Spin-offs of Mario games are undoubtedly popular, but unlike the stars that are Mario Kart and the Paper Mario franchises, I’m not exactly sure how the Mario Party franchise took off. Maybe it is the call of something a little more child friendly, focusing on multiplayer party games rather than a fiercely competitive simulation or RPG, but there have been flaws with the concept since its inception – namely the randomness of it all.
The series now has nine gradually updated titles, the latest of which brought a new style of gameplay to the boards to revamp the series. Mario Party: Island Tour brings the new style to the 3DS, but despite a change in developer, the franchise falls foul of some new glaring issues.
If you haven’t played a Mario Party game in a few years, the way each board now works is that they’re objective based, leading to a race to the end. Most involve purely luck-based dice rolling with mini-games to determine bonus movement, but others include items that can be used to gain an advantage or use a hand of cards instead of dice for movement.
When the game involves playing cards, there is a degree of skill involved, but more often than not you could be playing perfectly, only to lose the entire game to an unlucky dice roll. It’s infuriating, unfair, and downright sloppy design. Not like any of the mini-games affect a great deal of the boards either, as the rewards are arbitrary when compared to the old-style coin system which is curiously absent in all boards. There are rough estimates that indicate how long games go on for, but these estimates are wildly off in some cases. Ironically, the one board that did present a curve ball was Bowser’s board where you had to not win the game, with the person in last place taking the crown.
Those Gyro controls…
Mini-games themselves range from the ridiculously easy to the maddeningly random. Those that involve the buttons and touch screen are generally playable, though some exceptions are completely luck based and as a result vexatious.
Most games involving the gyro-controls are almost guaranteed to cause frustration as the AI speedily wins the game while you struggle to even get off the ground. The sole mini-game found where it uses the microphone is broken because you can just make any noise of similar duration to achieve maximum points, while the AR games require steady hands with a flat surface to even play. Generally, what is on offer here is lacklustre, though at least the entire game is presented in child-friendly Mario themed visuals that aren’t terrible to look at on the 3DS.
Multiplayer – the double-edged sword.
As with all Mario Party games, Island Tour has multiplayer functionality. Download Play is available, bringing lag-free multiplayer to up to four 3DS systems via one card, which is a pretty fantastic feat in itself. Even looking at another player’s 3DS, your actions are mimicked on their screen during your dice roll.
Unfortunately, one of the boards requires three or four players to even run, which makes its presence on the single player screen all the more confusing. It also looked like it could be the best one, so a huge oversight on the developer’s part. But what is more unacceptable is the lack of online multiplayer. Having one board permanently locked away until three of your friends get a 3DS and then meet up one night for a Mario Party session isn’t justifiable, so why force gamers to do that just to access some content?
Apart from the main boards, there is a single player tower where you play 30 mini-games before reaching the top. Every five or so games results in a boss game which are indeed thematic. Other than that though, it is a poor attempt at single player only content. Mario Points are earned after every game, used to unlock items for your gallery, but the rewards are humdrum at best.
Mario Party games have always incurred differing opinion based on whether you can put up with luck, but Mario Party: Island Tour is a resounding disappointment. On top of the usual Mario Party fluff that you need to put up with, the lack of key features makes multiplayer a largely worthless endeavour, while the single player offerings are woeful at best. The franchise has now leapt into the realm of irrelevance, so Nintendo should probably cut its losses and cull this spinoff. It’s had a good run, but this particular spin-off of Nintendo’s popular plumber has run its course.