Fifteen years ago, Nintendo brought new meaning to the term party game, with the release of its first quirky, colourful and hilariously competitive Mario Party title. As a new intellectual property, the multiplayer-focused Nintendo 64 exclusive took the industry by storm, and ended up being a perfect example of what the video game giant was attempting to do with its four-player console. Of course, this success, which was measured in monetary means as opposed to some sort of fun-based ranking system, showed the company that it had something big on its hands, and has since led to the release of many sequels.
After appearing on multiple systems, including the aforementioned Nintendo 64 plus its GameCube, DS and Wii counterparts, the Mario Party franchise has now made its way to the ever-popular Nintendo 3DS. This most recent iteration, which is titled Mario Party: Island Tour, is an attempt to expand upon the series’ more console-centric success by releasing something that fans can take with them as they travel from place to place. However, its lack of inspired gameplay and emitted feelings of deja-vu have combined to create a final product that is simply ho-hum and forgettable.
When the first Mario Party game launched, I fell within its targeted age group and ate it up. The same was true of my friends, who would spend countless hours with me, as we battled for mini-game supremacy across many incredibly creative and engaging interactive board games. There was simply magic in the air whenever someone suggested sitting down and playing a round or two, and that continued into my later teens, where other friends would join me for some multiplayer mayhem. Needless to say, I’ve played more than one person’s fair share of the franchise and its many iterations. Actually, I’d go as far as to say that I don’t think I’ve missed one North American version of the iconic party series, even though some have been better than others. As such, I was looking forward to checking out Island Tour, in order to see if it would be able to expand upon the quality title that Mario Party 9 was. However, now that I’ve played it, I must admit that the game didn’t come anywhere close to reaching those hopes and expectations.
Thinking about Island Tour as a sub-title evokes thoughts of idyllic blue skies and therapeutically warm beaches. However, that isn’t the case with Mario Party‘s take on the term – that is, when it comes to the presumed tropical beaches. The blue skies are definitely there, but they actually play host to the digitized events. You see, the title actually refers to a group of sky-based islands, which act as the game’s visually pleasing hub and related event stations. Due to this design, it’s hard to wholeheartedly knock the name, but it’s difficult to not be disappointed by what is a loose take on a motif that could’ve helped revitalize this aging franchise.
As expected, this non-numerical sequel focuses more on gameplay than it does on explaining things. All you really need to know and accept is that Mario and Co. are up in the clouds and are ready to party. There isn’t much else to things, apart from a half-assed storyline that plays out through the game’s secondary Bowser Tower mode, which acts as a challenge mode of sorts by forcing players to win mini-games in order to gain access to higher levels of said piece of devilish construction. Along the way, boss mini-games appear and attempt to lessen the hero’s will, but that’s about as far as the scenario’s uniqueness goes. Frankly speaking, it’s just a half-decent way of expanding the cartridge’s available play time, which is made evident by the aforementioned plot, which has a dejected Bowser build a skyward tower out of dejection after being left out of Mario’s invitation-based party.
Outside of Bowser’s Tower, those who pay to attend this cake-less event will find three other gameplay options to explore. First up is a Streetpass-enabled offering that allows close-by players to battle for party game supremacy. Then there are the two modes that every genre effort seems to include: the core board game option and a stand-alone list of playable mini-games. That particular duo will take up most of gamers’ Mario Party: Island Tour time, though neither one offers anything revolutionary or memorable. Both happen to be quite mediocre, existing more as a reason for this game to exist than as anything that was meant to become unforgettable. Yes, this is unfortunately an example of milking a cash cow that might need to be put down.
Playable throughout the aforementioned options are approximately seven new boards and eighty new mini-games. The boards – only six of which are available from the start, with one being available only for download and play multiplayer usage – each offer their own rules and variations but ultimately fail to impress. That mentioned list includes a few designs that rely more on being the first to get to a certain point than acute skill, a Bullet Bill map that forces players to hide in safe zones in order to avoid being knocked backwards by a large bullet, and more traditional options. I was admittedly disappointed to find that not one map was based on the classic Mario Party rule set, which created endlessly enjoyable races to stars, with the winner being the person who’d collected the most. Those boards were a heck of a lot more fun than any of these ones.
Now, while eighty new mini-games might sound like an impressive amount, a lot of them are simply re-skinned versions of others, and very few are truly engaging. Honestly, the term ‘fine’ is what feels best here, because everything (including the boards) simply works. It’s all serviceable, I’ll admit, but none of it will have you wanting to play for too long, or have you hoping to return as soon as possible. After a couple of hours, I became rather bored.
Found within the eighty new multiplayer challenges are many creations that award those who can collect the most items, survive the longest, remember most accurately and perform the best. Yes, the 3DS’ microphone comes into play in a couple of the scenarios, including one that tests players’ impersonating skills. The microphone’s quality isn’t that great, though, so expect to hear a lot of muffled audio and static.
Unsurprisingly, the system’s stylus, touchscreen and gyro sensor are also utilized to varying degrees of success. Examples include taking notes while attempting to remember the amount of enemies that have entered and remained within a cloud, colouring in objects as quickly as possible, throwing lassos, cutting hedges to specifications and moving the system around to get a good shot at fuzzy enemies. At times, those mechanics worked relatively well, but they became the basis of frustration during others. The hedge trimming and lasso throwing mini-games are the best examples of the latter category, because their shoddy controls leave a lot to be desired.
Visually, Mario Party: Island Tour is tough to fault. Its graphics are detailed, varied and impressive, with lots of colour usage that pops. Additionally, the 3D effect is well utilized within the game’s constraints, in order to add depth during gameplay and menu traversal. It’s just too bad that the audio isn’t up to the same standards, because the game’s soundtrack gets annoying rather quickly. After about an hour, I reduced the volume dramatically because I didn’t want to listen to it anymore.
Looking back, it’s interesting to think about the last fifteen years and how successful Nintendo’s Mario Party endeavour ended up being. However, the once exceptional grandfather of party games is starting to show its age. Mario Party: Island Tour unfortunately stands as the most recent example of its series’ downward trend that began years ago and came to a head with Mario Party 8, a game that felt shoehorned into the Wii’s line-up and lacked engaging content. It was better than this effort, though, making me think that Mario Party 9‘s quality was perhaps just a fluke.
This review is based on the 3DS exclusive, which we were provided with.
Mario Party: Island Tour is a lacklustre entry into the once great party franchise, and serves as a great example as to why the series needs a break. As a result of a lack of creativity and a general dearth of great replay value, this 3DS exclusive is simply too mediocre to recommend.