Mario Party: Island Tour Review: Family bored game night
Many nights were spent in my household squabbling over Mario Party minigame losses and “cheating.” Shy Guys switched colored flags after I had mimicked them perfectly. The Deep Bloober Sea was dark and inviting, and we always had time for a rematch. The days of the Nintendo 64 bashes were wondrous times, but Mario Party quickly began to stagnate. Changes happened. The GameCube and Wii installments languished. Its DS debut seemed lackluster, and now we’ve come around to Mario Party: Island Tour. The 3DS iteration attempts to capture at least some of the magic surrounding the once-hallowed virtual board game’s fun, but it stumbles, leaving behind simplistic minigames and uninspired boards that require little more than luck to win.
Right out of the gate, Island Tour feels more like Mario Party-lite than an actual installment. Perhaps that feeling stems from the fact that it’s not a numbered entry, and it doesn’t feature nearly as many options as a console version would. There’s that atmosphere of friendliness and camaraderie we felt back with Mario Kart DS, thanks to Island Tour’s excellent usage of Download Play. It's great that up to four players to enjoy a game off of one person’s cartridge, but after all players have happily signed up for a game, things begin to fall apart.
It’s still the same board game you know and remember, with seven boards to choose from. They’re sorted by how long each game is and how they’re played: do you need luck or skill? You don’t need to have three friends along for the ride, as computer players will be deployed to ensure you have a full roster of players, and you can choose from Mario mainstays from Peach to Baby Bowser.
It's all familiar. It should be warm and inviting. Still, something feels off. Perhaps it's the fact that none of these boards, not even ones with Banzai Bills careening out of a cannon to knock you or your opponents back to start, feel like Mario Party. Perhaps it's because of the blatant cheating. This isn't 12-year-old me accusing the game of hijinks because I didn't get my way -- dice rolls always seem to go just so for computer opponents. They end up rising to victory when continually underperforming. It doesn't make sense. When you're stuck playing alone, it gets pretty frustrating.
The minigames are seemingly free of these indiscretions, though in the 80 included, I couldn't find one that made proper use of the 3DS' many capabilities. We've seen the same iterations of the same game over and over, and some seem to have been lifted from better, more colorful games (filling in shapes with a crayon/paint? Feel the Magic: XX/XY, anyone?). Microphone-based games, tilt-to-win endeavors, and other simplistic diversions offer little in the way of challenge. It feels like going through the motions at this point, and that's frustrating in many ways.
Mario Party: Island Tour as a whole feels as though it's retreading familiar territory over and over, and though you can feign excitement when thumbing through the available games and arena battles, it's clear that there's so little to play for, and yet so little to lose. Even the game's unlockables are a disapointment, with nothing but figures to be won with points earned after completing game boards. It's an inoffensive experience, but having been raised on a pedigree of the best Mario Party titles (arguably Mario Party 2) I demand more from Nintendo.
If you're looking for a competent party game or multiplayer affair for your handheld, walk on by. It's no Fortune Street, but it's certainly one of the weakest Mario Party titles I've seen in some time.