Will Mario Party: Island Tour Keep You Partying 'Til Dawn?

Does the latest Mario Party rock the block, or is it more like an awkward gathering of poindexters too scared to invite any girls over to hang out with them?

Review by David Oxford, .

Mario Party has an odd legacy among Nintendo’s many franchises. While in most cases, the company seems happy to release one or two entries in a given series for a console generation before calling it a day, they released 10 Mario Parties over the course of eight years -- quite a number by any standard, but especially for Nintendo.

As a result, it’s no wonder they ultimately decided in 2007 to give it a five-year break before releasing another installment for the Wii. When Mario was finally ready to party again, the hiatus seemed to do the series some good, bringing some fresh -- albeit controversial -- new ideas in the 2012 release of Mario Party 9.

Mario Party: Island Tour is not only the first new release since its return, but it is also the first portable installment not saddled with the name of the platform it’s on in the title. Could this indicate a continuing effort to inject more creativity into the series, or is it merely a simple cover for another title that falls back on old habits?

Mini-games lie at the heart of every Mario Party, and Island Tour is no different in this regard. You can play them as part of the series’ board game, in a pseudo-gauntlet of challenges through the single-player Bowser’s Tower, with a hot air balloon race-themed "first to X wins" framework, or even a la carte in the "Free Play" mode. The 81 different mini-games included here are fun, but aside from a few unlockable boss battles from Bowser’s Tower (more on that in a few), they by and large return to the formula of being mini-games featuring Mario, rather than Mario-themed mini-games.

The distinction is subtle, but not insignificant: In many Mario Party games, including this one, there are many mini-games which simply seem to have Mario and his friends inserted as they do things like count the number of diamonds a Cheep Cheep has swallowed, or pulling back a rubber band to try to get a car as close to the platform’s ledge as possible without going over.

By contrast, Mario Party 9 felt like it was on the right track was by featuring mini-games which felt like actual Mario world activities, such as dodging Thwomps or bowling for Goombas with a Koopa Troopa shell against the backdrop of the stage-end fortresses from New Super Mario Bros. One might hope this sequel would continue along the same path, but many games feel like they could be completely interchangeable with those in Wii Party U. They're not bad, but they lack that little extra push to make them feel more Mario.

Nor are they totally devoid of charm and personality. A submarine race features craft which look remarkably similar to the Marine Pop of Super Mario Land fame, and you’ll notice amusing nods to Nintendo’s history in the names of such mini-games as "Mild Gunman," "Deck Hunt," and "Tile Savvy." And while there's no reason for it to specifically be Goombas to be the creatures you lasso in the corral mini-game, or to be the ones marching in a parade through a path full of dangerous plants, their presence adds a little extra fun to the proceedings.

The mini-games run a gamut of control styles, too: You'll use the Circle Pad and buttons, the stylus, the microphone, and even motion control. Fortunately, the options allow you to elect not to play the mic games. You’re not so lucky with the motion control games, which can be problematic, depending on where you’re playing. While playing solo can be fun, that enjoyment feels rather finite when compared to the multiplayer. And while playing with others is indeed more enjoyable, many people may find it difficult to get a full crowd of four together.

Of course, each player will need their own 3DS -- that's par for the course with portable games -- getting everyone together in one location is where things can become problematic. Online gameplay would really be a boon for Mario Party, but as with so many Nintendo titles, it’s not to be. We can appreciate Nintendo’s efforts to keep gaming social locally, but add the lack of online to the fact that there are mini-games and entire boards here that require three or four players (no computer-controlled players allowed), and you wind up with chunks of the game that some people may never see. Despite the lack of online connectivity, Island Tour still does well with what it has to offer players who fly solo. There are the traditional game boards, which instead of calling for collecting stars (save for one), are basically races to the finish. These can be fun, though if you wouldn’t consider yourself a lucky person, then you should probably stay away. Winning is a matter of not only skill, but luck as well, and if you only have the former, then the latter is going to crush you, which is why our Island Tour win-loss record currently looks like it belongs to Barry Horowitz.

In addition to the game boards, which each have their own unique requirements, lengths, and obstacles (such as Banzai Bills blasting you back to the start), there is also the new Bowser’s Tower. In this single player-only story mode (such as it is), you’ll go up many stories of the structure, choosing from one of two mini-games to compete in on most floors, with others providing boss battles which are unlocked in the Free Play mode when completed. If the game boards are too fussy for you, but you still want some sort of frame to tie everything together, this mode works great.

Ultimately, Mario Party: Island Tour isn’t a bad game, but it feels kind of average for the series, which is still pretty good. However, the choice of platform and the lack of online options may act as a bit of a hurdle towards being able to enjoy the game to its fullest. If you’re more of a wallflower than a social butterfly, though, then you can still have some fun with this.

The Nitty Gritty

Visuals: The visuals vary in quality across the board; while many of the characters and backgrounds look good, Bowser looks a little on the low-polygon side. Seeing the same artwork on the title screen of Mario and friends as what’s been featured for numerous games before it seems to indicate they didn’t quite go all-out here.

Music: The music isn’t bad, but most of it isn’t particularly memorable, either. You might find one or two tunes to hum along to, but then again, most of it is rather brief anyway.

Interface: The controls are responsive, and there are options to disable the microphone if you so desire. Just hope you don’t have to play a gyroscope-based mini-game while on a bus.

Lasting Appeal: If you’re going solo, there’s a fair bit of replay value, but you might tire of the mini-games sooner than later. If you can get some friends together to play, though, the enjoyment lasts much longer. That is, if you can get some friends together to play.

You might add a little to the score if you’ve got friends who are frequently ready and willing to play, but Mario Party: Island Tour ultimately feels par for the series’ course. It’s still good, but is mostly hurt by a higher barrier to entry for multiplayer, a lack of continuing the push towards truly "Mario" feeling mini-games, and the series’ ever-present dominance of luck over skill.

3.5 /5

Will Mario Party: Island Tour Keep You Partying 'Til Dawn? David Oxford Does the latest Mario Party rock the block, or is it more like an awkward gathering of poindexters too scared to invite any girls over to hang out with them? 2013-11-26T22:00:00-05:00 3.5 5

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Comments 9

  • Avatar for Guy-Guy #1 Guy-Guy 4 years ago
    I respect Nintendo's "No-Online" policy. But what I wonder is, do they respect my "Then No Sale" response equally? At this point I guess they really do!
    But in all seriousness that really is my response, at least in regards titles like this. I can "deal" with it on some titles, but to have friggin' Mario Party without online, and on a frigging HANDHELD--- I mean, who are they kidding? If I'm going to have 2 or 3 friends over to play some videogames I'm not going to have us all sit around playing on separate devices from one another. I'd just boot up my Gamecube and we can all play Mario Party 4 on the same television while whipping controller cords around. It's just a lot more fun, and this whole "local up!" charade I can see only applying to kids as, amongst me and my fellow adults I know, the idea of a "Handheld party" is about as interesting as an overturned stone.Edited 3 times. Last edited November 2013 by Guy-Guy
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #2 LBD_Nytetrayn 4 years ago
    @FreeTheMechs Wavebird, man. It'll change your life. Unless you've used a wireless controller before. In which case, it's still pretty sweet.

    I'm down with gaming together in person, but these days, that kind of opportunity probably happens maybe three times a year, if I'm lucky.
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  • Avatar for Guy-Guy #3 Guy-Guy 4 years ago
    @LBD_Nytetrayn Same here, man. Myself and buddies are still young and whatever, all early twenties, but we're all also either in different, distant universities throughout the year, or working full-time jobs.
    I "get" what Nintendo's idea of, but it's a really, really stupid one. No matter how "noble" it is to try and keep the local-multiplayer going, they aren't in charge of the fact that most people really don't have that option in their life, or at least not to any meaningful degree. Children, sure; but as far as I'm aware all that shows is how delusional Nintendo is about modern gaming.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #4 LBD_Nytetrayn 4 years ago
    @FreeTheMechs I don't think it's the idea, but the execution. Conversely, if I'm not mistaken, a lot of online multiplayer games these days don't have local. This is just the opposite extreme, when what we really need is a good middle ground: Play with the people with you when they're there, or with those somewhere else when no one is around.

    Heck, doesn't Pokemon do that? I'm pretty sure Tetris DS did. Mario Kart, even.
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  • Avatar for novo1858 #5 novo1858 4 years ago
    I actually love all the gimmicky things the 3DS does. Maybe I'm in the minority. I don't want motion control in every game, or AR functionality or mic support ect... But I'm also looking for new experiences constantly and I don't mind goofing around with weird control mechanics and such. Its not like we're getting much innovation in traditional game mechanics and controls with AAA titles and such. What I want to know from this review is if I really do enjoy motion controls and AR games, mic shenanigans, does this game actually use those features well, especially if I have many local friends to play with.

    And in Response to@FreeTheMechs what's the difference between a group of friends all playing the same game on different systems together, or on the same screen together? I don't see one, I think the former could actually change up the dynamic of local gaming in an interesting way.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #6 LBD_Nytetrayn 4 years ago
    @novo1858 Overall, I think it uses them pretty well. The chief grievance being that as a portable game, you're not always going to be in a position where standing up and spinning around to aim a targeting reticule is ideal, and effectively being punished for not being able to do so is just not really fair and not really good design for a portable.

    Not all of them are quite so bad as that, though, and some should provide relatively little trouble. There is one game that is much like the ice slides in Super Mario 64, except you tilt the 3DS to steer your character down the slide.

    So, it varies, but generally tends to work very well when you're in a position to do so. But I've been in positions where I simply can't make good use of the gimmick without disturbing those around me, which is effectively like saying "you can't play this any more".

    The no-mic option was a good step, but they needed to go all the way here.
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  • Avatar for docexe #7 docexe 4 years ago
    @FreeTheMechs Mmm… I don’t think they are necessarily “delusional” (or even “noble”, really) for targeting children and families, for which local multiplayer makes sense, considering that (let’s be honest here) that has always been their primary and more profitable market, even before the introduction of the Wii. They are also the only one among the Big Three that still caters to that kind of audiences effectively (as in, the games they offer aimed at children and families are genuinely good, not Kinect drivel or mediocre attempts like Knack).

    But I do agree with you in that for the majority of us, the hardcore gamers above 20 years old, for whom the adult responsibilities and modern pace of life make it very difficult (if not flat-out impossible) to get together with friends on a constant basis, local multiplayer just doesn’t cut it anymore and the glacial pace at which Nintendo have adopted and introduced online features is very, very frustrating.

    LBD_Nytetrayn is right in that we need a balance, and that if they are offering local multiplayer, they should also add online multiplayer options. Being fair, they do have improved over the past few years. With Miiverse and the online modes for games like Mario Kart and Pokemon, at the very least they are no longer treating the internet as if it was taboo magic or something like that. But they are still very far from offering an online platform that is on par with Microsoft and Sony.

    Now, I don’t think each and every one of their games really need online multiplayer. For games like the New Super Mario Bros. series or most of their party games like Nintendo Land, I think it would be against the point of their multiplayer if you didn’t play them locally with other people. But for games like the Starfox remake for the 3DS or even Pikmin 3, the lack of online multiplayer options is genuinely glaring. This game? Honestly I think the problem comes from the conception itself: What is the point of putting a party game like Mario Party on a handheld? I can’t help it but think this one would make more sense on the Wii U, if not for the fact that they also released Wii Part U recently.
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  • Avatar for novo1858 #8 novo1858 4 years ago
    I dunno, I still think that with a game like this on the 3DS, I want all the gimmicks. All of em.

    I want this game to be completely unplayable on transit. Instead of looking at a Mario Party Game on the 3DS as being a standard(derivative)portable version of the Mario party experience, I want it to be a crazy time where all the different sensors and functionalities on the 3DS are brought to the forefront and used as the games mission statement. I feel like Nintendo is being far too conservative if they haven't yet created a game like that on 3DS, especially as Mario Party seems like the obvious excuse to do so.

    I mean, why not? Mario party is so boring now any-ways, and I actually wont buy another one unless its crazy new and different. That why I bought the original in the first place so many years ago.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #9 LBD_Nytetrayn 4 years ago
    @novo1858 I can appreciate that, for the most part. I have no problem with the gimmicks themselves; they're quite fun. At the same time, though, I don't think being forced to quit playing is ideal, and I just think that offering the most options possible is the best way to get more people to play.
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