Nintendo consoles have been no stranger to party games over the years, and accessibility has always played into that success. Whether it was a dance-off or a quick bout of tennis, both software and hardware worked in tandem to ensure that absolutely anybody could join in on the fun. The introduction of the Wii U GamePad added an asymmetric twist to the formula, with early titles like the marvelous Nintendo Land opening the door for even more possibilities.
So what happens when one person gets complete control, leaving every other player at the mercy of their generosity? The answer to that question (alongside hundreds of others) lies with U Host - a party title exclusive to the Wii U eShop where you get to take the reins of your very own customisable game show.
As the host you're charged with both creating and presenting your show from start to finish. To accomplish this and keep things moving along smoothly, you'll need to designate points, explain each round, and even toss out some penalties if a contestant rubs you the wrong way. Up to four players can join in, and controllers are completely optional so it won't take long to get started. In fact most of the setup comes beforehand, with plenty of options to mess around with when creating a session.
Every game show is comprised of rounds, which are either fairly traditional and question-based or take the form of shorter mini games that shake things up a little. Points are carried over until the game is complete and the winner is announced, which will surely result in either friendly applause or vicious assaults depending on the company you keep. It's slightly difficult to define the core experience as there are so many variables at play, but the real meat of the game definitely comes from the main quiz show segments. A standard quiz is ten questions by default, chosen from a pool of over 1,000 that are split into 10 different categories. Ranging from art to food to history, there's something for everyone and you can switch between categories at any time. There's even a lot of video game questions, which really don't pull any punches when it comes to obscurity!
Other options for mini games offer a solid amount of diversity, even if most take heavy inspiration from already existing concepts and game shows. They act as welcome palette-cleansers between more intensive rounds, often calling for direct interaction and outright competition between the host and contestants. A good example is Pursuit, where you essentially climb a ladder to victory by scoring more points than the host in a series of multiple choice questions. Betting points on your starting distance adds a layer of tension and strategy that fits perfectly. Aside from that, Egg Toss and Block Drop are sillier events that wouldn't feel too out of place in a Mario Party title, giving everyone a chance to catch up with the braniacs by claiming a few points at something completely different. A particular favourite of ours was Guess It, in which each player is given 3 different words to act out within 20 seconds. The ridiculously tight time limit combined with the enduring fun of charades makes this one absolutely manic.
When it works, U Host is an experience greater than the sum of these parts, but whether or not it does work is partly down to how much time you invest in the setup. A quickplay option can randomly generate an entire game show for you, but to keep the crowd consistently interested you'll need to dig a little deeper into the dozens of gameplay tweaks you can apply and create something unique. To name just a few - you can choose the amount of rounds you want to play, which games are worth the most points, whether you allow teams or not, and even script your own questions to add a personal touch. This can all take anywhere from 5 minutes to 50, depending on how in-depth you go, but it's well worth it to surprise your friends with quiz questions based on weird in-jokes and shameful secrets.
As the host, the GamePad is essentially your control hub and it works beautifully as an incredibly detailed and versatile second screen. Every piece of information you'll need is readily available at the touch of a button, while kept secret from prying eyes. It allows for neat touches, like the ability to read out the question before revealing it on the television screen, or randomly changing a player's name without them even realising. You can even boot players out mid-game if you really want to make enemies, though one unfortunate limitation is that you can't add any players once a game is underway. The interface is clear enough that you can guide everyone through each round without much delay, but certain actions can be a little clunky as you dig through the options to find what you need. We mentioned earlier that controllers are optional, but buzzing in with a Wii Remote is a lot faster and more satisfying than yelling out and waiting to be chosen.
Despite all the excitement of game night, the visuals end up looking a little drab with a minimalistic blend of primary colours to highlight your options. It's a clean look that isn't exactly unappealing per se, but it does begin to feel a little too sterile after a while. Players are represented by name alone, so there won't be any silly avatars or studio sets either. You can change some of the music and backgrounds, but this is by far the least customizable aspect of the game which is a big disappointment. On the plus side, this means that there isn't any kind of visual clutter or annoying sound effects to get in the way of the main experience, so it helps keep things focused if nothing else.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that U Host falls in line with fellow eShop exclusive Spin the Bottle: Bumpie's Party; whereby a lot of the enjoyment is utterly dependent on the group you play with and how often you can set up for a multiplayer session. It's great that you can design and save different game shows to suit family, friends, or maybe even a boozier crowd, but there's certainly no worthwhile single player alternative to speak of, so your mileage will vary. Plan a night, set up a quiz or two, get the right people around and it's bound to be a good time, but in the wrong hands it has the makings of a potentially stale, awkward affair. Make sure to keep this in mind before hitting that buzzer and spending your prize money.
Like any good game show, U Host is a little cheesy, a little crazy, fit to burst with questions and stars a host with a power complex. It's a robust little gem that makes excellent use of the GamePad, while championing an accessible party experience that can be adapted to fit almost any crowd. Some extra polish and a little more glitz and glam would have helped presentation, but designing and hosting your own quiz is great fun regardless. We'd recommend U Host to anyone looking to re-invigorate game night with something a bit different, as long as you have plenty of willing contestents to COME ON DOWWWWWN!