Release Date: December 2, 2008
By now, most of us Wii owners have come to accept that there are going to be a certain amount of uninspired mini-game compilations that will be released on the system. Whether it's the ease of development, the unique control scheme, or the simple fact that the system is insanely popular, it appears that developers are willing to come out of the woodwork and produce games that they hope can cash in on some Wii Play- or WarioWare-style numbers. I wonder how many of these companies realize that Wii Play was popular more due to the extra Wiimote pack-in than the actual game content, but that doesn't seem to diminish the number of party titles that get released every year.
This release, Family Party: 30 Great Games (they're not even trying with the name), is at least aptly described by the title — well, except for the "great" part. There are 30 different activities within, it's definitely family-oriented, and I suppose you could opt to play this game at a party. For the most part, it's definitely intended for a multiplayer experience rather than something that you'd play by yourself. The various mini-games are spread out among five different categories — Athletic, Castle, Muscle, Shooting and Variety — that, with the exception of Castle, are pretty self-explanatory, so you're definitely going to get what you expect out of them. The controls are handled strictly with the Wiimote, which is perfect for the families that have picked up the Wii console on the strength of Wii Sports alone (and I know there are quite a few of you).
A lot of the activities are pretty straightforward affairs, although the more wacky and inventive mini-game selections usually belong in the almost random Castle category, such as the Pillow Earthquake game, which has you maintaining your balance on a pile of pillows. There's definitely something lacking in the design department, particularly with the on-screen action. For one thing, the player avatars aren't tied into the Mii system, and the ones that they give you are pretty boring and uninspired. I'm not saying that every mini-game needs to have Mario and his pals along for the ride, but you'll definitely notice the absence of any relatable mascot characters with this one. The on-screen visuals aren't exactly the best either, and while it's easy to make out the on-screen action, the details are light, and color scheme is remarkably bland.
Likewise, the small bit of music that's present in Family Party is pretty awful, and sound effects will get on your nerves over the course of the various games, as they tend to be overly repetitive and not always in sync with what's occurring in the game. Occasionally, the on-screen descriptions of the various games will be downright wrong. The controls are pretty easy to figure out, but some control descriptions will tell you to press a certain button when it should be another button altogether. There are only so many buttons on the Wiimote so it's not that difficult for players to figure out, but I can imagine that some Wii owners will be thrown off by this.
Also, the games that you play in Family Party aren't particularly fun. There are a few that I enjoyed, but the majority are more of a chore, and they're often so short that it's difficult to get into them in the first place. Certain challenges also seem to have a ridiculous qualifier to them, and you'll often get mad when the game bucks you out at the last second due to some unforeseen curveball. It becomes less about challenge and skill and more about luck.
You can opt to play the game by yourself, but ideally, you should compete against three other players. The single-player experience is extremely hindered by the AI of your computer-controlled opponents, and even a moderately skilled player will have no trouble steamrolling over the competition. Multiplayer works really well, though, and while it's strictly local with no Internet connection, you'd be surprised at how much fun you can pull out of a mediocre game with a small group of friends.
It also stinks that you have to unlock the full roster of games by going through the challenge mode, so you're forced to play games in which you might have absolutely no interest. The unlocking process is thankfully swift, but if you want to play all 30 mini-games right out of the box with a group of friends, you're going to be out of luck.
It would also be nice if the game picked up on all of the movements you're trying to perform with the Wiimote. In particular, one event that consisted of simply sawing through logs was made trickier by the fact that the game never seemed to perform in sync with the movement I was making. Regardless of how straight and on form I kept my arm, the on-screen movement always went along at a plodding pace, and while I had no trouble knocking out the AI, against human opponents, it ended up being a race to see who was the luckiest, instead of something based on skill. There were other mini-games that had similar issues, and if the main mechanic of your game — the controls — doesn't work, then there's not much enjoyment anyone can derive out of it. Keep in mind that not all of the mini-games were broken, but I had some kind of control issue with the majority of them.
In the end, you're going to be better off by going with one of the more well-rounded party titles on the Wii, like WarioWare or even Mario Party, than you would be with Family Party: 30 Great Games. I'm not entirely against the idea of mini-game compilations, so long as they bring something interesting to the table, but unfortunately, Family Party doesn't bring anything new to the table. It may be a budget-priced title at $20, but I would venture to say that is almost too much to pay for this one. If you're really, really looking for something new to play on the Wii that will appeal to and be appropriate for the entire family, then maybe this title will fit the bill for you, but for everyone else, it's a game that you can definitely do without.
More articles about Family Party: 30 Great Games