If there's anything that the Wii's software catalogue arguably doesn't really need more of, it's minigame compilations and party games. From Wii Sports to Rabbids to numerous others, "drought" is not the word. But lo and behold, along comes Nintendo and their Mii army with Wii Party, including 80+ minis presented in party- and board-game style similar to the popular Mario Party series. The end result may not convert those averse to the genre, but it's a solid bet for families and friends looking for their next game night fix.
Right off the bat, Wii Party's strong presentation strikes one as a very charming and diverse package. The slick, light-hearted Mii style that has become the signature of Nintendo's flagship Wii series looks as good as it ever has. The music is friendly and playful, and the announcer that greets you almost immediately (in the voice of the forbidden lovechild of a Sim and the Swedish Chef) is ever-eager to explain all of the rules and game types, of which there are quite a few. It's very easy to get into, with most everything accessible right off the bat and with a time estimate in the corner of each mode select. If you for some reason don't know what you'd like to play, there's a Suggestion menu item that lets you enter how many players you have and whether you want a short or long game.
Most types can be played with up to four people each wielding their own Wii Remote, with the AI stepping in to fill any empty spots in most cases. You can jump straight to individual minigames if you so choose, but the structured modes are where it's really at.
Board Game Island is exactly as straightforward as it sounds: four players roll the dice and trot their way up a linear island-themed board, playing minigames for turn placement between each round. Winners are awarded special gold, silver or bronze dice for their next turn, allowing them to move farther along the board and closer to victory. This is essentially the Chutes and Ladders of Wii Party.
Globe Trot involves a bit more strategy as players are tasked with trekking the world to buy souvenir photos. Instead of dice, each player has a hand of cards that determine movement from one to three spaces. Winning minigames yields coins, which can be used to purchase not only the necessary souvenir photos but also special vehicle cards to travel further, or a plane or boat ticket to transport yourself across the world. After ten rounds the game goes into overtime with one last special, double-value souvenir photo up for grabs. It's hardly chess, but there's a bit more planning that goes into Globe Trot compared to any of the other modes on offer.
Bingo is, well, bingo, with the occasional minigame thrown in, and the victor is allowed to mark whatever square he or she chooses. Spin-Off comes with a giant wheel and makes use of a community banking system in addition to each player's wallet. Then there are simpler pair games like the Memory-esque Match-Up or the slightly more complicated Balance Boat, in which the outcome of a collaborative minigame determines the size of the two Miis to be placed on a wobbly boat.
Probably the most interesting mode, however, is House Party, which takes the games beyond the TV and into your actual room. To get the most out of this you'll need four people, or at the very least four Wii Remotes. Examples of these types of minis include hiding Remotes in the room for one player to find, with chirps from the Remote speaker as their only clue; another has you placing two or more Remotes on a flat surface, tasking players to snap up the Remote making the correct sound; one more has players passing a Remote around as softly as possible like a bomb, or a variant of which that makes players say a word in a certain category before passing it on.
Alright, clearly there's a lot of stuff from which to choose. But none of it would matter if the minigames were garbage, though, and for the most part we'd say they're pretty decent offerings. The House Party games are unique and entertaining, bringing the kind of outside-the-box thinking you'd expect from a first-party Nintendo game, and a large chunk of the minis are a blast – that is, the ones that require any form of skill. Unfortunately, maybe because it's tough coming up with 80 good minigames, there's a handful that mostly come down to either chance or waggling really quickly. In fact, there's one minigame in which players are tasked with simply picking which firework set will launch the highest. You have no way to influence its height, you just choose one and hope for the best. Frankly, that mini is probably one of the dumbest things to come out of Nintendo this generation.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. For every fireworks... thing, there's a skill-based arena game — our favourite of which is Zombie Tag, in which players run around a cemetery and avoid being touched by a deadite lest they turn into one and chase down the other players. For every waggle-fast-to-chop-this-onion, there's a helicopter rescue mission in which you try to scoop up as many Miis as possible, or a shooting gallery on a rollercoaster. Players of all stripes will find something to enjoy in the plethora of games on offer.
But competitive types, beware: Wii Party has some of the most blatant rubberbanding we've ever seen in a game. Just because you've won every single minigame in Board Game Island doesn't make you a shoe-in for victory — quite the opposite, actually, as you'll find yourself the target of proverbial blue shells and crappy dice rolls. If you've scoured the globe for souvenir photos only to lose to the last-place player in overtime, don't say we didn't warn you. Players who tie in a minigame decide their rank by an arbitrary dice roll, for example. Wii Party feels as if it goes out of its way to level the playing field, which is fine if you're only in it for a fun time or want to play with friends and family who don't usually dip into video games, but it's an artificial and cheap way to go about it.
It's a shame that Wii Party seems to rely so heavily on arbitrary equalisers, resulting in several underwhelming minis, but the range of diversity and charm is more than enough to pull you in for a while. Even if it sometimes feels like it's kicking you in the shins, Wii Party is a worthy minigame compilation with a silly sense of humour and simple charm that will strongly appeal to board game fans and casual players alike. If that is you or someone you know, pop this one in and enjoy.