A friend of mine went to Japan recently, and while there asked me if there was anything he could bring back for me. I sent him some money via PayPal and asked him to get some Pokémon-related merchandise for James (plush Snorlax, sheet of Piplup stickers; both warmly received) and one of two Wii games which had recently been released (I had most of the others I was interested in).
The other day my postman delivered said goodies along with the Japanese version of Wii Party, Nintendo’s latest tilt at the expanded market. It’s currently selling very well in Japan, and is set to be the company’s big Christmas game in western territories, a fact that will no doubt upset those waiting on Zelda: Skyward Sword and the like.
Anyway, I played it for a couple of hours this morning with James, and it’s brilliant in a way that the last few Mario Parties certainly weren’t. That franchise was beginning to look incredibly tired; all it took was a new developer to give a similar concept a fresh lick of paint, and we’ve got something that simultaneously feels familiar yet wonderfully new.
The board game aspect of Mario Party has been stripped back, and there’s now just one large board – though there may be more unlocked through extended play – to play on. It’s got plenty of those slightly irksome random elements that the Mario Party games always had – I lost count of the number of times I was sent back several spaces – but then luck has always played a part in the best games, and it’s less of a problem when you’re competing against human opponents. The minigames are more creative and interesting than before, and replacing Mushroom Kingdom characters with Miis was a masterstroke – there’s nothing quite like seeing Hitler swinging from a vine or delivering a pizza to Einstein.
It’s just one of a great many modes to frame the minigames, and it makes the game feel much more varied than Mario Party. Though themed differently, the boards could all feel much of a muchness, but the various metagames here are creative and entertaining. There’s a Wheel of Fortune-esque mode which conspired against me horribly this morning – I managed to halve my score no fewer than three times – but was nonetheless great fun, and there are some interesting co-operative minigames which really requires players to communicate if they want to win.
On top of that, there’s a daft aside which see players hiding Wii remotes while others exit the room, before trying to locate them via the sounds playing from the remotes’ speakers. Another sees players place two or more remotes on the table then picking up the one which makes the given animal noise. A third has players passing the remote (displayed onscreen as a bomb) carefully between themselves, keeping buttons depressed and making sure it isn’t moved too much, otherwise it explodes in the current player’s hands, sending them out of the game.
They might all sound a little silly, but they’re certainly enjoyable, which is surely the result Nintendo is after. While Sony and Microsoft spend a great deal of money trying to outmuscle each other in the motion-control market, this simple party game could well wind up being the most popular family videogame this Christmas.