Nintendo’s Wii gained something of a reputation as a “party game machine”, for better or worse.
The Wii U never quite captured the same success as its predecessor in this regard due to its considerably smaller audience — not to mention the rise of other types of games filling a similar niche — but that didn’t stop Nintendo in particular from producing a number of different games intended to be played socially. With other people. In the same room! Imagine that.
One such example was Wii Party U, a successor to its similarly named predecessor on the older platform. Designed to be accessible and understandable to all ages, it’s neither the most complex nor technically impressive game on the platform — but it is noteworthy for being very successful at what it does.
One of the best things about Wii Party U is that it provides a number of different ways to play, with none of them feeling like the “main attraction”. In this way, players of all ages, ability levels and attention spans can find something to enjoy, whether it’s one of the longer board-game like challenges, shorter games that focus a little more on luck, or simply playing any of the bite-size minigames for fun or competition.
Those looking for a more substantial session with friends are well-catered to by the “TV Party” games. These unfold in a somewhat similar manner to stablemate and fellow party game series Mario Party in that they tend to focus on an overarching “main game” punctuated by shorter minigames.
The easiest of the board games is a simple race to the finish line, which is straightforward to understand but suffers a little from being very hard to catch up if you find yourself lagging behind early on. That said, if everyone takes it in the spirit in which it is intended — some silly, family-friendly fun that shouldn’t be taken too seriously — it’s very enjoyable.
Probably the most enjoyable of the board game-like activities, however, is a Monopoly-style affair where players do laps of a board, collecting items of clothing by stopping on particular spaces representing shops. When they reach the stage in the centre of the board, they put on a “fashion show” and score points according to their collected items — with significant bonuses being awarded for those who have managed to collect a complete matching set, of course.
For those looking for a somewhat chance-based game of a different variety, another of the TV Party activities sees you dropping balls into a machine somewhat akin to those “2p sliders” you find in seaside arcades. The aim is to score as many points as possible by causing balls to drop into the bin in the middle of the machine on your turn, with later rounds adding additional mechanics such as the entertainingly named “avalanche of balls”, which can be triggered by dropping a ball through a moving ring. (Be quiet at the back, there.)
Each of these larger games sees its participants playing minigames at the beginning of each round. These are generally used to give the winning player an advantage of some sort — going first or being able to drop more balls into the machine, for example — but are fun and entertainingly competitive in their own right. Not only that, but they cover a variety of different styles of play, too, all while remaining simple to understand and easy to control for young players or less experienced gamers.
It’s also possible to play just the minigames in various competitive ways, too. Single-player modes allow a solo challenger to either try and set high scores in individual games or survive as long as possible against a relentless wave of computer-controlled opponents. On the multiplayer front, meanwhile, players can compete against one another in isolated minigames or in more structured tournament-style activities to see who is the best. There’s certainly a wide variety of ways to play.
On top of all this, the package provides a particularly interesting use of the Wii U’s GamePad through its “tabletop” games, which are designed to ignore the TV altogether. In these activities, players sit across from one another with the GamePad in between them — the game comes with a plastic stand to help it sit level on a flat surface — and compete against one another. These activities include a digital take on the old Screwball Scramble toy along with variations on foosball, baseball and other simple games. They’re fun, a nice change of pace and a good example of how the GamePad can be used in different ways.
Finally, the game’s last way to play comes in the form of its House Party games, which eschew the more conventional structure of the other modes and instead act as a sort of facilitator for more freeform fun. There’s a Pictionary-like game, for example, and a game that uses the GamePad’s camera to challenge players to make a face representing a particular concept. For those keen to get a bit touchy-feely, there’s even a Twister-like game where you and your friends are challenged to, between you, press a specific and awkward combination of buttons on the GamePad and four Wii Remotes.
The House Party games are all best played with a group of friends who are willing to get into the spirit of things, perhaps with a drink or two inside them, but they’re also a good technology-powered alternative to, say, the sort of parlour games older or less technologically-minded relatives may enjoy playing after a hearty roast dinner. A prime example of what the original Wii was all about — and a reminder that its successor did succeed in recapturing that fun on occasion, but not nearly enough to make it the same kind of phenomenon, sadly.
As can probably be surmised from its title, Wii Party U is not a game you buy to play by yourself for hours — though it does at least cater to those who wish to do so through its minigame challenges and the presence of a surprisingly addictive full-scale puzzle game — but rather it’s a game best enjoyed with friends and family. Its activities are simple enough to be understandable and appealing to even young players or those generally inexperienced in playing video games, and competitive enough to keep the more grizzled veterans among us satisfied. And there’s a range of activities that combine both luck- and skill-based challenges so everyone gets a chance to win rather than the resident “gamer” of the group always dominating proceedings.
All in all, Wii Party U is a fine example of the Wii U’s regrettably rather underused potential to provide party game fun. It makes good use of the GamePad and Wii Remotes in a variety of creative situations, and provides plenty of different ways to play to keep everyone happy for anywhere between a couple of minutes to an hour at a time.
In other words, for those who still see their friends and family in person semi-regularly rather than keeping in touch solely via the Internet, it’s a great addition to your collection — just don’t get too upset if you suddenly find yourself losing out to Grandma!
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