Mario huh? What a popular guy he must be. After all, people have attended his parties almost every year since 1998. Like any good party, they’re so hectic that you might struggle to remember many details (if any) about them, other than maybe the faces that were present – Mario is here of course, still the gracious host, with his brother Luigi following (presumably moping that ‘his’ year is over). There’s Peach, Mario’s romantic interest, and his long-suffering friend Daisy. Best friends Toad and Yoshi are here, maybe just passing the time before go-kart season, and this year Wario and Waluigi are here despite no one inviting them. To top it off, Bowser Jr. shows up to annoy his dad with a Boo because, well, ghosts like parties.
The Mario Party series is all about mini-games – mostly collecting a bundle together and placing them around a game board for the player(s) to tackle. Island Tour offers 81 mini-games in total, playable on 7 different boards, the majority of them lasting around 60 seconds or less. As such, Island Tour should be set up perfectly for playing on the go, with bite-sized games naturally lending themselves to pick up and play in the bright and colorful Mario universe. Except no.
Mario Party’s multiplayer is the reason for the series’ existence and popularity. It doesn’t matter if the gameplay mechanics of the minigames are as superficial as a puddle as you sing triumphantly in front of your friends as you defeat them. Island Tour is no different, and realistically you’ll only want to play the game against real people, because as a single-player experience there’s little to no fun to be had here. The problem is that the nature of handheld games makes it more likely that you’ll be playing solo, and when you’re alone the game is both unfair and boring.
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Mario Party: Island Tour is slow. Each player’s turn is accompanied by a splash screen, animated dice roll, player movement, rules and, depending on the board, other effects such as collectibles or obstacles. A mini-game appears about every three turns, but when playing alone the wait between turns is excruciating, made worse by what appears to be very aggressive cheating by keeping your dice rolled or giving players boosts computers. Playing with someone else eases the boredom a bit, but only because you have someone to talk to while you both wait.
Nintendo has wisely made the multiplayer part downloadable, which means that only one member of your party needs a copy of the game so everyone can participate. It does mean, however, that you need each of your friends to own a 3/2DS, and while it might have been the best-selling console of the last year, there are still plenty of people who don’t. not. It would have been nice to see some sort of pass and play option, though a number of the included minigames just wouldn’t work that way, only really showing their worth when directly competing ( and manic) against others.
Island Tour definitely looks and sounds the part, offering bright and colorful renditions of its beloved Nintendo characters, along with well-designed game boards and worlds. They are also linked to classic Nintendo sounds and music. This is definitely a good thing because you’ll be spending a lot of time just staring at your handheld’s screen rather than actively doing anything.
The minigames are thankfully a highlight for the series and for the game, with plenty of fun to be had across the 81 on offer. Games like Balance Beat use the 3DS’ gyroscopic controls and are gleefully hectic against human opponents, while stylus-controlled offerings like Goomba Rodeo have fun, responsive controls. There are of course less enjoyable ones, such as Wind Me Up which forces the analog node to run as quickly as possible, despite its lack of handling for such an application.
When played on its own, the problem is that, overall, the computer indeed poses very little challenge, and I found myself in first place on several occasions. During the more skill-based challenges, I still had fun participating despite how easily I won, but in the more randomized events, there was little to no sense of accomplishment to be had. Against other players there is certainly less to worry about as you are all in the same boat in terms of controls and no one has a physical advantage over another.
A side issue is that the game boards don’t put enough emphasis on playing minigames, with round after round where you just roll your dice and move a few spaces. The mini-games are all accessible in free-play mode, but apart, there’s less to be gained from completing them beyond just seeing what they look like. It’s incredibly frustrating to have to sit during other players’ turns with no reward after your turn beyond additional waiting. When playing against the computer, five minutes can easily pass without anything interesting happening, and with a portable title, five minutes can be your entire game time.
Mario Party: Island Tour is ultimately disappointing. It looks and feels like a first-party Nintendo product, but a lot of the fun has been taken out of it out of boredom. The best way to experience the game also requires each participant to have a 3/2DS, making it one of the most expensive multiplayer experiences (but cheaper because it’s download compatible).
The series just doesn’t translate to a portable title, especially without any online features, and I hope Nintendo seriously considers returning the series to the living room for its next release.
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