Bringing out a party game nowadays raises plenty of questions, especially if it isn't coming from an established franchise. The Wii has so many party games that explore almost every possible idea, and while the selection isn't as robust on either the Xbox 360 or PS3, you get the sense that just about every good idea and good execution have been explored several times over. That shouldn't stop anyone from trying to make a good party game, and that's just what Frima Studio has done with Lights, Camera, Party!, a new game on PlayStation Network that uses the Move peripheral.
Like some minigame compilations, this one has a very simple story. While enjoying a quiet day in their yard, the Funzinis' lives change dramatically when an APE TV satellite falls from orbit and crashes into their home. Feeling responsible for the affair, studio owner Gus Pacho invites the family to participate in a game show filled with wacky minigames. To sweeten up the offer, they'll win a dream house if they compete. With a prize so tempting, the family plays for the amusement of the television audience.
Lights, Camera, Party! has three different modes of play, all of them revolving around various minigames. Story mode has you playing rounds of minigames against at least one other family member. Each family member has a different idea for the dream house, and the winner of each round can have a specific aspect designed to his/her specifications. At the end of the game, whoever has the most points and won the most rounds will be able to get the house.
The minigames have the same things you've seen in other minigame compilations. You have a few games where you throw objects at monkeys; a few where you have to dodge objects thrown at you; and a few where you have to rapidly move the controller to saw something in half, chip away at ice, or simulate beating your chest. There are a few unique games that take full advantage of the Move's capabilities. For example, there's a game that has you shouting as loud as possible into the PlayStation Eye's microphone to create an avalanche. Another game has you hitting a button when the sphere on the Move matches the given color while another game has you hitting specific colored xylophone bars based on the color of the Move's sphere.
The hook comes not from the minigames types but from the concept. Even though a number of games aren't exactly new concepts, the timer is significantly reduced. On average, the games last around 10 seconds each, with a few of them going to 20 seconds. Microgames in a party situation aren't new, especially since it was done on the GameCube with WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Party Game$! several years ago, but with so few games on the market taking the same approach, it manages to feel like a new concept.
While the quick nature of the games makes them exciting, the problem lies in the complete count. There are only 50 games on display, and since they practically end just as they start, you'll quickly go through all of them. With each person playing a completely different game whenever his/her turn arises, the low count also means that you'll see games repeated often, severely dampening any enthusiasm you may have since the likelihood of seeing a disliked minigame greatly increases.
Part of the reason you'll only find some games to be enjoyable is due to the controls, which are more involved than just moving in one direction or hitting a button at the right time. For minigames of a standard length, this is fine, but for quick games like this, you'll barely have time to grasp the controls, let alone perform well enough to pass the game. Even if you are a quick learner, some of the games simply misinterpret your actions to the point where you'll always lose. The motorcycle game, for example, barely registers the turning of the controller while another game sometimes thinks your motions for ducking are jumping motions. Even the throwing games go for a more complicated system where you have to aim, hold the button to lock it in, throw, and then let go to complete the throw. With a scheme so complicated and so few games where the scheme is both functional and simple, the whole thing can slowly devolve into an exercise in frustration.
Even if you can deal with the finicky controls and low minigame count, there are still a few puzzling aspects to story mode. The game has no confirmation screen for each instruction set, so slow readers will have no idea what they should be doing if they didn't understand the scheme the first time. Within the mode, the scoreboard only appears at the end of each round and at the end of each minigame but not during the mid-round status report; it's a puzzling choice since you're told who is close to taking first but not by how much. Finally, the forced multiplayer means that those who only want to play solo will end up competing against themselves, which is counterintuitive for those who are trying to get specific achievements and have to constantly remind themselves not to win certain matches.
Party mode features three game modes, though two of them are strikingly similar. Survival mode has you and your party playing a randomly assigned set of minigames. Each failure means that the player is eliminated, and the winner is determined by the last one standing. Hot Alien Egg plays out similarly, where an alien egg is passed around to each party member, eliminating that member if he or she has the egg when it hatches. Successfully completing a minigame means you get to throw the egg while failing one means you have to keep holding on to it until you complete a game. With both of those submodes being so similar to one another, they feel interchangeable.
Lottery is the only submode that feels different from the others. Here, up to four players participate in 10 rounds of minigames each for the chance to earn additional lottery tickets beyond the free one you're initially given. Each win gets you a new ticket, and each loss gives you a blank plank in place of the ticket. At the end of the game, a final ticket is drawn, and the person who has the most symbol matches wins. The random chance of determining a winner is interesting since anyone can win regardless of performance. It provides a nice break from modes where skill determines the winner, but unless you're always playing with people who enjoy winning on pure luck, don't expect to play this submode too often.
Challenge is the only real single-player mode, and it is also the only mode where you can select the minigame you want to play. Each of the minigames throws away the timer in favor to giving you an unlimited amount of time to score as many points as possible and get medals. With no timer, some minigames are more enjoyable since there's time to actually enjoy the activity. Still, the mode not only suffers from the small number of minigames but also from the fact that a good portion is locked away until you obtain some of the in-game achievements, further limiting the games you'll play before you start to tire of the whole affair.
The sound is all over the place in terms of quality. The score fits both the game show motif and the minigame themes rather well and isn't irritating. The effects also have just the right amount of cartoon silliness permeating every action. Voice is limited to the host, Gus Pacho, as all of the family members are reduced to simple emotional responses and the monkeys screech whenever they do anything. Gus' voice isn't too bad and the lines are expectedly cheesy but fit the game well. The problem is in the repetition of said lines. There are plenty of moments where you'll fail miserably at a minigame but Gus will tell you that you're inching closer to the lead, making you wonder what he's viewing. Other times, he'll repeat the same joke several times in a row, revealing a severely limited voice bank. Such gaffes further diminish the game quality.
The graphics, while not exactly mind-blowing, are done well enough. Oddball design aside, the colors are varied and the animations are nice. The host might be frightful to look at, but the family is very expressive, and the monkeys are always humorous. Interestingly, the game is powered by Unreal Engine 3, but it never feels like the technology is needed. There are only a few scenes that are particle effect-heavy, and there's even slowdown in the story's final set, making you wonder why the powerful engine wouldn't be able to handle a casual game.
In the end, Lights, Camera, Party! has a few good ideas wrapped up in bad execution. From a technical standpoint, the interesting graphical style is overshadowed by repetitive dialogue and controls that are not optimized. From a gameplay standpoint, the paltry amount of minigames makes repetition rampant, rendering the few interesting minigames forgettable. Though it is one of the cheaper minigame compilations for the Move at $29.99, it isn't the best, and unless you're in desperate need of a new party game, your best bet is to try out the demo and wait for the price to drop.
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