What If Wii Party Were A Great Game?

The second game of my Nintendo holiday preview was Wii Party. I planned to suffer. A half-hour later I wondered if I had played the best Wii game for this fall. A fake bomb helped.

Wii Party seems at first, at second and at third like Nintendo at it's most cynical. Wii Sports was a breakthrough. Wii Fit was clever. Wii Music was logical and daring and maybe not so good. Wii Party? Seems like a cash-in. Seems like a Nintendo executive looking at one large number that represents the number of people who buy games whose titles start with "Wii" and another that shows how many people play Wii "party" games and saying ... yes! ... Wii... PARTY. [Insert money-printing Photoshop here, yes?]

Wii Party is possibly the apotheosis of the kind of Wii games that are easy to dismiss. Mini-game collection. Stars Miis. Made for the family.

Just look at the people in the Wii Party trailer and ask yourself: Do I want to be them?

My answer, until around 5p.m. last night, was "no."

The man showing me Wii Party yesterday at a showcase of upcoming Wii and DS games in a hotel in Times Square was J.C. Rodrigo. J.C. is a guy so skilled at showing off questionable Wii software that he has been recorded on video making Wii Music look the best it's ever looked:

Could J.C. make Wii Party seem good?

The Definition of Wii Party

WIi Party is essentially the next Mario Party, the latest in a long series of games that are designed for multiple players to experience a video-game version of a board game. Mario Party games usually had players moving virtual pieces across a board and, depending on what the rules of a spot on the board were, competing in some sort of brief mini-game challenge. A race. A collection quest. A test of reaction time. Something quick.

Subtract Mario and friends from a Mario Party and replace them with Miis and that's, basically what Wii Party is.

I'm not a Mario Party person, not in the family-friendly way nor in the use-it-as-a-drinking-game way, so I was un-enthused about all this.

J.C. showed me a menu screen that served as a portal to several variations of co-op games, several variations of board-based games and something called House Party. I was not excited when he pointed at one of the co-op games and said we would play Balance Boat.

On A Boat

The boat part of Balance Boat is actually just a meta-game. A co-op game of Balance Boat involves playing 10 co-op mini-games together and playing 10 turns on the boat. To explain this to me, J.C. let us get dropped into a mini-game called Sheep Crossing. There were sheep on one side of a river and a safe shore on the other side. We each controlled rotating platforms placed between the river. I controlled three of them; he controlled three. If we pointed the platforms at the sheep, a few of them could walk on. But for the sheep to make it to the other side, one of us would have to rotate our planks toward the other player's, which would then reach the opposite shore. If we didn't coordinate, not many sheep would cross. So we talked through our strategy and brought a lot of the flock over, enough to meet a quota before time ran out. Mini-game completed successfully.

What If Wii Party Were A Great Game?

We went to the boat screen, which shows a tall-masted ship with its sails up. We were each given a Mii and expected to drop it on whichever level of the mast matched the Mii's color. I got a middle tier; J.C. got the lower tier. Again we needed to coordinate so that the boat didn't teeter to one side and fall. (Shades of You, Me and The Cubes, for those who have played that obscure WiiWare gem.)

Our Miis placed, we were thrown into another mini-game, a quick basketball challenge that required us to shoot 30 hoops in a short period of time. If we button mashed, our shots would bump into each other and neither would sink. Good timing got us a good score. We were then sent back to the boat where our two Miis were tipping the ship too much to one side. We were each given another Mii to place and nearly capsized the ship in the process.

The Balance Boat mode would continue for 10 turns, at most. I liked the way the boat game surrounded the mini-games. I was warming to Wii Party.

Armed On A Rollercoaster

We skipped the main boardgame modes, but I asked to see some of the mini-games that can be played in them. I spotted a rollercoaster one and asked what it was about. It's like having a gun on a rollercoaster, J.C. told me, instantly trying to alter that description to something more family-friendly. Nope. Gun-on-a-rollercoaster is perfect. We would be shooting balloons! J.C. and I tried it, both of our Miis put in a rollercoaster car, armed with little popguns that could shoot at bunches of balloons that carried presents. As the rollercoaster went up, down, in loops, and so on, we were trying to shoot down each bunch to claim each prize. This was, literally, an on-rails co-op shooter, and Wii Party was, by this point, a game I liked.

Hiding Valuable Electronics

I asked if we could try House Party. It's the weird part of Wii Party. You do odd things with Wii Remotes in this level, like place them all on the floor and listen to animal sounds coming from their speakers. Or, in a mode I tried with J.C. and two other Nintendo guys, you play a 1 vs. 3 game that has you hiding Wii Remotes.

The Nintendo guys had to leave the room as I was given two minutes to hide four Wii Remotes anywhere in the room. I tucked one under a tablecloth near a bowl of food. I put one under the couch cushion and hid a black Remote in a dark cabinet. I pressed a button on each Remote to designate it as hidden and then, when all four were gone, welcomed the Nintendo guys back in. They could tear through the room looking for the Remotes, and they had faint clues. Every 10 seconds or so, each Remote would emit a noise. The Nintendo guys still struggled to find the black Remote, but they did get them all.

Handling A Bomb

Lastly, we tried the smart bomb mode. This is what sealed it. See the shot atop this post? That represents four players, each one having to pass a single Wii Remote to the next, each having to press a new button on the Remote as they accept it from the previous person. The line across the bottom of the screen is a vibration sensor. Let the Remote shake too much during the hand-off and the bomb blows up. At first, you have 10 seconds to make each pass and large shakes are allowed. Then, you get 8 seconds per pass and less vibration is tolerated. As you go round and round, eventually it is quite stressful. And eventually, a Nintendo guy who perhaps is ready for the next appointment to start, "accidentally" lets the Wii Remote shake and it blows up.

That was a fine finale. Wii Party, which can even be played solo — though not, probably in the bomb mode — is no longer a Wii game I expect to ignore. It wasn't J.C. who sold me on it, it was the game. This might be the best Wii game from Nintendo for the fall.

Up next on my day-long tour of Nintendo impressions, Kirby...