The party’s over.
Mario Party: Island Tour never stood much chance. The old codger has been trying to relive his partying days of the Nintendo 64, but never been able to recapture a vibe lost with the advent of online gaming and durable control sticks. Six years since his last handheld shindig, Mario is back at it, this time trying to combine the robust social mayhem that used to be such fun, with a rubbish single-player element and up to four people staring at their own personal screens, rather than sharing a TV — at least that’s a modern trope.
Remembering its social origins, Mario Party: Island Tour utilises Download Play to its full potential, by allowing up to four players to connect and play their own 3DS using just one cart. There’s a lot of sitting around waiting for other players, or the AI, to make their turn, but at least only one of your gaming cohort has to slap down money — even in its prime, Mario Party was a game only one person in your regular gaming social group purchased, as it was useless on its own.
The lack of stimulation as a single-player game is still Mario Party’s biggest failing, and why it will never recapture the appeal it had in the late-’90s. It was meant to be a multiplayer game back then, when kids actually convened in the same location for a night of gaming, fizzy drinks and stomping potato chips into bedroom carpet. Maybe that still happens, but I suspect it’s less frequent, and now relies upon all four buddies having their own 3DS.
You can do it all alone, but the minigames are a walk in the park against the incompetent AI who make it almost impossible to lose. Likewise, a full size game takes about an hour to complete, and a good portion of that will be spent watching the computer-controlled competitors slowly taking their turns. Halfway through my first game, I realised life is too short for this nonsense.
Outside of pretending to have three friends with substitute AI, Island Tour shambolically attempts to cater for the single-player audience it knows, as a 3DS game, it has to have. Bowser’s Tower Mode has you traverse 30 floors of Bowser’s Castle, tackling a couple of AI-competed minigames on each. It’s basically Party Mode without the party and a greater focus on minigames. The difficulty cannot be changed, and forces you to play against incompetent nitwits. It’s almost impossible to lose when the difficulty is increased in the main game. It’s totally impossible to lose in Bowser’s Tower against the easiest AI.
It’s not much good as a single-player game, but if you’ve managed to rally the troops and arrange a Mario Party-sesh, you’ll be surprised to find Island Tour actually takes a slight diversion from the overplayed “get a star” formula. The Party Mode has you and up to three friends pick a Nintendo icon and make your way around a life-sized board, playing mini-games along the way.
This time, each board has its own unique quirky objective. Some have you avoiding Banzai Bills, while a particularly annoying rocket-race straps jetpacks to the players and has them blast to the finish line. This shortest map, which can be completed in 10 minutes, can be played without ever running into a minigame and is entirely reliant on luck; more than half the spaces warp you to someone else’s space, which always seems to be the poor chap back at the beginning. I almost made it to the end four times, constantly warping back to the start, before Luigi somehow moved 20 spaces using a x4 multiplier to put me out of my misery. We didn’t play a single minigame, and I was ready to hurl my 3DS out the nearest window. By contrast, Bowser’s board awards victory to the player typically seen as coming last, which is a nice change of tactic and actually requires some forward thinking.
The heart and soul of Mario Party, the mini-games, are at best a mixed bag. There are a couple amongst them that demand some serious skill, but most are too reliant on luck and aren’t as fun as Mario Party shenanigans should be. Island Tour hits its low point getting caught up in motion control. Even with 3D turned off, I’ve never played a 3DS game improved by the accelerometer, and it only proves a hindrance having you awkwardly flail the 3DS trying to roll a ball around the screen. The best games are mostly touchscreen based, and there are a couple of gems, but too few. None rival the console games at their best, rendering the freeplay minigame mode useless.
Island Tour’s biggest failing is its lack of an online mode. It knows it's a multiplayer game, and half-heartedly makes a token offering to singles, but doesn’t bother taking the party online. It makes sense to keep the console games offline, as it’s a social experience designed around friendly rivalries within the same room, but the 3DS necessitates each player has his or her own screen anyway. There’s nothing even remotely interesting about watching three AI character roll a dice, probably cheat, and fail to complete minigames on time. It doesn’t make sense to ignore online functionality.
The Final Verdict
If you’re desperate for a Mario Party, Island Tour provides a primitive fix. The new mix of game boards makes for a change of tactics, and Download Play is well employed. Unfortunately, the single-player mode is horrible, the AI characters are imbeciles and the good minigames are countered by those lacking innovation or painfully insistent upon motion controls. Throw in that it doesn’t bother with online, and unless you’re regularly making time for 3DS meetups, stick to the console parties.