Mario Party! You love it. We love it. Everyone loves it up until the point that someone gets a bonus star for landing on the most green spaces and manages to win a two hour game without ever placing first in a single mini-game. Then we hate it. In fact, those are the two biggest flaws in Mario Party: it’s inherently random nature and incredibly long play time. Combined, they take a simple board game and turn it into a rage fest. Luckily, Nintendo realizes this is a problem and has tried to fix it in their latest Mario Party release, Mario Party Island Tour for the Nintendo 3DS.
The basic Mario Party formula has been totally revamped. It’s still a board game and you still move along spaces by rolling dice. However, the concept of collecting dice in order to buy stars in order to win the game has been thrown out the window… finally! This game mechanic never really worked. In any game of Mario Party with a reasonable length players only managed to pick up one or two stars leading to a whole bunch of coin based tie-breakers or worse, wins by bonus star.
Instead, Mario Party Island Tour is all about moving forward. The twisting and turning paths of Mario Party’s past have been chucked in favor of a straight shot to a goal. In essence, every game is now a race. Winning mini-games give you bonus die in order to move you along faster. Items either speed you up or slow your opponents down. You can still be knocked back by encountering stage hazards and other random events, but the days of cutting your opponents off by racing to the star via a different roundabout path are gone.
This might make Mario Party Island Tour seem boring and linear, but Nintendo actually does quite a bit with the “race to the end” formula. For example, there is a Bowser themed stage where your actual goal is to not reach the end first. There is a Mario Galaxy themed stage where you collect star bits in order to provide yourself with a boost that actually lets you multiply your die roll. There are plenty of boards with traps, many of which are integrated into the very dice you roll to move forward. Then again, there are also plenty of “easy” maps that have very few interactive elements, for the people who just want to take a leisurely stroll to the finish line. There are seven boards in all and they are all quite fun, though you are sure to find one or two favorites that you will play over and over again.
This new format certainly helps Mario Party with its timing problems. Most games can be completed in about a half hour, maybe a bit more. Each board is actually rated for time so you can choose the right one to play for the time you have available.
However, the new format doesn’t do much to alleviate the feeling of randomness that has always plagued the Mario Party series. Granted, any dice-based game is going to have some variance, but the die rolls in Mario Party Island Tour can be outright soul crushing. All too often games would start out with an opponent rolling ludicrously high and pulling out so far ahead that the game felt like it was already over. Similarly, you can make all the “right decisions”, get a few spaces away from the goal, and then roll incredibly bad the whole time, inching forward only to have someone pass you from behind. It actually feels like the game is purposefully cheating just to make matches feel more tense, except it’s not tense, it’s just frustrating.
Half of what sells a Mario Party title are the mini-games and Island Tour’s mini-games are pretty good. Many of them you have seen before in other Mario Party titles, except they now have a 3DS twist to them. You’ll have to use the touch screen, motion controls, and even the 3DS camera and AR functions to complete many mini-games. There are mini-games that play out like mini-action platformers, brain bending mini-games like you might see in Brain Age, shooters, racing games, and even re-makes of classic Mario levels. However, there are also plenty of completely random mini-games as well that take absolutely no skill to complete, and these are the most frustrating. In addition, there are no 2v2 or 3v1 mini-games at all. Everything is a four player free for all and it can get monotonous at times.
Obviously, the best way to play Mario Party Island Tour is with other people. It’s a good thing that it supports 3DS Download play, so four players can play on one copy. In fact, this is where the game shines brightest. Many mini-games work by hiding information from other players. So being able to give every player their own screen is awesome.
Unfortunately, you probably won’t be playing the game with other people all that often. It requires all four players to have their own 3DS, which is unlikely and is harder to set up than a game of Mario Party on a console. Instead, you will likely be playing against the computer most of the time, which is simultaneously unfair and incredibly easy. On the board, the computer seems to have superhuman luck, always rolling exactly what they need to stay competitive or completely blow past you. In mini-games, the computer is a pushover and unless you fell asleep with your 3DS in hand, you will rarely ever lose. This flawed A.I. is actually what makes the game’s other modes, like the Bowser’s Tower single-player mode or the standalone mini-game modes so boring. Mario Party Island Tour barely has any merit without a dedicated group of friends to play with.
Mario Party Island Tour is an interesting new take on the Mario Party franchise. It’s quick, it’s slightly less random, and it’s fun, which would be great if the game was released for a console. Unfortunately, as a handheld game, you’ll find that Mario Party Island Tour just isn’t much fun until you find a whole bunch of people playing with their 3DSes at a convention or something, and even then you’ll likely just play Street Pass mini-games anyway. If you have enough friends to routinely get four 3DSes together in one place, then Mario Party Island Tour is a must buy party game. Otherwise, there are better single-player titles on the 3DS for you to spend your money on.
This review is based off a retail copy of Mario Party Island Tour for the 3DS purchased off the Nintendo 3DS eShop.