For Nintendo, Mario has always seemed to have something of a midas touch. For a while, it seemed like anything the portly plumber touched would suddenly become a much more enjoyable game. Spawning a whole host of franchises, including Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, Mario Kart, and Mario Party, Mario really was the King of Nintendo. And then the Wii came along.
Suddenly, Mario just wasn't needed any more. With the exception of Mario Kart, Mario vanished from anything other than his own platformers, replaced with Nintendo's collection of simple avatars, otherwise known as Miis. The spiritual Mario Party 9, Wii Party continues the trend, by doing away with Mario and his band of friends - but thankfully, the game isn't that much worse for it.
Yes, you can't play as Yoshi, Wario, or Princess Peach, but the formula of the game remains firmly geared towards the fun. A collection of short mini games, along the lines of Wii Play, Wii Party is less about the games themselves, and more about tying them into something with a bit more substance.
Seeing as the game's called Wii Party, and is thoroughly aimed at a party setting, there was only one way to review this one. And so it came to pass that boyfriend, girlfriend, brother and mother sat down on Sunday afternoon, Wii Remotes in hand, to see what Wii Party had to offer.
Realising that not everyone has an hour plus to sit and play a minigame collection, Wii Party sensibly gives you an estimation of how long each mode will take, with options ranging from five minutes up to a full hour. Kicking things off, we started with Friend Connection - a two player digital version of Mr and Mrs, that asks one person a number of questions, and the other player has to guess how they answered. As a way to kick off a Wii Party, it was a fun little aside - made even better by the fact our test boyfriend and girlfriend got most of the answers right, and took their place at the top of the "Best Friends" leaderboard.
Wanting something a bit more substantial, we then delved into Board Game Island. Arguably the core of Wii Party's offering, this is essentially the same as used to be found in Mario Party. Taking your Wiis, and putting them on a digital board game that works a lot like Snakes and Ladders, it's up to you to take it turns to roll a dice, and move around the board, aiming for the squares that have bonuses on them, while hoping and praying you can avoid the forfeit ones. Like we always managed to land on.
As a testament to how much fun Wii Party is, it didn't take long for the room to descend into a flood of laughter, mostly thanks to the girlfriend of the piece, Sarah. Managing to land on a tile that banished her to inside the volcano on practically her first go, the thing that started the laughter was something as simple as Sarah's Mii's distraught face when she realised her fate. And, after spending several turns gradually moving her way out of the volcano, she emerged onto the game board again, triumphant, only to promptly land on another volcano tile, and end up back inside the volcano - this time joined by myself.
At the end of every four turns, you'll compete in a minigame, with the position you finish in the minigame determining the bonus die you'll be awarded on the next turn. Simple, fun, and easy to understand, the minigames are a highlight of Wii Party - which is a good job, seeing as you'll be playing so many of them. Explaining in simple language what you've got to do before each game starts, you'll never be left feeling confused - and the practice option lets everyone play the game once to get their bearings before they play for real.
The rest of board game island is a similar process, as you come up against several obstacles, designed to slow the leaders down enough that it'll keep the game feeling fair. Several times you'll come across obstacles that need you to roll a number higher than four or five before you pass, which, judging by our luck here, will give the stragglers plenty of time to catch up.
Basically an excuse to rope you in for loads of minigames, Board Game Island is a lot of fun in itself, and is obviously a mode that works best with the full complement of players. Globe Trot is a similar idea, that follows a very similar format, and this too works great with the right number of players. That said, despite what you may think, not all of Wii Party has been designed for four players.
In fact, in something of a diversion for these sort of games, Wii Party features three "Pair Games" - each of which has been designed for only two people. With the aformentioned Friend Connection leading the way, there's also Match-Up, which basically works like a game of pairs, with you trying to find Miis wearing matching coloured t-shirts, with a selection of minigames mixed in. Completing the collection is Balance Boat, which sees you and a friend teaming up to take on a number of minigames, which'll really test your friendship! Complete each minigame, and you'll be awarded two Miis of the same size, which you then have to place on one of the sails of your boat. Fail, and you'll be given two Miis of differing sizes, which makes your job a lot harder. Balance twenty pairs successfully, and you'll win - but should any of your Miis slide into the sea, it'll be - as the game puts it "game overboard". Sigh.
But even though we've written a lot here, we've barely touched on what Wii Party has to offer. Although it doesn't have as many traditional board game modes as we would have liked, there's no arguing that it has plenty to go round. From the Bingo mode, which has you crossing off Mii's faces as they pop out of a giant bingo game (with minigames interspersed), to Spin-Off, a Wheel of Fortune style game (with minigames interspersed - are you seeing a pattern here?), and the strange Mii of a Kind, which has you playing minigames in order to get first refusal from a selection of Miis in the centre, as you try to build up a collection of Miis with the same colour t-shirts, there's plenty to keep you going here - even if they don't have the same appeal as a fully fledged board game would have.
And in all honesty, that's our biggest problem with Wii Party. While it is a lot of fun, it lacks the charm, and appeal that the Mario Party games had. Adding Miis to the Mario format would have given us the best of both worlds, but instead, things just end up feeling a bit... bland. And while there's a lot on offer here, you do end up missing the variety of board games Mario Party used to present - with a selection of boards on offer, everything felt a lot more substantial than what's on offer here.
While it may not live up to the Mario Parties of days gone by, Wii Party is still a fun distraction, that's bound to provide plenty of laughs, whether you've got a few friends round, or you're trying to give the Christmas dinner time to go down. Still, we can't shake the feeling it needs more Mario!