It's been a while since we've had a proper Mario Party game. While the Wii U's Wii Party U offered a pretty similar mini-game binge, albeit with Miis taking centre stage rather than Mario characters, it's been two years since Mario Party 9 graced the Wii, and even then, that was a little bit strange. We don't know about you, but most board games we've played don't revolve around driving a giant four wheel drive car around the board. Then again, most don't let us play as a fat garlic loving plumber, either.
While most Mario Party games have traditionally been fairly long winded affairs that revolve around travelling the board, collecting coins by landing on green squares, and then trying to buy as many stars as you can, Mario Party: Island Tour, the first 3DS Party, instead continues to try to take the series down a slightly different path. Instead of long winded, go-around-the-board-several-times-buying-stars affairs, each course is now simply a race to the finish (much like the recent Wii instalments), with a variety of environmental hazards for you to trust luck to help you avoid along the way. Whether it's a simple dash across the cosmos in a straight line; a course divided into sections, where reaching the end of the each section nets you a different number of stars depending on whether you came first, second, third, or, er, last; or a stage where you simply have to pray that you'll manage to scoot along a cliff side without being knocked off, every board on offer follows a similar pattern.
While it may have a slightly different format, though, Island Tour ticks all the boxes you'd expect from a Mario Party - especially one that's on a handheld. As a game that's definitely best enjoyed with friends, a robust multiplayer offering is important, and thankfully, Mario Party: Island Tour doesn't disappoint here. With support for four player download play, which lets four friends with four 3DSs play together with only a single copy of the game, this is one that's bound to go down well on long car journeys, or quiet family holidays, even if we do wish companies other than Nintendo would take advantage of the functionality. There's a decent selection of characters to choose from too, from perennial bad guys Wario and Bowser, to mushroom man Toad, Princess Peach, the portly Mario himself, and everyone in between.
But as anyone who's played a Mario Party game will tell you, it's not the board that's important - it's the mini-games, and it's here that Mario Party: Island Tour has taken a slightly unusual turn. Rather than giving you a mini-game at the end of each round (which lets them be regularly spaced), mini-games here are only triggered when you land on a specific mini-game space. And that can be a bit of a problem. What it essentially means is that your trudges around the board can be somewhat hit and miss - sometimes you'll manage to make it all the way to the end having played only a single mini-game, while at other times there'll be huge droughts, and then you'll get three in a row.
It's a shame, as the mini-games are mostly of the usual high quality, with a wide variety to choose from. From the purely luck based (pick up shells on a beach, hope you get one with pearls in), to ones that rely on reactions (spin the analogue stick as fast as you can to wind up a cannon), to full on puzzle games, mazes, colouring puzzles (really), and almost anything else you can think of, the bar has always been set high for a Mario Party, and Island Tour lives up to expectations. While some do make use of the 3DS' lesser used control methods - the motion sensing gyroscope, and the microphone, there is the ability to turn the latter off (handy if you're in a public place), along with an option to limit the games to only "easy" ones, which is great if you're playing with younger children - or some parents!
As a first in the series, there's even been an attempt to add a meaningful single player game here, too, with the addition of Bowser's Castle, a non-stop mini-game-athon for just one player. With the dastardly Bowser having built a giant, leaning tower of Pisa type castle, and filled it with the one thing he knows people who've bought a Mario Party game will hate the most - mini-games - it's up to you to take on the three computer opponents as you force your way through the finest Mario Party has to offer. And it's OK. While there's nothing phenomenally exciting about it, and having Toad as a sidekick probably doesn't do it any favours (we're kidding, he's not that bad), it's nevertheless a great way to sample the mini-games on offer - and the ability to save every five floors gives it bite-sized appeal.
So, while Mario Party: Island Tour does nothing spectacularly new, and while it's stuck to the "race to the finish" format over the old school style that we'd prefer, it does do everything you'd expect of a Mario Party game, and does it well. With four player download play, a cacophony of mini-games on offer, and, for the first time, at least something decent in the way of single player, if you're looking for some micro sized fun on your 3DS, and want something the whole family can get into (as our test Mom said: "This is actually pretty good") this is the best choice - at least, until Nintendo decide to make a new Wario Ware, anyway.