The ideal Wii experience, as advertised, is that of friends and family members gathering around their sets and swinging their Remotes, no matter how old or young, and doing so together. It's unfortunate then that some developers seem content to target the desirable non-traditional players not as a legitimate, equally deserving audience but as gullible gaming rubes more likely to shell out cash on any stinker with a license or the word "fun" in the title than to glance at a review. Disney Guilty Party, thankfully, is not one of those games.
The renowned Dickens Family Detective Agency, gathered around the dinner table one night, is discussing the pudding-obsessed patriarch's imminent retirement when with a lightning flash, his wife Olivia disappears. Their arch-nemesis, Mr. Valentine, is at work again, hatching his most nefarious scheme yet – one that will eventually encompass a piano-struck opera musician, a stolen ship steering wheel and a swiped singing manatee named Hugh, one third of the world-famous Manatee Tenors. It's up to the amusing, multifaceted group to follow Valentine's trail of golden clues, track down the purloined pair and unmask the villain.
The gameplay mixes the classic sleuthing of a Carmen Sandiego caper with an assortment of about fifty fun mini-games. You'll find clues and speak to suspects, and unlocking their secrets generally requires the completion of a simple challenge. This may encompass staring the suspect down and twisting your Remote to stay in line with their gaze, smashing rotten eggs that roll beneath your mallet until the interogatee themselves "cracks," or using a flashlight to search the room for sparkling clues. Some tasks are quite simple while others require a bit more concentration, like when you torture suspects with your shoddy saxaphonery, pressing the correct button combinations on your Remote as they scroll past. The controls are tight and fluid and the amusements are easy to pick up and get into after reading a very short instructional screen. You'll never have to plug in a Nunchuk either, keeping things accessible and uncomplicated without reducing the games' subtle complexity.
Guilty Party's inclusiveness really shines here. Before you begin each mystery you choose between three difficulty settings, allowing you to tailor your mini-game experience to the level of challenge that you seek. For example, in Payoff ("Bribe the suspect!" the introductory screen announces), novices will hold A and B to grasp dollar bills and move them into a character's waiting hand while intermediate players will have to factor their dollar-dropping with the recipient's giddy bobbing up and down and hand-alternating, and skilled competitors will have to reach over and press A to slap away a thieving arm sneaking onto the screen — not to mention each difficulty gradation adding more bills to the pile. One unique feature is the dynamic difficulty level – if you're doing especially poorly at a mini-game, you'll be asked if you'd like to take things down a notch, while if you're excelling you'll face a forced promotion. That way, you'll never find yourself stuck in a frustrating or tediously easy match as the game goes out of its way to suit your skill level.
While collecting your clues, you'll look for four characteristics – gender, hair length, height and body type, and while you'll come across your share of cryptic hints, quite a few are pretty overt. You'll still have to put your thinking cap on every once in a while, and those who can see through supposed trivialities will solve their mysteries more quickly, but the assortment of evidence is largely made up of non-clues and obvious indicators. Once you're ready to accuse your suspect, some mysteries will ask you to point to the specific clue that revealed each trait while others will have you prove that everyone else is innocent, either by indicating a clue that reveals a non-matching characteristic or testimony that gives them an alibi. Furthermore, you'll run a lie detector over each piece of testimony to find out if someone's covering something up. Some bits of information you uncover will colour or complete the meanings of others as well, so things aren't always as simple as they seem.
One to four players can solve the case together in Story or get to the bottom of a new mystery in Party Mode. Here you can designate the proceedings as either cooperative or competitive, the latter mode splitting the players up into two teams. Everyone can see the clues that everyone else has collected, but only the team that uncovered each can work their lie detectors on them. You'll also be able to "bluff" by pressing the 1 button when you run yours over your facts, and as long as you can hide your hand behind your back, the other team will never know what's really true or false. This keeps things fun and exciting and avoids interrupting the rhythm by telling everyone to look away from the screen.
Guilty Party also encourages your team to work together when Mr. Valentine plays a trick that takes two to solve – say, disconnecting the fuse box so that one has to hold a flashlight while the other reconnects wires. Solo mode still includes these, they just become more complicated as multitasking steps in for the absent assistance. Another factor mixes things up in competitive mode as well – between each turn, Mr. Valentine will play a Savvy Card to deter you, locking doors, turning out lights and making suspects paranoid so that they flee the room when you enter, and here you can choose which one he uses and where. Guilty Party includes other board game-esque elements as well, limiting each play to a number of tokens you're awarded with each turn and which you expend with each action. You'll also receive Savvy Cards of your own that help you progress and counter traps, and you'll face a timer when you're playing with friends. While things get gradually more challenging in Story, Party Mode will have you select between three difficulty levels for your mystery that affect the amount of clues and suspects. You can also save and come back at any point.
It's smart to be sceptical when a developer claims that their game is "hilarious," but Wideload delivers in droves. The family members themselves display their own amusing idiosyncrasies while those who you encounter are largely entertaining and cartoonish, if stereotypical, depictions like the grungy Rocker, the pretentious Diva and the Poet Ian Neon, decked out in beret, ponytail and horizontal black and white striped shirt. Little details really flesh out the experience, like the increasingly delighted or fearful noises that suspects make during some mini-games, the way that people greet you when you enter a room, and the way that your character frantically sprints to the destinations you've selected. There are even a few jokes along the way for the more knowledgeable crowd, like brief moments of light political humour and intelligent satire.
Personality runs through the entire game and really makes it shine. The goofy characters are animated and interesting while the locations are full of little details like the museum exhibits in the Dickens' main hall, the sandbags in the opera rafters, the skull/heart logo adorning Mr. Valentine's zeppelin and the human skeletons that border his desk. Everything looks great and no detail seems arbitrary or out of place. Meanwhile, the music provides a nice laidback atmosphere that never becomes a nuisance, and, like a film score, many of the tracks derive from elements of the very catchy main theme, which greets you on the title screen complete with lyrics.
Besides Story and Party there's the Game Room, in which you can practise individual challenges by either selecting them individually, having a random list chosen for you or by seeing how many you can complete in a short time. You can also customise rules in the main modes and ramp up the challenge even further, as well as collect achievement-esque badges along the way. However, there are only eight levels in Story, including a brief tutorial and comprising six unique locations between them, so as far as completing everything goes, it shouldn't take you but half a day. The mysteries in Party Mode are devoid of story, never letting you know exactly what mystery you're solving or what the culprit has done, which leaves the fun intact but takes away a bit of its charm. Resultantly, collecting clues and sifting through testimony can grow a bit stale after a few rounds, but altogether the entertainment value is high and the gameplay addictive, and since Party Mode will present you with a different mystery every time, you and your family or friends are sure to find value in Guilty Party long after your first playthrough.
Glowing with personality and charm and utilising unique logic-based sleuthing gameplay that any classic Carmen Sandiego fan will enjoy, Disney Guilty Party is humorous, addictive and very fun. The mini-games are entertaining and accessible and the game includes enough customisability to suit any player, even dynamically altering the level of challenge to meet your gamer needs. Story Mode is a bit on the short side and each round of Party Mode is similar at its core, so things will get a touch stale after extended play, but otherwise this is the perfect game for a get-together or a family night. Indeed, this is just the type of title for which the Wii was designed.