The Mario Party franchise and I have always had a rocky relationship. I love its charming aesthetics and generally fun mini-games, but its focus on luck and random “surprises” always left a sour taste in my mouth. My favorites were the N64 titles, with sprawling maps and mad dashes to the power stars. Later entries tried to change the formula with varying success. Island Tour once again tries to shake things up ever so slightly, and again, has varying success.
Mario Party: Island Tour is pretty much what you expect from another entry in the series. There are a few modes in single player and two modes for local-only multiplayer. Playing alone allows you to try out all of the new boards, play mini-games in a “best of” series, and experience Bowser’s Tower.
The boards are the biggest disappointment in regards to Island Tour. Instead of travelling around collecting stars, choosing different pathways, and buying items in stores, it’s always a race-to-the-finish affair. All of the boards vary on this playstyle, which means the overall variety is lacking. The largest board has eighty spaces and, after each round, a mini-game is played to get an additional dice. First place receives a dice with 1-6 on it, second place receives 1-3, and third receives 1-2. That’s pretty much the entire explanation of the board, outside of some items thrown in for that traditional “chaotic” factor. Some items add to a roll or cut others in half, but the entire game is designed to finish first.
Other boards use this setup as well, but offers some curve balls. One map has the characters riding spaceships and, throughout the map, additional ship boosters are acquired by either landing on a space or winning mini-games. Boosters are useful because they add to a multiplier system on the dice roll. One booster multiplies it by 2, two boosters multiplies it by 3, etc. The issue here is that the board is so small that whoever wins the first mini-game — and thus, three boosters total — usually wins it all.
One of the most memorable maps to me was the Bullet Bill stage. It plays like hide-n-seek and actually allows for some strategy. For example, if you roll a 4, you’ll move ahead three spaces and your last move will be to either advance a spot or take shelter from a potential Bullet Bill. If someone lands on a Bullet Bill switch or rolls the icon, everyone in the pathway who isn’t hiding will be sent back to the last “safe haven.” It sounds like a fun diversion and it is, but it’s really short, featuring only two Bullet Bill areas at 6 spaces apiece. The first time I played it, my friend was lucky enough to win within five minutes or so.
That’s the recurring theme with Island Tour: it’s too short. Other boards do offer some nice changes as to how the finish line is reached or how you collect something on the way, but the boards are generally too short that, by the time it picks up some steam, someone wins and that’s it. I found the best map to be the one with eighty spaces, just because it does last longer than ten to fifteen minutes. I assume this was intentionally designed around the portable playstyle, so in that regard, it does succeed as a quick distraction with 3DS friends.
Thankfully, if the boards don’t satisfy your needs, there is always other options. Bowser’s Tower is the “story” of the game, but it feels tacked on. All it is is thirty floors, each containing two mini-games to select from. You win, you advance to the next floor; you lose, you can pick the other or retry the same one. If it was only this, I would have skipped it altogether, but it’s saved by one feature: boss fights. These are easily the best thing about Bowser’s Tower — they’re a lot of fun and requires some thought. Once you beat a boss, they are unlocked for play in the other single-player mode. The rest of the tower felt like a drag and I had no desire to replay it after the first run-through.
The other option is the mini-games selection where you can pick first to three, five, or seven wins. Some rely on pure luck, but for the most part, they offer some laughs and are easily the best part of the game. While the collection isn’t anything groundbreaking, they do make exceptional use of the 3DS functions. Touch screen, gyro movements, and buttons are all used to offer a nice variety of games. Island Tour features over eighty, so I won’t go into too much detail — at this point, you can probably guess most of the games — but there were a select few that felt very fresh.
One particular case was Get Reel where players were shown a picture on one screen and a movie on the other. Players would then have to fast-forward or rewind to match up the movie with the picture. Another one featured Fuzzies moving around the screen and players would have to shoot an arrow to land as many hits in a straight line as possible. Besides some new unique ideas, the game relies on predictable, yet functional, old standbys, so you’ll still get a “grab as many as you can” game, a “last one standing” affair, and slider puzzles. Another plus is the fact that the controls are intuitive and polished with the exception of a mini-game that requires you to rotate objects by use of the gyroscope. It’s easily the worst of the bunch.
One clear disappointment from the mini-games is the fact that they’re all free-for-all. Some of my favorite moments with the series was playing 1 vs 3 or teaming up with my best friend to destroy the CPU characters. Unfortunately, this game is all about going solo. As I said, though, the games are fun that it’s not all bad, but it would have been nice to have team battles as well.
The local multiplayer works well and is hassle-free. The person with the cartridge selects multiplayer from the main menu and everyone else selects Download Play from the 3DS home menu. With friends, you can pick any board — except for Bowser’s Tower, which is single-player only — or mini-game. As with all Mario Party titles, your friends can either make it more enjoyable or it’ll end the night in a fistfight. There is honestly not much to talk about multiplayer-wise, because all the issues present from the single-player are present and accounted for, except now you have friends to share it with.
No one expects Mario Party to be a graphical powerhouse, but Island Tour does get by with its charming visuals and bright colours. The picture is crisp and has a consistent look, so it doesn’t look ugly one minute and beautiful the next. One thing that isn’t consistent is the 3D effect. One minute, the depth is great and the next, I forgot I had the feature turned on. Needless to say, Mario Party is a game that doesn’t demand it nor benefit from it. The music fits the mood of whichever board or mode you’re on, but as soon as the games closes, the music is forgotten.
Mario Party: Island Tour is a strange beast. It takes a lot of steps back for the series and often feels lazy. The boards aren’t memorable or fun like they use to be, the multiplayer still isn’t online, and it doesn’t feel new at all. It’s still Mario Party and it’s perfectly happy at being just that. If you didn’t like the series before, this isn’t the game to change your mind. With all that said, it’s a game that’s just meant to be picked up and enjoyed on a basic level. There’s nothing inherently bad about it, but it is one of the safest Nintendo titles I’ve played in years. If all you’re looking for is a quick and easy fix on the 3DS for mini-games, this fits the bill nicely, but for everyone else, you’re best off breaking out the N64 and popping in Mario Party 2.
Low Score: 4 / 10
- Boards are too short and lack the imagination of earlier titles
- Some mini-games require entirely on luck
- Bowser's Tower is a throwaway
- Single player doesn't offer a lot of staying power
High Score: 8 / 10
- Fun with friends
- Majority of mini-games are fun
- Overall still charming