Mario Party: Island Tour Review
Mario Party has never been a series that has flirted with complexity or distinguished itself as a bastion of forward-thinking game design.
Ever since its inaugural outing on the Nintendo 64 back in 1998 the core pillars of design have revolved around ease of use, faux-diversity and an overly generous dollop of nostalgia. And that’s fine because those early outings that saw Mario, Luigi, Toad and the rest embark on perversely colourful competition around a board of mini-games were legitimate, knowingly simple fun.
The formula worked.
12 games and a little over 15 years later and we’re presented with Mario Party: Island Tour, the Nintendo 3DS’ first taste of the franchise. Cheese, fine wine and the ability to be patronising, Mario Party, it turns out, does not get better with age; even Peach’s ageless features are starting to look weathered.
What was a charmingly straightforward approach to game design has degenerated into a bland and unwelcome exercise in tedium and inanity. While a small percentage of the mini-games themselves do harbour some slight ability to entertain, the swamp of boredom that you must wade through to experience the bare minimum entertainment threshold renders their existence ultimately pointless.
Mario Party: Island Tour – Bogged Down By Needless Fluff
The problems start with the design and presentation of the game boards themselves. With names such as Shy Guy’s Shuffle City and Perilous Palace Path you could be forgiven for expecting some sort of zany, compellingly whacky maps across which to engage your foes in comedic battle.
Instead we’re presented with drudgery and charmless repetition bogged down in needless fluff that slows play down to the point where you’re being careful not to trip over the digital Zimmer Frame that must be included here somewhere.
Every dice roll, every explanation of a board’s gameplay twists, every move and character pose takes just a few seconds to play itself out, but it’s their union that presents the problem and eats into your time.
Do we really need text commentary and overly-elaborated dice animations on every turn? Would it not be better to simply forego these extravagances in the face of streamlining the gameplay and actually moving us on more quickly to the main point of interest – the mini-games themselves?
Granted, this is a game aimed at children and children do need more hand holding and explanation than adults (debatable).
Still, there’s nothing so complex here that a seven year-old wouldn’t be able to grasp the finer concepts in a matter of minutes, rendering the snail pace of gameplay induced by the constant reiteration of rules and controls redundant.
Furthermore, Nintendo and developer Nd Cube must surely understand that a significant part of their audience is made up of adults that have grown up with this series.
Clearly, someone has decided that there’s significant enjoyment to be had from watching characters roll dice and reel off text for the majority of any given game. That person is wrong.
While this would be annoying in a home console release, the fact that such time wasting is inherent to a handheld game is blasphemous. Many of us tend to consume portable games in situations where time is not always available in abundance – tube and bus journeys, lunch hours and hanging around waiting for friends.
You know something is wrong when you’ve gone from Brixton to Victoria and haven’t even been presented the opportunity to play a mini-game on your chosen board.
Mario Party: Island Tour – Luck Conquers All?
Perhaps most frustrating about this is that there’s no shortage of mini-games included. It takes an enormous amount of playtime to get to a point where you’re regularly seeing the same games pop up and some are worth having a crack at. The majority fall into a small number of broad categories (collect this, react quickly to that, correctly match those, don’t fall off the platform), and it’s the simpler ones that fare best.
Unfortunately, too many games rely on blind good fortune which can be especially gruelling if one of these decides to pop up at the end of a close game – your hard fought position at the top of pile usurped by another, luckier player at the very last moment.
While this kind of thing has always had a place in Mario Party, the frequency that they’re included here, coupled with the monotonous experience of moving around the game board, makes them more of a headache than a pleasant moment of randomness that you can laugh off.
What’s even more gruelling is the fact that winning mini-games doesn’t even equate to winning the game as a whole. Too many spaces on boards and too many sides of the dice serve to shake up the order of the players by swapping their positions, giving them extra moves or throwing everyone back to a given checkpoint.
It’s like Mario Kart-style rubber-banding gone mad, to the point where you can’t believe you can win until you cross the line no matter how far ahead you might be.
It goes without saying that this is a game that should only be played in multiplayer, anything else is likely to induce severe nausea.
Generously, you can play up to 4-player with just one copy of the game through ‘Download Play’. Playing with friends does improve the situation in that there are other distractions to entertain you while dice are being rolled and characters are moving, giving you opportunity to laugh along with others at the events onscreen; laugh at events on screen, never with them.
Still, the fact that winning against real people is more fun than winning against bots does actually instil a desire to achieve victory when playing multiplayer and that does in itself provide a palpable reason for taking part. Something that cannot be said for playing solo.
There has been some complaint over the fact that online multiplayer has been omitted, but it’s really a moot point.
Mario Party: Island Tour – More Like A Silent Disco
The joy of Mario Party has historically resided in crowding into the same room, loading it with drinks and snacks, and laughing at each other’s misfortune. It’s the kind of experience that just doesn’t translate online.
Just playing on your own 3DS console, each person absorbed into their own little screen, is enough to limit the party atmosphere to something akin to a silent disco; playing a faceless opponent over the ones and zeroes of the internet would disrupt things entirely.
It’s a genuine shame that Mario Party has come to this.
What used to be a brilliant dollop of silly fun to be had on a Friday evening or Sunday afternoon has been warped and disfigured into something that looks familiar on the surface but lacks charisma, warmth and style at its core.
Version Tested: 3DS