Wii Party U has no rhythm, and you won’t realise just how crucial that is to a party game until it’s gone. Forget Game & Wario’s bubble-wrap-popping immediacy: this party game could bring the wildest shindig to a ponderous crawl.
One problem is its multitude of gametypes. Some games use the GamePad, some rely on Remotes, others bring both into play, and every ruleset needs to be slowly explained to newcomers or reiterated for those out of practice. This sounds like nitpicking, but it’s crucial: Wii Party U spends at least as much time explaining itself as it does letting you have fun.
It’s not that Nintendo hasn’t crafted a glut of silly asymmetrical treats around its newest controller. But the fact that there’s only one of the device can hobble proceedings. One boardgame, GamePad Island, builds dice rolls around GamePad challenges. And while this leads to a cluster of quick-fire minigames, it requires that the device is passed between turns. The waiting is compounded by a surprising amount of dead time: those dice rolls, watching Miis saunter around, clicking past a confirmation message after passing the GamePad.
Still, only one-third of Wii Party U apes Mario Party. The other two-thirds provide a clutch of silly parlour games and a suite of competitive twoplayer GamePad-based treats. Wii Party U seems most comfortable offering mere social silliness, such as a game in which one player must pull a ridiculous expression, which is duly snapped by the controller’s camera and displayed onscreen. The remaining players then have to guess, for instance, whether your contorted features mean you’re “smelling something good” or concerned because “your eyebrows ran away”. It’s fun and, like fellow Wii U game Spin The Bottle: Bumpie’s Party, should work pretty well with the kind of inhibition-relaxing beverages that Nintendo would never endorse.
Having said that, there’s some simple and childish stuff in here, too, leaving Wii Party U a confused proposition. One game, Fast Food Frenzy, is a memory test in which up to three players order food and then the GamePad wielder duly delivers it. That’s it. One of the twoplayer GamePad minigames, meanwhile, is a card-matching game based on barnyard animals’ faces; it’s tedious for all but the very youngest of players, and fails to offer anything that you couldn’t experience with a cheap iPad download or, let’s face it, a pack of cards.
There’s a familiar, welcoming charm to Wii Party U, which offers an evening spent in the company of nice-but-quiet friends. We wouldn’t blame you, however, if you snuck out to visit the more vibrant party hosted by Wario or Bumpie next door.
Wii Party U is released in the US and Europe on October 25.