Mario Party: Island Tour Review

At first glance, Mario Party: Island Tour looks set to rival its console contemporaries. Clever use of the 3DS’ wireless and touch capabilities helps add a new angle for playing mini-games with friends, and the unique rules of the seven new game boards offer a wider variety of ways to play. Unfortunately, a lackluster single-player experience and overall bland minigame design hamper the fun, and Island Tour ends up being a firm step backwards for the long-running Mario Party series.

Island Tour offers three main modes: Party, Minigames and exclusively single-player Bowser’s Tower. I might as well start with the most laborious of the three, Bowser’s Tower, which is Island Tour‘s “campaign mode,” if you will. To clear a floor of Bowser’s 30-story tower, you must beat three CPU opponents in one of two randomly selected mini-games. The problem here is that CPU players are locked on easy difficulty for almost all floors except for the last ones (where they are pushed to a harmless “normal” level), so the challenge isn’t so much to beat each floor as it’s staying awake long enough to do it. Need to collect the most bunnies? You will have double if not triple the number of your closest competitor. Do you have to finish a race first? CPU players won’t even be on the same screen as you gracefully cross the finish line. It really is that bad. Sure, there are some interesting boss battles, which pop up every fifth floor, but they end too soon and the monotonous hour-long run to the top of the tower starts up again. Once completed, I will be perfectly content to never set foot in Bowser’s Tower again.

Party mode is much better, even for solo players. Defying classic Mario Party design, the game boards here each feature their own unique objectives rather than the classic “collect the most stars in a certain number of rounds” formula. Instead, you’ll hide in and out of cover climbing a mountain and dodging Banzai Bills, or collecting rocket boosters to reach the end of a Mario Galaxy-themed level. Although his tower is a chore, Bowser’s game board is one of the most interesting, as the goal is to finish the game farthest from the finish line, where the evil turtle awaits the “first” player. . This start is a nice surprise and adds some much-needed variety.

As a multiplayer game, Island Tour is actually quite robust. With the download game, four people can access any game board, character or mini-game from a single cart. The amount of content means download times can be a little long, and I’ve had connection issues a couple of times that caused everyone to drop out, but for the most part things are fine once a game is loaded.

Unfortunately, the gorgeous game board designs and ambitious download game options don’t make up for Island Tour’s main detraction: the minigames themselves are mostly bland, and a handful are just plain bad. If you’ve ever played a Mario Party game, you’ll recognize that the majority of games are based around brainstorming. Knock your opponents off a shrinking platform, be the last player to avoid being run over by a Thwomp, reach the end of a small platform course first…it all sounds very familiar . What’s most glaring, however, is when the 3DS’ accelerometer kicks in, requiring awkward jerks and twists to, say, steer a rolling ball or rotate familiar Mario characters to match their layout in an image. It never felt comfortable to me, and assuming you like to play with 3D, the screen becomes hard to see in the middle of all the movement.

To be fair, some minigames use the touchscreen effectively. One of my favorites involves connecting stars to create constellations in the form of Mario villains, and another tasks you with being the first to completely color in a series of black-and-white pictures. Simple, sure, but at least it feels new to the series and unique to the hardware. Also, in an odd departure for the series, there are no 2v2 or 3v1 mini-games, which could have really broken the monotony of free games for all “last standing” dominating the selection. During my time with Island Tour, I found I had the most fun between the forgettable mini-games while navigating the much more inventive game boards themselves. Unfortunately, this respite is brief, as mini-games appear every couple of minutes.

Island Tour’s mini-game mode does away with the boards and lets you play each mini-game individually or in a few different competitions, with conditions like seeing who can complete 10 games fastest or be the first to win three, five or seven games. The variety of ways to play is great, but focusing only on Island Tour’s lackluster minigames makes it a mode I don’t want to visit so often.