For this generation of consoles, the Wii has been designated as the party console of choice. It may or may not have been a conscious decision by Nintendo to make this happen, but when the console launched with a party game and continues to get them on an almost monthly basis, you can't help but think that the system was designed for this genre. By all accounts, Nintendo only has one party game series, and for eight iterations across three systems, it has starred the famous Italian plumber and his crew of friends and fiends. Instead of making another game in the Mario Party series this time around, Nintendo started a brand-new party game featuring everyone's favorite characters: themselves. Wii Party may have a deceptively simple title, but it proves that Nintendo no longer needs Mario and company to deliver a good party game experience.
Like all party games, Wii Party is simply a collection of over 80 minigames split up into different configurations. For the most part, the games have different objectives and are played competitively, with all four players facing off against each other. Some games are variations of races where the first one to the goal line or the first one to capture the designated target is named the winner. Others require you to get more points or complete an activity more times than the others while a few, like the musical spotlights game, is played with elimination rules and the last one standing is deemed the winner. There are other minigame configurations. One-versus-three games have a team of three players trying to thwart the efforts of one player. No matter what the game is, the team always wins if any member is still standing or the solo player falls. One-versus-one matches are the same as the four-player games while pair challenges have two players working together to meet a common goal before time expires. Finally, there are a few solo challenges for one player to work through on a time limit.
The minigames are nice and varied. You'll do things like race horses, pedal a flying bicycle as far as possible, try to take accurate shots of a fast-moving UFO, or pop balloons while riding a roller coaster. Players won't complain about the games or have issue with the minigames mostly clones from Mario Party, but they might complain about what's missing: team games.
While the game seems to cover most player configurations out there, there are no games made for two-versus-two action. The chaotic nature of teaming up with a random individual with the common goal of winning said minigame was always interesting, so it's disappointing to see it go. Also disappointing is that there aren't many one-versus-three games this time around. With only five to choose from, you're pretty much guaranteed to play through all of them multiple times before you see the title's 80 minigames.
The game features several different modes that are designed for groups of various sizes, and each mode is squared away into one of four categories. The Party Games section contains five different modes, some of which can take up to an hour to complete. The longest ones are Board Game and Globe Trot, which are variations of the boards you'd see in a typical Mario Party game. Bingo, which uses Mii heads in place of numbers, and Spin-Off, a Wheel of Fortune type of game where players try to win the coins stored in the bank, are shorter, random games that are fun to play. Swap Meet, however, is dull; you have to swap Miis to get three matching pairs of clothes together. The mode is anything but fun, and when in a group situation, it was a mode that few wanted to play.
The Minigames section only had four modes, one of which was hidden. Challenge takes a few of the minigames and turns them into puzzles. It was a quirky mode but not something one would go back to very often. Battle is a large versus mode where the overall winner is determined by who wins the most minigames in the session. Solo is the only mode specifically designed for one player. Here, the player has to try and win every minigame to get to the end of a branching path. Once all of the minigames have been unlocked and played, the secret mode challenges players to discover which player is tagged "it" after every minigame. Meanwhile, "it", who is already granted a few advantages, has to disguise that s/he has said advantages in the first place. It is a tricky mode to understand at first, but it ends up being surprisingly good once you completely understand the mechanics.
Pair Games is the section designed for two players with two co-op sections and one versus section. Match Up is just like the classic game Concentration except the Miis are used instead of cards, and you match the outfit colors. The mode is simple, but it works well here as a nice brief distraction. Balance Boat has you and a partner play a minigame to determine the size of your Mii characters before placing them on a boat so that the vessel doesn't capsize. The game lasts for 20 rounds and ends up being great due to the constant drama of seeing whether or not a move will tilt the boat. Friend Connection rates how strong of a friendship two players have based on how they answer five questions and how they perform in a minigame. The family-friendly nature of Nintendo prevents the questions from going out of control, but the mode is entertaining enough. Players probably wouldn't mind if another company pulls off a more risqué version of the game.
The final section, House Party, is probably the highlight of Wii Party since it shows the out-of-the-box thinking that very few developers employ. Time Bomb has the group trying to pass one Wii Remote to one another while making sure a button is held during the handoff. Failing to press the right buttons or shaking the Wiimote too much before time expires causes the bomb to go off, making for some very fun and tense situations. Word Bomb runs on a similar concept, with players passing the Wiimote to each other once they find a sufficient answer for the given category before time runs out. Animal Tracker has you lay out multiple Wiimotes in front of the players as the screen shows the animal that needs to be selected. The first player to find the Wiimote playing the correct sound wins. Hide n Hunt asks one player to hide multiple Wii Remotes while other players try to find them in the given time limit. All four games are quite simple in execution, but because they use the Wii as a conduit for bigger activities as opposed to being the activity's focus, they make the overall game a more dynamic piece of software that can be enjoyed by people who don't play video games too often.
As you can expect from a party game, Wii Party is best enjoyed with multiple people in tow. It's not that the modes made for solo players aren't fun, but while the CPU opponents make for decent combatants, they don't compare to human players no matter how far you boost the difficulty level. The only reason to try the game alone would be to unlock more minigames and practice on what's available so you have a leg up on the competition.
The controls are as simple and as accurate as you would expect. The game is fully controlled with the Wii Remote, and the various minigames try to take advantage of every possible button and controller configuration. The good news is that all of the actions you do are very responsive. Shooting segments, which entail you aiming and firing at objects on the screen, are lag free. Anything involving shaking feels responsive, and button presses are read almost instantly. Just as you expect from a Nintendo title, the controls do not disappoint.
Nintendo's Wii games have always carried a distinctive look, and this title doesn't deviate from that. The colors are bright, and the environments are simple but well done. The characters also follow this paradigm but only because, aside from the host, they're all Miis and their animations look as fluid as ever. The particle effects from some of the games are fine; they aren't spectacular, but they look good when displayed in 480p. If anything, all of that simplicity could turn off gamers looking for something more adventurous. As long as you're fine with the simple style seen in Wii Sports, you'll be fine looking at this title.
The sound might not be amazing, but it is fitting for the title. The music is still the lighthearted fare you're accustomed to hearing from games like Wii Play and Wii Sports Resort. You can expect some calm melodies and game show-like themes, but don't expect to hear anything designed to make you go frantic. The sound effects are also clear and very distinct. This is especially true of the sounds coming from the Wiimotes, as they don't succumb to the muffling and distortion other games seem to produce when they employ the Wii Remote speakers.
Wii Party has a host in a top hat with a head shaped like a teardrop, and unlike your Miis, he has a voice. In typical Nintendo fashion, his voice is gibberish — much like the Simlish you hear from The Sims series. Strangely enough, it sounds more like Italian and Russian mixed together with a Jar-Jar Binks style laugh. Depending on how you feel about the Star Wars character, this can either be very amusing or very disturbing.
Despite the lack of famous mascot characters, Wii Party is a truly enjoyable game. With a few exceptions, such as the lack of two-versus-two games, the minigames are fun to play, and the various modes ensure that it will be some time before you exhaust all of the game's options. Keep in mind, though, that this fun can only be achieved with multiple people, which is the true purpose of any party game. If you're looking to purchase the game but don't anticipate that you'll have friend over often enough to play it, then move on to something else. Playing against the CPU will only net you a minimum amount of fun and make the game feel like a training session. If you constantly have two or more people wanting to play, though, Wii Party will probably end up being one of the best party games you can buy on the Wii for quite some time.
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