Fun-fest or flop?
I picked up Wii Party U a couple of days ago. Mainly because the physical version comes with a Wii Remote Plus, and I needed one. The price tag for the bundle is $50. Subtracting the standard $40 Remote cost, the game is a mere $10. Not too shabby. However, it shows that Nintendo knows they can't get away with charging full retail price for a party game without some additional incentive. Party games ran rampant on the Wii, and already there are multiple available on the Wii U. The public pretty much knows what to expect from a party game, and to expect them to pay $50 for the game alone is ridiculous.
That being said, how does Wii Party U stand up to the countless other games in the genre flooding the market? Pretty well, I would say. There are no real surprises, it's what you expect. But since it is Nintendo, and they do care about putting out quality material (even for the extreme casual players), there are only a few duds in the whole package. It really is a lot of fun, and just exudes charm all around.
There are a lot of mini-games to play. The game forgoes any sort of narrative or story, since the main focus is the mini-games themselves. They are easy to understand, and anybody can jump right in. Unfortunately, this means some of them are too simple, in some cases even based on pure luck. I understand it's supposed to be accessible by everybody, but sometimes it dumbs down the experience a little too much. Those mini-games are the exception, however. I wasn't sure how I felt about the extreme casual approach at first, but in the end it won me over.
There are three main modes:
These mini-games mostly use the Wii Remote exclusively. Each one has very simple controls and anybody can jump right in. There is some kind of main goal to achieve, like rolling dice to move spaces and reach the end of a highway. Things are made more complicated, however, in that how many dice you get to roll each round is determined from how well you perform in mini-games against your opponents. Mini-game objectives are easy, and utilize the Wii Remote in both vertical and horizontal positions. Mini-games can be anything from running through a maze collecting gems to memorizing what ingredients were thrown in a pot.
Think Mario Party, but without all the story elements and intricate complexities.
House Party uses both the GamePad and the Wii Remotes. Due to the control scheme, there aren't as many mini-games to play, but they have more substance than their Remote-only counterparts. One of my favorites was Lost-and-Found Square, in which the player holding the GamePad is lost in a park, and the players with the Remotes have to find them. The GamePad is a viewfinder of sorts, and that player can turn and look in any direction to note their surroundings. They have to verbally communicate to other players what they see around them. It's harder than it sounds, because there are clones of the GamePad player scattered throughout the park as well. Whoever can find the real GamePad player first wins.
Another game is Feed Mii, in which a fast food menu is shown, and non-GamePad players shout out what they want all at once. It can get pretty hectic. After all is said and done, the GamePad player has to drag the correct food to the other players' trays. It was surprisingly fun, and the kind of experience that only local multiplayer can provide. Additional mini-games in House Party mode have you using the GamePad's microphone, and even setting it down on the floor.
As you might have guessed, GamePad Party involves only the GamePad, and is limited to a maximum of two people. Mini-games range from extremely simple (e.g. Foosball), to pretty strategic. An example is Mii-in-a-Row, in which each player has to line up three tokens in a row to form a head, torso, and legs. Mini-games scattered throughout determine if you can change one of your opponent's tokens to your own. It's kind of a mix between checkers and Connect Four. In addition to competitive GamePad games, there are also cooperative ones. It is a unique experience to Wii U in that everything takes place on the GamePad screen. The TV isn't even used.
In addition to the three main modes, there are other options available. You can choose to simply play any mini-game you wish, no strings attached. Maybe you want to practice, or maybe you and your friends liked one in particular an awful lot and wanted to keep playing it. There's also some single-player options, for those times when no one will play with you.
There's really a lot of content to experience, and every time you play it, you can have a totally different experience. As Nintendo states themselves, "With this many options, the party never has to stop."
One of my favorite parts of the game is the rating system. After playing a mini-game, you can rate it from one star to five. That rating is sent to Miiverse and beyond, so others can see which games are duds and which ones people like a lot. It's a great and easy way to get immediate feedback from players.
It would have been very easy for Nintendo to slap all 80+ mini-games in a box and leave it at that. Instead, they took the high road and added a bunch of extra content and used a games-within-games mentality to give the experience a much more "full" feeling. I've had the opportunity to play Wii Party U with a group of varying ages, and much like Nintendo Land, it quickly became a great large group experience. You need a group of people to fully enjoy this game. It's exactly what Nintendo was looking to do when they created the DS and Wii: Spread gaming awareness to people that don't normally play games, and make it easy for them to get hooked and enjoy it. With the Wii U titles released up until now, there hasn't been a lot for the casual crowd to pick up, but Wii Party U is part of the solution to that problem. It really is a lot of fun.
Do you need to buy it now? If you need an additional Wii Remote Plus, then I would say yes, because you're getting a cheap but decent game in the process. If you're not looking for another Remote, wait a month or two for the used copies to start popping up on shelves. As stated before, buying it new means the game price is only $10, so the used price of the game alone can't be much higher than that. It is a good game with an extreme amount of content, but if you can wait, then wait. It's not like it's going anywhere.
It's definitely something that caters to that casual audience, especially those that were inducted into video gaming with the Wii. The question is, are they still up for it, or has the Wii satisfied their curiosity? Time will tell.