Scotsman Games: NOTHING is as obnoxious, F. Scott Fitzgerald once remarked, than other people’s luck. The esteemed author of The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night was not, one presumes, blessed with sufficiently prophetic powers to cast a critical eye over Nintendo’s Mario Party series.
Mario Party Island Tour (Nintendo 3DS)
Score: 7.0 / 10
Even so, his observation is an acute summary of the long-running minigame collection.
Remarkably, a franchise built around throwaway fun and colourful, bite-sized gameplay is eking towards adulthood. Now in its 16th year, the Mario Party brand has stubbornly refused to mature quietly, with every instalment providing the same cluster of frantic games and challenges that captivated Nintendo 64 owners upon its debut in 1998.
At the heart of it all has been a fine balancing act, not always achieved. On the one hand, Nintendo knows it must reward players for their skill; yet so too, it needs to ensure the less capable competitors are blessed with sufficient good fortune to stay in the competition. Maintaining this tradition, the latest version sees the series make a debut on the 3DS that is bright and breezy if bewildering at times.
The minigames that enjoy well-thought out design and an emphasis on skill are entertaining and instantly playable. Instructions are kept at a minimum and the vast majority of the pursuits proceed at a brisk pace. While most games utilise basic controls, some show a thoughtful interpretation of the gyroscopic abilities of the 3DS, such as Point ‘n’ Shoot, a Where’s Wally? style hunt for hidden characters.
Several of the offerings require little skill at all, but at best, remain frivolous fun. Wind Me Up, for example, has players frantically crank the console’s thumbstick to propel their character through the air as far as possible. However, charm alone does not rescue every game in the collection.
The offerings where luck is the sole factor, such as the wheel of fortune inspired Spin and Bear it - featuring a hammer that will splat one player every turn - tend to drag on, particularly in single player mode where the lack of a skip function means you are forced to watch the AI go through the motions.
Luck, of course, has always been a factor in the Mario Party series, but its influence is overbearing in Island Tour, to the extent that any rewards or progress gained from canny, well-judged play feel arbitrary; at any point, a player’s success can be thwarted by chance, especially if an opponent received a Switch Kamek, instantly taking your pole position place.
Being stung in this fashion after a half hour game sticks in the craw and undermines the colourful, inventive and entertaining board game sections. No matter how well you play in the myriad contests, it seems at times that your fate depends entirely on how the die fall. As a result, the main game modes hold little replay value, in spite of some enjoyable minigames.