NINTENDO does not deserve blame for the ubiquity of the party game, but more than any other developer, it must rise time and again to the great expectations that greet each new iteration of the genre.
Wii Party U, Nintendo Wii U
Score: 7.6 / 10
Ever since the firm unveiled Mario Party back in 1998, it has honed the concept around successive generations of consoles in often dazzling fashion. The Wii, of course, was the breakout moment, and titles like Mario Party 8 encouraged a wave of substandard third party releases mimicking a new kind of gaming designed for social gatherings. Familiarity, however, has bred contempt among the consumer base. What was once hailed as the future is dismissed by many as a novelty, and any addition to a crowded marketplace must offer something new. Wii Party U most certainly does that, but only to a limited extent.
‘Showcase for Wii U GamePad’
In spurts and flashes, the game hints at Nintendo’s customary talent for reflecting upon established design and proposing a visionary alternative. With the exception of perhaps ZombiU, its latest party game is the most enterprising showcase yet for the Wii U’s flagship GamePad accessory. Too many games simply utilise the tablet as an extra screen to dump elements of the HUD; this is one that offers an idea of how the console’s myriad control mechanisms can be harmonised to create a compelling multiplayer experience.
Two games in particular from the generous Wii Party U package do this best, building on the mix of controls used in the Battle Quest offshoot of Zelda seen in Nintendo Land. The first, Name That Face, asks one player to convey a scene displayed on the GamePad by gurning magnificently into the tablet’s front-facing camera. It is then up to others in the room to guess what the expression might mean. The second, Lost and Found Square, riffs on Where’s Wally? by having one player stranded in a scene using the GamePad to describe their surroundings. The other players, Wii Remotes in hand, must use the prompts to conduct a manhunt.
Both pursuits show how Wii Party U can be an intuitive, arcade experience, creating a seamless blend of friends, fun, and functionality with the responsive GamePad at the centre of the action. The controller is also employed to fine effect in the football and baseball offerings in GamePad Party, one of three categories under which the title’s collection of minigames are grouped. Making the television screen redundant, the saccharine presentation switches to the tablet, turning it into a standalone tabletop device, a development that would have doubtless have won the approval of Hiroshi Yamauchi, the late president of Nintendo, and the man who charted the company’s evolution from playing cards manufacturer to video games empire.
Unfortunately, there is a seeming reluctance to use this asset for the majority of the games. Instead, action depends largely on Wii Remotes, a schtick which still works well, but comes across as a backwards step. Equally, there are not enough games rewarding memory skills and quick reactions. Too many are decided on how the dice fall, a mechanism which wrests control out of the players’ hands and makes chance the kingmaker. In any party game, it is only natural to expect mixed results, but the uninspired design of these randomly decided offerings jar abruptly with Wii Party’s U’s stellar moments.
‘Entertaining in spells’
The sheer quantity of the offerings eventually reveals a handful of other damp squibs. It was unfortunate for my first impressions that the first game I chose to play was Feed Me! After a ponderous and unnecessarily complicated briefing that ruined the pace of what should be a thrilling, transient game, it transpired that someone at Nintendo presumed it would be fun to have players work as a behind-the-counter sales assistant at a fast food chain, slavishly following the demands of a customer. Anyone who has flipped a patty for minimum wage would offer a convincing contrary argument.
The title could have injected new life into the party game canon were it not for its own reticence. It can be extremely entertaining in spells, showing off the best the console has to offer at a time when it is slowly building momentum thanks to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and the forthcoming release of Super Mario 3D World. The moments, however, are too seldom, and the game’s greatest asset - the GamePad - is frustratingly underutilised. Wii Party U is like a first time buyer who throws a housewarming but keeps all the furniture wrapped in polythene for fear of red wine stains.