Ah, Mario Party. No other series can illicit the dread you feel when you’re in first place and randomly forced to switch places with the player in last place. Mario Party: Island Tour brings the trademarked brand of “impossible to take too seriously” gameplay to the Nintendo 3DS and the transition is smooth, keeping the charming spirit of the series intact. Is this a premier party though, or should you issue a rain check?
Like all Mario Party games, Island Tour is essentially a collection of mini-games presented as a clever digital board game. It is for all intents and purposes a party game, and none of the dozens of little games you’ll find within will take more than a few moments to learn how to play.
The only story here can be found in the game’s tower mode, where Bowser has arrested all of the Party Islands, keeping Mario and the gang from enjoying the various games. In this mode you complete a long sequence of mini-games, defeat bosses (who basically just have unique mini-games) and eventually face Bowser. This story is an afterthought, but at least kid friendly. A compelling story certainly does not number among the reasons one might want to play a Mario Party game.
The visuals are bright and crisp. All of the different characters, stages, and games look colorful and polished. The use of the console’s 3D function is very effective in some of the mini-games as well and all of the stages are very interestingly designed. Overall this game has a very colorful, candy coated look that I’m sure will immediately steal the attention of any child that plays it. It’s more than comparable to other entries in the series.
From the outset you have to unlock certain stages and features. When you boot up the game, you can pick from a selection of stages to play through, choose to play any specific mini-game you’ve unlocked or swing by the tower.
Playing through a stage is as long and random as ever. Each of the stages has lots of unique little mechanics that help keep the game exciting and the formula fresh. There are traps that will send you back several spaces, special mechanisms that will send you forward several spaces, and a big variety of items that can be used to either improve your own chances or worsen the chances of one of your competitors. You can also land on spaces that summon Bowser, spaces that initiate bonus mini-games and spaces that set other events in motion.
The fact that anything can happen at any given time gives the game a very exciting feeling and it is always fun to see what will happen next.
Concerning the mini-games themselves, this time we get quite a few to choose from. The games of course vary greatly in style. One game will have you tapping a button to out-fish your competitors, another will need you to tilt the console around to search for ghosts and yet another will have you racing to cut a shape perfectly using the stylus.
There is great variety in the dozens of different mini-games, and you’ll play the game for hours before you’ve seen all of the games just once. What’s cool is that the games aim to utilize all of the functions of the Nintendo 3DS hardware. You will need to use the console’s touch screen, the gyroscope, the microphone, both screens simultaneously and all that jazz. Because of the variety of mini-games, you are still being introduced to new content after playing for a while, which is a great feeling. It’s always great to see the new games, and then of course you can go back and play only your favorites without having to play the epic board game.
Certain games track your score and give you a target to try and clear when you play through the games again. Island Tour also has a StreetPass feature which allows you to compete with other players who have this game. Of course, because of where I live, I was never able to StreePass anyone and develop a stronger impression of the feature.
As you clear stages and mini-games, you unlock points which you can use to deck out a gallery. These points can be used to purchase things like figurines, which you can then examine. Some of the items require several thousands of points to unlock, which means you’ll have to play for quite a while if you want to unlock everything. This collection component does the game some good, as it stretches out the single player content just a bit more.
Multi-player is the heart and soul of the Mario Party series. With the fully featured download and play option, all you need is one copy of the game, as well as additional consoles and willing players and you’ve got yourself a party. You can quickly set up a game and you can either play through the boards or you can pick your favorite mini-game and play it together. The different event and mechanics in the different boards make even long drawn out games exciting from start to finish.
Also, the random nature of the game keeps things friendly and casual and from getting seriously competitive. Getting sent from first to last place isn’t exactly fun, but this kind of thing happening out of the blue helps remind you that this is only a game and that it’s only here for your enjoyment. It’s also great to have something that most players can relax and enjoy, regardless of what gaming circuit they hail from. It’s good clean fun. This option is great and it was nice to be able to play the same game with a few people without everyone having to buy a copy.
Unfortunately, the download and play option does seems like a poor man’s attempt to try and compensate for the fact that the game has no online mode. This shortcoming is arguably fatal for this game, which is designed around multiple people playing at once. Playing with the AI opponents is quite an inferior experience compared to playing with other players and Mario Party: Island Tour sports no online multiplayer component whatsoever.
This omission is as puzzling as it is damaging. Why isn’t there an online mode here? Why shouldn’t I be able to play with my friends around the country who also have this game? I’d love to hear some sort of explanation or reasoning as to why what seems like a no brainer feature for this title is missing in action. It’s simply a crime.
Mario Party games are meant to be played with other people and are therefore intrinsically not as enjoyable as single player experiences–it’s just that simple.
This game has barely bagged enough merits to make it worth playing despite the lack of online, but it is a crippling blow to the game’s overall value. Island Tour could have been much more than it is.
That’s about the size of Mario Party: Island Tour. A fun and charming mini-game collection chock full of variety and aimed at groups of players. With download and play only one person needs to have a copy of the game and you’re off. You’ll use the Nintendo 3DS (or 2DS…) console in interesting ways throughout dozens of unique games. It’s a blast and a half. Unfortunately, the lack of an online mode devastates this multi-player centric title.
What could and should be a worldwide spectacle is confined to a house party, that much of the time may include only you and three AI competitors. If you have the hardware and bodies to fill this party then buy this game immediately. If not, you might want to wait for a price cut.