More like Island BORE
I consider myself a mario party veteran – I’ve been a huge fan of the series, with a particular focus on the ruthless days of the N64 titles. There’s nothing like shedding the skin off the palms of your hands to prove to your friends that you’re actually the best at mario party.
Although the days of true battle scars are behind us, the mario party the franchise is still going strong. The 11th game (rather), Island tour is the first mario party title for the 3DS, so I was pretty excited to see how the handheld’s capabilities played out in the series. Unfortunately, my excitement quickly faded when I discovered annoying flaws in the gameplay.
Mario Party: Island Tour (3DS)
Developer: Nd Cube
Release date: November 22, 2013
Mario Party: Island Tour features a variety of game modes: eight main party modes, three mini-game modes, and StreetPass mini-games. Party mode focuses on the heart of the mario party series – characters progress on a game board with the aim of either getting to the end first or collecting the most mini-stars. Each party mode is categorized into three different categories: skill, luck, and mini-games. For example, the game Rocket Road is rated at two skills, four minigames, and five luck because it’s basically a game where you roll a dice to get to the end of a line, but also contains many tiles that cause you to switch places with opponents (i.e., lots of luck involved). Estimated play times are also displayed, which I found helpful but somewhat unreliable.
I had kind of hoped for a mode that felt like the original premise of mario party – screw other players to collect the most coins and stars. Unfortunately, no such thing exists. It’s almost like they take every aspect of the original mario party and sliced into different modes. One board’s goal is to collect mini-stars, another board focuses on items that affect players, etc. There is not really a “complete” mario party experience.
That being said, there are a few boards that break out of the mold. For example, Kamek’s Carpet Ride uses cards instead of dying, forcing players to use a bit of strategy in which cards they decide to play. In Bowser’s Peculiar Peak, the goal is to stay in last place by not reaching the end or Bowser will crush you with his hammer. These modes are somewhat nice but not quite the full package I was hoping for since the goal is usually one-sided and involves finishing the board.
To make matters worse, the gameplay is somewhat unbearable at times. I realize this is a kid-friendly game, but Toad goes above and beyond to keep players safe. Its trademark is to point out something obvious at every turn – like who’s about to win the game or how many turns until a mini-game is played. If I get a card or item that could potentially win me the game, he’ll say something like, “Between you and me, if you use this, you could complete the goal!” There is nothing left for you to figure out for yourself.
Island tour seems rigged in the sense that nothing is truly random – the games are fair to fault. Toad will sometimes rearrange turn orders based on minigame rankings to allow late players to catch up. Each mode also seems to have a mechanic to prevent players from progressing too far, whether it’s Bonzai Bill knocking players back or a Whomp blocking the way. In Star-Crossed Skyway, players are forced to stop moving forward once they reach a certain platform, allowing everyone else to catch up. And usually there’s some sort of “random” havoc that happens every once in a while to even the playing field for the opponents who are behind.
The only mode I really enjoyed was Bowser’s Tower, a single-player story-based game where you climb a tower and beat bubble ghosts while playing mini-games. As you climb, Bowser likes to randomly select a punishment or reward that could affect enemy levels or your Mario Party Holy Points (which are used to buy collectibles). There’s also an option to save and come back later to complete the tower, which is a useful addition for people short on time.
Minigames are the highlight of Island Tour — there is a wide variety of games and most of them are entertaining and original. I was happy to see that 3DS capabilities were used in most mini-games – tilt, 3D, micro, touchscreen, dual-screen, and augmented reality all showed up. I did however notice that all games using the mic were extremely off. I tested both voice impersonation games with my fiancé – he whispered obscene things into the microphone while I tried to play and I lost each time. It was hilarious, but disappointing.
Although I enjoyed most of the minigames, Mario Party: Island Tour heartless at the end of the day. I explained the situation to a friend who doesn’t play and she replied, “So if it was a party in real life, the host basically ordered too much salad instead of pizza. ” His assessment is oddly accurate – in the mario party diet, the salad is the necessary but constraining structure and the pizza is the delicious and random pleasure that is worth it.
The amount of grip in this latest episode leaves me wanting the mario party days of yore – a time when people worked hard to earn minigames because it brought them that much closer to the big reward: a star. The mini-games Island tour are nice but the structure around them can be tiring and almost too tight for bad (or just plain unhappy) players.
The only true merit of Mario Party: Island Tour is the ability to play mario party with your local friends on the 3DS. As long as they have a 3DS and are nearby, playing through Download Play is pretty quick and painless. However, the lack of online play and the overall single-player experience is a very big disappointment. Unless you’re desperate and need a quick mario party fix on the go, stick with a console version if you can.