Most people love a good mystery. Finding out "whodunit" is always satisfying from an observer's standpoint. By proxy, mystery fans usually love a good mystery game. Like a good puzzle game, mystery games are more enjoyable when the player solves the mystery. At the very least, it explains why the board game Clue is still popular after all these years. Translating the mystery genre into video game form has been successful for single-player titles, with Heavy Rain and Alan Wake being the most recent examples, but not so much for the multiplayer set. Disney Guilty Party has the unenviable task of both creating a good mystery game that's appropriate for general audiences and can be enjoyed in a multiplayer setting. Thankfully, the team at Wideload Games has done just that.
Most people would expect this game to be a tie-in with an upcoming TV series or animated move. Others would expect this to be a mystery game featuring some mainstays from the Disney universe. Instead, the game uses a completely original setting with an original cast of characters. As the head of the Dickens Detective Agency, Commodore Dickens has solved case after baffling case with the help of his family. Like any good detective, though, he has a nemesis named Mr. Valentine, a criminal whose crimes he has foiled but who he has failed to apprehend. On the night of his retirement, he receives a note from Mr. Valentine taunting him about his latest crime. Almost immediately, the lights go out, and the Commodore's wife is kidnapped. Without a new head of the agency, the Commodore decides that the family should band together to find her. Whoever succeeds will become the new head of Dickens Detective Agency.
There are two modes of play for the game that, with the exception of a few details, play out exactly the same way. The Story mode has you going through seven different levels, including a prologue and epilogue, solving smaller mysteries as you work toward trying to find Mr. Valentine and the Commodore's wife. After you indicate the number of players, their Dickens family member and difficulty level, the players will begin at the scene of the crime. From here, the game plays out just like a board game. At the beginning of each turn, you are given a set number of action coins that determine what you can do during your turn. Movement from one room to another costs one coin, searching the room for a clue costs another, and another can be spent interrogating people.
When the player decides to look for clues or interrogate someone, he or she participates in one of 40 different minigames that range from bribing people for information, dusting for clues, fixing leaks in a fish tank, thumb wrestling, and threatening to pummel the person with your fists. A successful run at the minigame rewards you with a clue or some information about the culprit, and from here, you begin to figure out the suspect based on gender, hair length, body shape and height. Once you feel that you have everything you need to make a successful accusation, you have to corner the suspect and present the correct pieces of evidence. Incorrect accusations will make you lose turns and make the real suspect that much harder to catch. The level ends when either the correct suspect has been caught or the preset amount of turns has been taken without the suspect being apprehended.
The basics of Disney Guilty Party are pretty easy to understand, but the inclusion of cards, other players, and Mr. Valentine makes the game trickier as the game progresses. From time to time, Mr. Valentine show ups and thwart the player's progress by locking up access to one of the level's rooms, turning off the lights in a room that contains a clue, and setting up traps that the player must pay to escape. His presence serves a dual purpose, as his actions are annoying but keep players alert when they think that they've settled into a comfortable routine.
At the beginning of each turn, cards are handed out to the player. Some cards are used to diffuse effects set forth by Mr. Valentine, such as locked rooms and darkened areas, while others help with investigations, such as bringing a suspect to your location or giving you bonus coins to spend. Like any board game, things get better when multiple players are involved in the case. Unlike most board games, though, the game can either be played competitively or cooperatively and switched on the fly. There is a certain joy when everyone pools their resources to solve the crime or someone helps a younger player so that everyone can enjoy the game. Consequently, there is some enjoyment for using your cards to prevent others from performing their investigations hassle-free or purposefully messing up someone's minigame. As expected, Story mode is a more static experience. The minigames, clue locations, and suspects will always be the same regardless of the number of players or the number of times you've played the level.
In Party mode, the gameplay remains mostly the same, but aside from the environments, everything is mixed-up and randomized. The minigames will be different, the clues will be different and placed in different locations, and the cast of suspects will be a random assortment of the 16 suspects from the whole game. Even the traps and hindrances that Mr. Valentine will throw out will differ from one game to another in the same location. The randomization of these elements helps keep the game fresh and, like Story Mode, multiple players can decide on the fly whether they want to help everyone on the team or go for personal glory. If anything, this mode will keep the game in your system long after Mr. Valentine has been caught.
There are a few things that hold back the title overall. The pacing of the single-player game is a tad slow. Playing solo still has you adhering to the board game mechanics and rules, and while that is a good thing since it acclimates you to the multiplayer game, you never get a chance to add CPU-controlled detectives to make it really feel like a board game.
The other complaint has to do with difficulty scaling. The game senses when someone is doing well at the minigames and tries to scale the difficulty accordingly to keep things challenging. Unfortunately, the game scales things too high for players at lower difficulty levels, dramatically changing the results from total domination in one minigame to complete failure on the next one. The scaling is a good idea, but it would have been good if the scale didn't fluctuate quite so dramatically. Despite these hindrances, the game remains fun; the minigames aren't too difficult to understand, and the mysteries never feel like a chore to solve.
The controls are simple and, most importantly, responsive. Disney Guilty Party only uses the Wii Remote, but it utilizes just about every aspect of the Remote as much as possible. Most of the game relies on pointing at the screen with the Wiimote and hitting the A button to make menu selections, moving the character around the map, and selecting a minigame. The minigames use a good variety of techniques, from simple pointing in the staring contest to shaking the Wiimote in the dusting scenarios. In every scenario, the controls worked well, as they were pretty easy to understand and always did what the user intended.
Graphically, the games produce a style that is easily recognizable as part of the Disney brand — specifically anything created by Pixar in the last few years. Characters might not be proportionally correct, with some of them sport skinny legs supporting round bodies. The animation is fluid, especially when it comes to mouth movements, and while the characters might sprint from one room to another at a quick pace, it never looks awkward when they move. As expected from the cartoon looks, the color scheme is quite bright, but it still feels a bit muted due to the limitations of the system. The game may be able to display a nice 480p resolution, but this is certainly one title that looks better on a standard 480i CRT TV instead.
The sound, like the graphics, also does well in evoking Disney familiarity. This is especially true with everyone's voices. There's a certain quality about each voice, from the detectives to the suspects, which will instantly remind you of a typical Disney cartoon. Even during instances when stereotypes could appear — such as the French maid, the heavy metal rocker and the Army general — the effect is subdued enough to not be considered offensive.
The music also adheres well to the theme of the game, with a light jazz background that fits well in a mystery title but never ramps up to get the player too stressed out on solving the crime or completing the minigame in time. If there is a flaw to be had with the audio, it would be with the limited number of phrases heard when you use a card. Hearing how lucky or good the detective is can only be amusing the first few times before it becomes annoying.
As a single-player game, Disney Guilty Party is merely good. The mysteries are good, but the game's pacing suffers due to the lack of other detectives who want to thwart or help your case. As a multiplayer game, it has the trappings necessary to be as frequently played as one of the good Mario Party games. While the minigames aren't too exciting, the ability for multiple players to solve the mystery cooperatively or competitively offers something different and more intellectually stimulating in comparison to similar games on the market. For a game in a genre that is so easily dismissed by most gamers, Disney Guilty Party turned out to be a very good title. Disney Guilty Party is a must-have for any Wii gamer.
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