Mario huh? What a popular chap he must be. After all, people have been attending his parties nearly every year since 1998. Like any good party they’re so hectic you might struggle to remember many (if any) details about them, other than perhaps the faces that were present – Mario is here of course, ever the gracious host, with his brother Luigi tagging along (presumably moping that ‘his’ year is over). There’s Mario’s on-again/carried off-again romantic interest Peach and her long suffering friend Daisy too. Best pals Toad and Yoshi are here, possibly just passing the time before the karting season, and this year both Wario and Waluigi are here despite no one inviting them. Rounding it out Bowser Jr. shows up to annoy his dad along with a Boo because, well, ghosts love parties.
The Mario Party series is all about the mini games – primarily collecting a batch together and placing them around a game board for the player(s) to tackle. Island Tour features 81 mini games in total, playable across 7 different boards, with the majority of them lasting around 60 seconds or less. As such, Island Tour should be perfectly set up for play on the go, with bite sized games lending themselves naturally to pick up and play set in the bright and colourful Mario universe. Except it’s not.
Mario Party’s multiplayer is the reason for the series’ existence and popularity. It doesn’t necessarily matter if the game mechanics of the mini games are as shallow as a puddle when you’re crowing triumphantly in your friends face when you beat them. Island Tour is no different, and realistically you’ll only want to play the game against real people because as a single player experience there is little to no enjoyment to be had here. The problem is that the nature of handheld gaming makes it more likely that you will be playing solo, and when alone the game is both unfair and boring.
Mario Party: Island Tour is slow. Each player’s turn is accompanied by a start screen, an animated dice roll, player movement, rules and, depending on the board, other effects whether they be collectibles or obstacles. A mini game appears every third or so turn, but when playing on your own the wait between turns is excruciating, made even worse by what seems like some seriously aggressive cheating keeping your dice rolls down or giving boosts to the computer players. Playing with someone else alleviates the boredom a little, but only since you have someone to talk to while you both wait.
Nintendo wisely made the multiplayer portion download play, meaning that only one of your group needs a copy of the game for everyone to take part. What this does mean though is that you need each of your friends to own a 3/2DS, and whilst it may have been the highest selling console of last year there are still plenty of people out there who don’t have one. It would have been nice to see some kind of pass and play option, though a number of the included mini games simply wouldn’t work in this manner, only really showing their worth when competing directly (and manically) against others.
Island Tour definitely looks and sounds the part, boasting bright and colourful renditions of its beloved Nintendo characters, along with well-crafted game boards and worlds. They’re tied together with some classic Nintendo sounds and music as well. This is certainly a good thing as you’ll spend a considerable amount of time simply looking at your handheld’s screen rather than actively doing anything.
The mini games are thankfully a high point for the series, and for the game, with plenty of fun to be had across the 81 on offer. Games such as Balance Beat use the 3DS’ gyro controls and are joyfully hectic against human opponents, while stylus controlled offerings like Goomba Rodeo have fun and reactive controls. There are of course some less enjoyable ones, such as Wind Me Up which requires you to spin the analog nub as quickly as possible, despite its lack of grip for such an application.
When played alone the issue is that on the whole the computer puts up very little challenge indeed, and I found myself repeatedly in first place. During the more skill based challenges I still had fun taking part despite the ease with which I was winning, but in the more random events there was little to no sense of achievement to be had. Against other players there are certainly fewer concerns as you’re all in the same boat in terms of controls and no one has a physical advantage over another.
A secondary problem is that the game boards don’t place enough emphasis on actually playing the mini games, with turn after turn going by where you just roll your dice and move a few spaces. The mini games can all be accessed in free play mode, but in separation there’s less to be gained from their completion beyond simply seeing what they’re like. It’s incredibly frustrating to have to sit through other players turns without any reward following your turn beyond some more waiting. When playing against the computer five minutes could easily go by without anything interesting happening, and with a handheld title five minutes could be your entire play time.
Mario Party: Island Tour is ultimately disappointing. It looks and sounds like a first-party Nintendo product but a great deal of the fun has been stripped out of it by tedium. The best way to experience the game also requires each participant to own a 3/2DS which makes it one of the most expensive multiplayer experiences out there (but cheaper for it being download play enabled).
The series simply doesn’t translate to a handheld title, particularly without any online functionality, and hopefully Nintendo will seriously consider returning the series to the living room for its next outing.