The Mario Party series has always delivered exactly what it says on the cover: party games in the Super Mario Bros. universe. Now, after more than ten iterations of the title, both in the main series and handheld spin-offs, you would assume that the formula had been mastered. However, the problem with the series has long been the fact that outside of the multiplayer party games, the titles have little to offer, and new versions feel more like updates to a central core game.
Mario Party: Island Tour is the first 3DS entry in the long-standing series, bringing the action into the third dimension. There is a story mode of sorts – named Bowser’s Tower – but the plot is pretty forgettable, where all of the Mario Party heroes have gone to Dream Island for a vacation without inviting Bowser, so inevitably Bowser becomes angry and creates a horrible, treacherous tower for the heroes to navigate in order to remove his evil from paradise.
As much as the story sounds like fluff, this is much more background than most Mario Party games have ever had, and Bowser’s Castle forms what is probably the deepest single-player experience ever seen in the history of the series. That isn’t saying much, though, as the mode is just a collection of mini-games (which are recycled from the regular party boards), pitting the player against Bowser’s Minions. Work your way up the tower by winning mini games that get harder the further you climb, and getting lucky spins on the wheel of misfortune, and eventually you will conquer the castle.
The mode is a better single player distraction than we’ve been treated to in the past, but it’s still just an alternate way to deliver the same party games, and will get tedious in the same way as the other modes once you’ve sampled all of the eighty-one short games on offer. Of course there is also a free-play mode, where you can pick and choose which mini games to play, and try to best your top scores if you wish, along with a collectables mode where you spend bubbles (the in-game currency, won through playing games) to buy trophies – none of which have any practical use within the game, unfortunately.
As always, the main thrust of the game is the Party Boards, which play like board games, with one to four players battling it out to either earn the most stars or reach the end goal first – sometimes a combination of the two. The boards range from a simple Mushroom Kingdom Castle board, to a jet-powered space race, or another where players have to carefully avoid a massive Banzai Bullet Bill as they navigate a mountain path. With seven very different boards in all, each with unique win conditions and special features, there is quite some variety in how to play.
Players move around with virtual dice rolls (or flicks of the stylus, in actuality ), and collect power-ups to speed them up, or slow down their enemies. This then is punctuated by the famous mini games. These are largely what you would expect – a mix of frantic tapping and rubbing with the stylus, races where you need split-second reflexes to avoid the many hazards, and even a few slower-paced, more reflective puzzles. None of these really make much use of the 3D feature in the console, the only innovative games being a couple which make use of the built-in microphone – such as a short “singing” one. There are some clear hits among the bunch, but there are also a large number of more disappointing games that fail to capture your imagination.
Somewhat disappointingly though, none really stand out as being unique to this 3DS iteration, and you could easily just be playing any other Mario Party title. The only really unique features are the multiplayer options. Here you can play with up to three friends using only one cartridge via download play, but there is also a Streetpass-enabled mode. Here, Mario Party: Island Tour collects the Miis as you travel about, who you can then play against in more of the same mini games. This is an interesting technique that allows you to “virtually” play against other people around the world and earn bubbles to spend, even if you don’t have to meet these people or even be online at the same time.
VERDICT: Mario Party: Island Tour is far from being a bad game, it’s just a part of a series that seems to have run out of ideas to an extent, lacking any aspects that really excite or pleasantly surprise you. There is still plenty of fun to be had when taking on some of the more successful mini games with a group of friends locally, but the game as a whole does come across as more of a re-tread of something we have played time and time again. As such, there is little about Island Tour to recommend above past portable versions of the game. If this is your first experience with the series, it is certainly one of the best versions, I’m just not entirely sure that it’s a necessary one.
DECENT. A 6/10 indicates that, while this game could be much better, it still has a fair amount to offer the player. It might be an interesting title sabotaged by its own ambition, or a game denied greater praise by some questionable design choices. Don’t avoid it outright, but approach it with caution.
Review code provided by publisher.