First Impressions: Wii Party U

Let's get it started, in here

So, Wii Party U's evolved from a Summer Party to a Holiday Party, courtesy of the development delay confirmed by Satoru Iwata at E3. That's fine with us here at Nintendo Life, as we think every day is a party day, so we happily wandered over to the the demo unit at a recent preview event ready for the ultimate digital kegger, where beer is replaced by smiling Mii characters and bright colours.

The friendly Nintendo representative set us up with three games, which put the GamePad and accompanying Wii Remotes to reasonable use, and those that we played did demonstrate one thing in particular — this mini-game collection looks set to deliver plenty of variety. Nintendo's never shied away from taking small, basic concepts, wrapping them in a cute bow and encouraging gamers of all persuasions and ages to have at it, preferably while sitting next to each other on a stylish sofa. It was one part of the Wii's "blue ocean" vision and, naturally, has a role to play on the Wii U.

The first game we played was the most embarrassing for the participants, which was exactly the point — Name That Face. With a host that looked like a talking egg, it adopted the presentation of a cheesy daytime TV quiz show, all flashing lights with Mii characters smiling their way through it all. The concept was very simple: each player takes it in turns to use the GamePad, it gives a description — which you keep to yourself — and you must use the controller's camera to snap a picture of your face pulling an expression to match. The GamePad player receives points based on how many rivals match the right description to the silly pose, while players get points for making the correct choice; it's a simple but clever way to maintain competition but, ultimately, have everyone pulling in the same direction.

Whether it's the twee presentation or the company you keep, this is ideal for shedding inhibitions and having silly fun. With descriptions like "getting a flu jab" and "chewing air" to try and replicate, some truly bizarre facial expressions were shared, while the simplicity of the actions means that it's an immediately accessible and level playing field for all concerned, unlike drawing contests such as Pictionary.

Next up was a tank game, where a GamePad player controls a large machine by using both analogue sticks, while adversaries in mini-tanks use sideways Remotes — as you'd expect, it's a shooting gallery where those in the smaller vehicles team up to take down the larger tank. In our case the team of small tanks always won, despite them being liable to one-hit deaths and the large tank having multiple hit points, as the player on the GamePad had a tough time controlling their beast of a machine. The Nintendo rep on hand helpfully said that we should use both sticks "like you're driving a tank", which wasn't particularly helpful as we'd never enlisted in the armoured division of the armed forces — silly us.

Perhaps the balance is changed if you have a mix of experienced and rookie gamers, but in our case the team of small vehicles crushed the large tank within seconds almost every time, and this felt like a throwaway mini-game that would only be played a few times at home.

The final game we played was one of the "tabletop" options that adopted the Wii U GamePad as a two-player controller, in this case mimicking table foosball. With the controller horizontal, two players take an analogue stick each and move / flick the players in an attempt to score goals, with the goalkeeper having a little more movement. The face-to-face approach of sharing the GamePad works nicely, and though the two players stay focused on the controller's screen, anyone else in the room can watch the action on the TV at the same time. This is a pretty crude mini-game and, aside from the physical control inputs, could easily be something found very cheaply on a tablet app store. Fun, but nothing to shout about.

Of the three games we played, only "Name That Face" seemed substantial and something that friends and family would happily revisit on multiple occasions; the tank and foosball games felt disposable in comparison. Generally, it's tough to judge a mini-game collection based on just three examples, as the final product will offer plenty more variety; what we did see, at least, was an indication of fun and different uses of the GamePad and Wii Remote controllers.

We can certainly envisage this being harmless fun for innocent families and slightly less innocent groups of friends alike, but much will ride on whether the full package delivers enough lasting, addictive minigames to join the throwaway one-offs. We'll see this Holiday season, as the party's just getting started.

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