Review: Funfair Party Games (3DS eShop)

No Fair

Taking classic arcade and carnival redemption games as its inspiration, Funfair Party Games combines two things 3DS owners are quite familiar with by now: a collection of mini-games and well-meaning but flawed motion controls. With eleven games of varying quality and some surprisingly solid multiplayer features, the result is a mixed bag - there's definitely some fun here for dedicated fairgoers, but just like real-life carnival games, it's decidedly hit-and-miss.

You'll explore the Funfair via a barebones interface, allotting yourself as many 'tickets' as you'd like before heading to an overhead map of the attractions, and then playing that number of rounds. The Funfair carnival includes such standbys as a Shooting Gallery, Can Knockdown, Duck Fishing, Balloon Burst (dart-throwing), Claw Crane, Ball Roll (skee-ball), High Striker (the bell-and-hammer strength tester), Basketball (of the classic arcade variety) and the straightforwardly-named Ball-in-the-Glass. There's also Camel Race - similar to Ball Roll, but with higher-point cups moving your camel further ahead in a four-way race - and Hot Wire, a randomised rendition of the steady-hand game.

Some of these games are inherently more fun than others. Duck Fishing, the Shooting Gallery, Camel Race and Ball Roll all survive the transition to the digital world quite well, and Hot Wire - where you carefully guide a ring across a twisting, electrified path - is an especially good fit for a video game (see SNK's The Irritating Maze). On the flip side, Can Knockdown, Basketball, Ball-in-the-Glass and Balloon Burst all come across as less interesting or less responsive versions of Shooting Gallery, and while the Claw Crane concept is a cute diversion in Kirby's Adventure, it's not really something you're going to want to play much on its own.

Funfair Party Game's main hook is that each of these carnival games has been updated with motion controls, though there's also a "Classic" version of each that uses the stylus and/or buttons. In some games, the motion controls feel great. Aiming in the Shooting Gallery is responsive and quick, reloading via a shotgun-cocking motion is surprisingly visceral, and though the screen centre becomes uncalibrated easily, a quick tap of the 'X' button rights it instantaneously. Duck Fishing is similarly intuitive, and tilting the 3DS back and forth to deliver the rubber waterfowl is a lot more fun than it sounds.

Unfortunately, not every game in the collection fares so well, and it's hard to understand exactly why. Balloon Burst uses gyroscope aiming just like Shooting Gallery, but it's inexplicably broken here, with inverted axes, finicky aim, and the maddening tendency for the crosshairs to get stuck in place. Other times the motion controls just don't seem to logically fit the game. The High Striker game, for example, requires you to rhythmically raise and lower your 3DS to build up power before pressing 'X' to drop the hammer. It's definitely safer than asking you to power-slam the system, we suppose, but it's so disconnected from the actual motions required that it ends up being more awkward than immersive. Then there's the fact that a lot of these games - like Ball Roll, Camel Race, Basketball, and Ball-in-the-Glass - use a "thrust your 3DS forward to shoot a ball" mechanic that just doesn't work very well. It's functional, but if pursued with appropriate vigor, it's seriously hinge-destroying.

There are also a few games where the motions controls are responsive, but questionably mapped. In Claw Crane, for instance, you tilt the 3DS towards or away from you to move the crane forward or back. So far, so good - but to move the claw catcher left or right, instead of tilting the 3DS to the side, you'll need to hold 'L' and 'R' while tilting it towards or away from you again, making an already frustrating-by-design game even more cumbersome. There's a similar problem in Hot Wire, where tilting the system to move the ring feels great, but adjusting the pitch of the ring (to maneuver around curves in the pipe) requires holding 'X' and moving the 3DS side-to-side along the yaw axis. It makes no sense and it's also nearly unplayable.

Happily, the 'Classic' control options are generally more sensible. The games which use the gyroscope to aim have crosshair movement mapped to the Circle Pad in Classic mode, which works well. Hot Wire is also very playable using the Circle Pad to move and the shoulder buttons to tilt the ring, and games like Ball Roll and Camel Race are good, simple fun when played with the stylus flick controls.

It's not all good news in button land, however - the Classic control method in High Striker is to mash the 'L' and 'R' buttons in rapid succession before pressing 'X', which feels like a one way trip to Nintendo's Console Repair department, and while the Claw Crane is certainly easier in Classic mode, better controls can't mask the fact that the game is as rigged as the real-life equivalent, and futilely fishing for digital stuffed animals isn't any more fun than it sounds.

Control issues aside, Funfair Party Games deserves credit for its many multiplayer modes. There's both local and online multiplayer, which require each player to have their own copy of game, as well as hot-seat multiplayer for up to 4 people playing on the same 3DS. Playing with friends can make the confusing controls feel more like silly challenges, and in the right atmosphere it can be a lot of fun - though thanks to the handheld-hurling nature of the controls, we recommend only playing with calm, well-coordinated individuals you trust. There are also local leaderboards which use Miis to save records, and - even better - online rankings for each attraction, letting you compare your best efforts with the top five scores from around the globe. It's a fantastic feature set, and should certainly help dedicated score-chasing carnies get a lot more out of the game.

Even with other players to challenge, however, the Funfair carnival feels remarkably sparse. The game's sole embellishment - and only life-form, in fact - is a cheery, non-vocal monkey mascot that takes your tickets and celebrates with you after each round, and other than that there's nobody and nothing in sight. The colourful but generic graphics don't do much to help, and there's very little in the way of animation. If something can stand still, it does; commendably Newtonian, but also rather boring. Players who use Classic controls will see a slight visual boost from the 3D effect, but when playing with the motion controls it's best left off. The soundtrack is as unremarkable as the graphics, but at least its gentle melodies won't grate with repetition.

Conclusion

We appreciate Funfair Party Games' wholehearted attempt to inject motion controls into classic carnival games, and while when they work well the games can be quite fun, in most cases, the controls are either too unresponsive or too confusing to use effectively. Online leaderboards and hot-seat multiplayer are great touches, and at the right price, there's certainly some fun to be found here, though most players will be better off saving their tickets for a bigger prize.