The most futuristic thing you can do in video games so far this year is to play Start The Party.
Start The Party is -yawn- a party game, a -groan- mini-game collection. Oh, but it's motion-controlled.
Wait! Don't run away.
After years of camera-based video games that didn't work under normal lighting conditions... after years of games that didn't let you brush an alligator's teeth... after years of games that gave you no option to see a mirror version of your living room projected into your TV in such a way that it appears you are holding a giant cartoon sword and slicing fruit that isn't really there, Start The Party remedies these problems. Interested in a Move game you would show off to people?
Augmented Reality: Start The Party is the flagship game for the PlayStation Move's augmented reality effort. If there is one thing the Move can do that its Wii and Xbox 360 Kinect competitors seem less technologically primed for, it is augmented reality. The phrase refers to the ability for the player to see a version of the real world that has, in terms of a Move title, video game elements integrated into it. The Move controller you use for this game is a wand, but its on-board motion sensors is combined with its glowing sphere that is tracked by the PlayStation Eye camera. This provides lots pf positional data to your PlayStation 3, which provides enough data that the PS3 can make the video display of yourself on the TV appear to show you holding something other than a Move in your hand. Each mini-game in Start The Party projects a different goofy object in your grip, from a destructible bug-swatting racket, to a paintbrush, to a giant toothbrush to a fan that can waft the breeze that pushes video game parachutists onto rafts instead of onto sharks.
Fun, Silly Games: It is arresting enough to see yourself holding a giant cartoon mallet. But, thankfully, the malleting you are doing is engrossing as well. Engrossing as whack-a-mole can be, actually. Which is, you know, good for a quick bunch of swings. Sometimes you are using a giant magnifying glass to find bugs. Another time, your Move is a flashlight than can zap ghosts (you have to hide the flashlight behind your back if certain ghosts show up). The games are simple, and they don't seem to have much depth, but, for an all-ages party situation, they're fun.
Griefable Multiplayer: Start The Party supports up to four players who can pass around one Move wand as they take turns in up to 10 rounds of mini-games. The rounds proceed briskly and include some good twists. Joker rounds interrupt the gameplay to allow a player to mess with the others. For example, I was allowed to draw things on my friend's photograph-based player icon; he was allowed to yell a new name for me into the PlayStation Eye's microphone so that the announcer would summon me as "Joystiq." Huh? That's griefing. I can laugh at that.
Decent Solo Play: Anything better than worthless is great for a mini-game collection's single-player mode. There is no storyline or campaign for solo play. But there is an option to either play any of the nine mini-games of your choosing or to jump into a survival round that keeps spitting a different mini-game at you until you fail enough times. That's not going to entertain most gamers for very long sessions, but it will amuse long enough to admire the game's augmented reality every once in a while, as you might occasionally play with your Rubik's Cube or turn on your lava lamp again to reminisce about how neat it is.
Surface-Scratching: Maybe it's unfair to want more substance from a launch game associated with a new controller, but Start The Party feels lighter than it should. The game clearly draws from the gameplay concepts used in multiple EyeToy camera-based games released for the PlayStation 2 (thankfully, as alluded to above, with the Move you no longer need to worry about your movements not being tracked due to lighting issues). Given the EyeToy gaming pedigree, it feels like not much progress has been made in the game design here and that most of the advancement is in the addition of augmented reality mapped to a controller. That's a great gimmick, but it doesn't keep Start The Party from having little more content than a Wii Play or some of the other mini-game collections out there that have less meat on their bones than Mario Party or WarioWare.
Start The Party is, at launch, the best game for showing how special the PlayStation Move can be. Its augmented reality should be experienced by all gamers, so that they can sample a concept fresh to console gaming, one that feels like it has grand potential beyond the two handfuls of mini-games here. Start The Party is slickly made, and its games are fun. If you don't mind it being a little lacking in content, then there's nothing to complain about. So, do you want to brush an alligator's teeth with a giant toothbrush or not? How many times?
Start The Party was developed by Supermassive Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment of America for the PlayStation 3 on September 7. Retails for $39.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played all mini-game solo and in split-screen multiplayer, all on the middle of the game's three difficulty levels.
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