents a level of depth that is quite easy to comprehend without ruining the whole experience. Unfortunately, there are no additional game boards to play in, and once you play them both you'll likely want a little more variety.
Like Mario Party, Wii Party features more than 80 mini-games. These range from co-operative duel games to free-for-all competitive events. One fascinating thing about these mini-games is that unlike many other party games on the system, they all focus mainly on very basic Wii Remote ideas: pointing, tilting, and using the Wii Remote as an NES controller. Sure, there are still some mini-games in which full motion is required, but they are all basic interpretations of motion control, nothing specific like swinging the Wii Remote in a certain motion. This means that the controls are very easy to learn and rarely frustrate, which makes the overall experience far more polished. Wii Party may not innovate in the same way that Wii Sports and Wii Fit did, but it retains the ideals of gameplay that anyone can learn regardless of actual skill.
These mini-games are presented throughout various game modes such as Friend Connection (in which the game measures your chemistry with a friend based on how you answer questions, as well as your performance in the co-operative mini-games) and Balance Boat, one of my favorite modes in the game. Another co-operative mode, Balance Boat features a surprising amount of depth, with ideas of weight placing being key in the execution of this mode. You and a friend must co-operate in a series of mini-games. If you successfully complete them, you get two Miis of the same size. You then must place them on the boat in a manner that doesn't tilt the boat. If you fail, however, you are given Miis of irregular size and it gets harder to keep the boat level. It is a very fun mode that is likely to become a favorite among fans.
Then there are game modes independent from the mini-games. For example, Spin-Off is a Wheel Of Fortune-esque game in which players spin a wheel and try to earn medals. Depending on where the wheel stops, medals are either earned or saved in a bank.
The most interesting gameplay modes in Wii Party lie in the House Party options. These mini-games require an amount of physical interactivity not seen in previous games, and they also use the Wii Remote in fun ways. As an example, Animal Tracker has players listening to the sounds that animals make on screen. The sound will then be repeated on the Wii Remote, and players must pick up the right controller in order to win. Time Bomb is the most intense game in the whole package. It is a hot potato-like mode that has you passing a Wii Remote around. Motion control plays a big role in this game, as players must avoid shaking the Wii Remote to prevent the bomb from exploding.
Obviously, Wii Party offers a lot of game modes to partake in. Each one features different game settings and options, such as number of participants and level of difficulty, so players can find their own preferred method of play. The main menu even lets you know the game's duration so you know how much game time you are getting out of each mode. Of course, if you are a lone player then Wii Party loses a lot of its appeal, a common drawback with multiplayer-oriented titles. Some modes don't even allow just one player, so playing them with another player is required.
In terms of presentation, the Wii series has never been about creating expansive game worlds that are rich in detail. Despite this, the simplicity of the "Wii" world and its characters has always been fascinating, and Wii Party is no exception. Once again, the Miis leave a deep impression with their simplistic but friendly nature. The usage of colors and textures is also clever, giving the game an eye-catching aesthetic that is simple yet fun to look at. Music doesn't fare as well, though. It's bubbly and bouncy and fitting for the party theme, but it's nothing that you will be humming for days on end.
All in all, Wii Party is a game that took me by surprise. It is not the most groundbreaking party game on Wii, but what it lacks in innovation it makes up for with great execution. The gimmicks and superfluous options that have plagued Mario Party and other party games have been eliminated, so we have a game that is streamlined and focused on ideas that work rather than hit-or-miss concepts. The party game genre may have overstayed its welcome on Wii, but when you have games like Disney's Guilty Party - and now Wii Party - it's OK to just sit back and have fun. This is one party you won't regret attending.