Quick Take: Mario Party: Island Tour is the most unforgiving game in a franchise with a reputation for rewarding luck as much as skill.
Mario Party: Island Tour is the first 3DS foray into the Mario Party franchise that peaked more than a decade ago. It is a serviceable companion to 2007’s Mario Party DS with more content in the form of 80 mini-games and a couple new gameplay modes, but is scripted to turn impossible odds possible at the most inopportune of circumstances in a collection of fair to mundane mini-games.
Being as the game is designed to be a “party” on a handheld console, Nintendo has opened up the field to three additional players that can quickly and painlessly join in on the fun without their own cartridge after a quick download via download play. The pain, unfortunately, is not too far behind.
I am convinced that somewhere hiding amongst the islands’ tropical trees is a devilish pixelated fellow rigging games so the house always has the upper hand. He’s not visible, but he’s certainly lurking, waiting to impose his will upon unsuspecting human opponents like the house at a notorious casino.
Nintendo has structured each of the seven boards to play, five of which are immediately available, to fit within a time constraint. Rocket Road, for example, is estimated to take 10-20 minutes to complete, while Perilous Path is more robust at 45-60 minutes. Logically mobile gaming is often constricted by time limitations so this design addresses that by offering options.
The downfall to this design is a scripted element that is as unforgiving as it is idiotic. Take Rocket Road, one of the speediest boards to play. This board rewards player who land on marked spaces or win mini-games “boost” packs that serve as multipliers for dice rolls. After 15 minutes of play, so approaching the game’s target window of completion, no player had made it to the halfway point. I had used boosts three times and rolled a zero all three times, the only zeroes I rolled the entire game. Suddenly Ghost gets a 3x multiplier, rolls a 15 and perfectly lands on the finish line where Rosalina pops up for a cameo, or to prove that her assets were available from Super Mario 3D World so why not toss her in here as well.
Questionable sportsmanship reared its ugly head in other instances as well, almost all of which featured either the computer-controlled players stringing together a series of improbable dice rolls, or me continually rolling the one number that I did not need to roll. I had no less than three chances to win Banzai Bill’s Mad Mountain by rolling a two or higher and kept rolling 1s and 0s. Fool me once and its forgivable, but the persistent favoring of non-human characters only points toward one conclusion: blatant cheating by design.
Mario Party games have historically split the difference between elements of luck and skill, and the amount of each present in game boards is marked as such. Bending the rules dilutes the effectiveness of either of these traits and rips the fun right out of the game. Luck is not luck if the computer has predetermined that Waluigi needs to win right now so he’s going to roll the exact number he needs.
Island Tour bests its predecessor by more than 10 mini-games but somewhere along the line Nintendo forgot that these games used to be creative and fun. Maybe the well has been hit one too many times, but walking about prickly plants with a string of goombas in tow that serve no purpose because there’s no physics affecting their movement — they walk the exact same path and will never hit a thorn if you don’t — is not fun. It’s a chore, and there are several mini-games that fall into the same trap.
Island Tour is a functional game that makes use of the 3DS’ play styles including triggers, the stylus and tilt-controls. Dice rolls are accomplished by a flick of the finger on the touch-screen rather than a button push. This lets you aim where your dice appear on the top screen, which serves no functional purpose whatsoever but is a hair more engaging than pressing A or B.
Board games are the bread and butter of the Mario Party franchise, but Nintendo has built in a couple new modes as slightly different ways to access the mini-games. Hot-Air Hijinks is a sprint to see who can win 3, 5 or 7 mini-games the fastest. Bowser’s Tower has the big green guy crashing the islands and setting up shop in a tall tower. He’s threatening to unleash bubbles on the islands or some nonsense, so it’s up to you to topple him off by beating a string of mini-games during an ascent to the top. There are bosses along the way such as a tower of goombas, and an underwhelming tile-based game as the final boss fight.
To give Bowser’s Tower credit, it offers the best 3D effects in the game as the camera spins around the towers with each level cleared. Island Tour could have done without 3D given the tight spatial constraints of the mini-games and mostly static game boards, but there are some moments worth making sure it’s turned on.
There isn’t much else to Island Tour other than some uninteresting bubble collectibles unlocked with victories and an in-game bubble currency to purchase more collectibles or in-game songs. I miss the old days of Mario Party and Mario Party 2 where the infectious music stuck in your head for days on end. There is no such masterful composition in these tracks.
Nintendo has released Mario Party: Island Tour on the same day as The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Super Mario 3D World. The embargo on those game reviews dropped a couple days ahead of their release. The Island Tour embargo drops nearly 12 hours after the street date. That alone speaks volumes in Nintendo’s confidence about what amounts to a by-the-numbers filler title in their 3DS lineup and nothing more.
– Dan Bradley
Mario Party: Island Tour was reviewed on 3DS using a code provided by publisher Nintendo. It was released exclusively for 3DS on November 22, 2013.