The Wii is no stranger to party games or mini-game compilations; in fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that the machine’s success is largely due to the brilliance of multiplayer titles like Wii Sports and Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. However, familiarity breeds contempt and Gammick Entertainment's first offering on WiiWare is sure to draw the ire of gamers as they chalk it off as another mini-game shovelware experience. Upon closer examination though, this “interactive board game” does possess some redeeming qualities, and while it hardly qualifies as a triple-A title, it certainly doesn’t deserve to be branded as shovelware.
To get started, you use between one to four Wii Remotes, depending on the number of people playing. This game can host up to eight people in local play depending on the play mode chosen. It's worth mentioning that maximum enjoyment requires at least four people. Even though it supports one player, it is not recommended as a solo affair. Therefore, it's a shame there is no on-line functionality as this game would benefit greatly from Wi-Fi play.
On boot up, you're greeted with a cartoonish game title and the host that will assist you in your journey to victory or defeat. It is immediately noticeable that the developers took their time with the user interface here. The presentation values are very clean and simple, menu design is not overly complicated, and IR functionality is faultless.
You have three choices within the play mode screen depending on how many Wii Remotes are activated. One Wii Remote defaults to "Team Attack" mode whereby you and another player, CPU or human, will take on the host and try to complete the challenges in ten turns or less. Two, three or four Wii Remotes allow you to choose "Family & Friends Party." You will have two to four teams with two to four people per team and the goal is to be the first team to complete the challenges.
The third and final play mode is "Triangular Party." This mode is only available with three people, each with their own Wii Remote. Once again, the ultimate goal is to be the first team to complete the challenges. As you might expect, the strongest mode is Family & Friends Party since this is where the game truly shines. With less than four people and it becomes a rather boring exercise. One great thing in setting up your teams is the Mii integration. You can choose between the in-game character models or you can select your own personal avatar; it never ceases to amaze how few developers bother to include this feature and Gammick should be applauded for doing so.
After getting set up your play mode, the actual "Party" begins. The object of the game is to complete all six "Single Challenges" before ten turns is up if playing "Team Attack", or to be the first team to complete all "Single Challenges" if playing the other two modes. The "Single Challenges" are presented to you at random and are exceedingly easy for anybody over the age of ten. Each team will take turns to complete one of these challenges within a limited amount of time based on its complexity. Upon the successful completion of a "Single Challenge", the team will be rewarded with coins. If you fail, no coins are awarded and the host will pour scorn your team’s pitiful efforts. After each team attempts a "Single Challenge," one of five "Versus Challenges" will appear where all teams must compete at the same time. Whichever team is left standing at the end will get the bonus coins. Unfortunately, none of the eleven challenges are particularly inspiring in their variety or innovation; most are a direct rip-off of some well known games such as Charades, Hangman or Wheel of Fortune.
Coins can be used in a shop to purchase one of the "Single Challenges.". If you do not have enough coins to purchase, you will be given one randomly. The danger here is you may be given a challenge you've already completed, thus potentially setting you back compared to other teams. If you cannot successfully complete a "Single Challenge" after trying it three times (whether through random selection or through the shop), you will be given an option to purchase a "Completion" for that challenge -- these are very expensive and are only an option if you happen to have the requisite coins. The first team to complete all six "Single Challenges," which are kept track of by emblems imprinted on your team's pedestal, wins. Simple!
A couple of niggles spring to mind here. Two of the "Single Challenges" are perfect examples of lazy game design. They require nothing other than one or two people reading something on the screen and performing the said action. You will then be asked if you succeeded in performing the action, which you can answer by clicking yes or no. This breaks the immersion the game tries to create. The second note is the complete lack of audio enhancement. The host is a mute who lets slip some sounds now and then but mainly communicates via text bubbles prompting you what to do. Save for a few campy audio clips and background noise, the game is eerily silent, although you could argue that the predictably boisterous banter between the human participants will make up for this.
Family & Friends is a mini-game compilation with decent production values and a good premise behind what is being offered. The main issues are lack of depth, absence of originality, unbalanced difficulty in some of the challenges, absence of Wi-Fi play, poor audio effects and its steep asking price. At 1000 Wii points this game feels overpriced compared to its competition. While it aspires to be more than a budget WiiWare title and succeeds in shrugging off the shovelware status some might have attached to it, there isn’t enough innovation and gameplay depth on offer here. This is a great party to take your family and friends along to, but sadly the entrance fee just isn’t realistic.