Review: Family Pirate Party (WiiWare)

Does this new party title set sail for glory or is it forced to walk the plank?

Although some would argue that it flies in the face of common sense, Aksys Games has decided to continue their "Family" franchise with the release of Family Pirate Party. Previous games in the series received unanimous criticism. Unfortunately, Family Pirate Party does little to differentiate itself from its poorly-received predecessors.

Taking the Mario Party syle of gameplay, Family Pirate Party has players traversing a set of islands (i.e. spaces on a board game) and competing for gold...and that's it. There are no alternate methods of play, such as Mario Party's Minigame Mode. Users simply select a character, a stage, the number of turns, and then start.

The game can be played by up to four players, any of which can be controlled by local multiplayer or AI. Character selections are limited to the extremely generic "Mommy," "Daddy," "Billy," and "Sarah" characters. As mentioned, the only single player mode is to start a game by yourself with computer-controlled partners.

After selecting a stage (between which there doesn't seem to be many non-graphical differences), the game begins. Players take turns rolling the dice (which, as expected, involves a wild flailing of the Wiimote) and move the corresponding number of islands. Once you reach an island, your marker is placed there and you earn gold. Similar to Monopoly, anyone who lands on an island that already has your marker will have to give you gold. Certain islands have cannons which can be used to destroy markers. The player with the most gold at the end of the pre-determined number of turns wins.

So what you're left with is a poor man's Mario Party. Indeed, some have been classifying the game as "Mario Party without the mini-games." This isn't quite accurate, as there are brief challenges that take place whenever landing on an island with the "!?" marker. But they pale in comparison to the mini-games of Mario Party. Particularly, they are far too few in number (there's only three as best as I can tell) and are played by only one person at a time. Where's the "family fun" in that? What kept Mario Party going was the use of a mini-game after every person's turn on the board, especially it's random team rules (1 vs 4 to 1 vs 3, everyone for themselves).

And after all, Mario Party's board game section always took a back seat to its mini-games. There have been many instances of friends getting together and just diving into some Mario Party mini-games without even bothering to pay attention to the central board game section. Thus, a mini-game-fest without solid mini-games is quite aimless. Unfortunately for Family Pirate Party, randomly flailing the Wiimote to beat up an octopus just doesn't cut it.

There's some minor excitement thrown in with the "helper" cards, which act similarly to power-ups in Mario Party: moving further, stealing money, skipping turns, etc. But it's not enough to make things terribly interesting. And additional-cost DLC? Seriously?

Development costs are typically quite higher for 3D games than for 2D ones. This leads one to wonder why, if short on resources, the developers couldn't have gone with high-resolution sprites for the game board and characters and instead devoted that time and money to having better fleshed out the playing experience. If there's one mantra that core Wii owners are known to chant, it's "gameplay over graphics."

That's not to say that the graphics are stellar by any means. Rather, the idea should be that when creating a new game for any system, the resource allocation should not automatically grant the largest chunk to creating graphics. It's beating a dead horse at this point in the Wii's lifespan, but no game can survive on graphics alone.

The music isn't hideous, but it could have been much better. It still has the "hotel chain welcome video" sound to it: self-assuringly brisk but not tense and repetitive as heck. It kind of comes with the territory, as any game with significant non-action time tends to have this sort of musical accompaniment (i.e. Wii Fit). Regardless, it's certainly not a saving grace for Family Pirate Party.

What's most unfortunate about games like this is that it risks defining WiiWare as a whole. The reality is that some poor games influence future prejudices on undeserving targets. It's not as though Family Pirate Party was a spectacular failure, but rather that Aksys Games seems content with the package it has delivered. It's understandable to try and not succeed; it's noble even. But to be content with the bare minimum harms not only oneself, but also one's similarly unsung equivalents.

Conclusion

It's almost tough to be too harsh with Family Pirate Party. The game perpetuates a stereotype that is damaging to others. Yet reviews are supposed to be critiques, offering praise and credit where it is due and encouraging promising areas; not just trashing someone else's work because it's fun. But there's frankly just not much to praise. We want Aksys Games to succeed; we want generic underdogs to rise to the challenge and surprise us with how amazing they are. Family Pirate Party is not that game.

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