Wii Party review: A quiet get-together

Wii Sports -- and to a lesser extent Wii Play -- proved that in Nintendo's hands, even the most banal motion-based minigames can have a certain spark that makes them addictive. There's just an unidentifiable ... something that nobody else has been able to crack that makes those minigame collections absolutely delightful even to people who desperately want to hate them.

Wii Party is a glimpse into what Nintendo minigames would be like without that spark. They all work, they all show plenty of polish, and the controls are totally functional in every single case. But, in a word, they're bland. Toothless. With one major exception, that's the best way to describe Wii Party in general. It's totally inoffensive. You'll have some fun playing it, but you won't really come away feeling satisfied. It's just there.
%Gallery-95767% Wii Party borrows a lot from the Mario Party games with which it shares a developer. The main point of the game is a series of 80 minigames, including four-player competitions (dash across a beach to pick up a flag! Punch each other off of a platform with extending boxing gloves! Race in rocketships!) to one-vs.-three games (one player swings a ball on a rope at three dodging opponents) to one-on-one battles (ringing bells to corral sheep through a gate on your side of a pen, racing to deliver a pizza first) to cooperative two-player games (operating a handcart through a mine, fishing in sync to pull up large fish).

Like Mario Party, you can choose to play these games inside board games. There are a few different ones to choose from, including a card-based world traveling game, a dice-based island adventure, and a game show about spinning a wheel and collecting "medals," all with notes about how long an average game takes. Unfortunately, they all suffer from the Mario Party problem of too much randomness. It doesn't matter how well you do throughout the game, when there are so many random elements that can throw you from first to last place, or vice versa. And it doesn't really matter how well you do in the minigames, since they basically only grant bonuses in the board games.

It's ... fine. But is that really the reaction you want to have to your party entertainment?

Add to that the fact that minigame events are too sparse -- really, there shouldn't be a single space on a Wii Party board game that doesn't result in a minigame, but most don't. Ideally, the board game should just be a frame, an excuse for minigames -- none of the board games are interesting enough to stand on their own.

Other modes include a solo minigame gauntlet, in which you play through a series of minigames as "levels" on a map. This is less annoying than the board games, but, again, is solo, and kills the "party" aspect of the game in favor of destroying some weak AI opponents. You can also just choose minigames from a menu in single or multiplayer.

Where Wii Party actually comes into its own is the "House Party" mode. This is a small selection of minigames that occur both in and out of the game world, involving making the players interact with Wii Remotes in their living rooms. For example, "Time Bomb" is a hot-potato-esque game in which players have to hold a certain button and pass the Wiimote to another player, who must hold the right button as well. Let go too early, or shake the controller too much, and it explodes. "Word Bomb" is also about passing the Wiimote, but requires each player to name a word in a certain category before passing, with the clock counting down. There's a hide and seek game in which you hide Wiimotes, which then make noises to help guide players to the hiding places. My favorite is the game in which you set all the Wiimotes down, and players have to scramble to pick up the one that makes the animal noise matching the on-screen prompt.

Those games are kind of goofy, sure, but they're also fresh, inventive, and surprisingly enjoyable. If Nintendo had chosen to build the House Party games into a spinoff title, I'd be recommending it enthusiastically. As it is, they're a bright spot in a game that seems otherwise totally perfunctory.

I honestly can't say Wii Party is a bad game. I just also can't say it's a great game. It's ... fine. But, then, is that really the reaction you want to have to your party entertainment?

This review is based on the Wii retail version of Wii Party provided by Nintendo.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.