A mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a board game.
If you're shaking your head in some species of mild, boggling disbelief—possibly making a cartoonish, rubbery robble-robble-robble kind of sound—because you seem to recall that Wideload Games gave us the M-rated, cannibalism-controversy-ensnared Stubbs the Zombie game back in 2005... well then, sir or madam, you may just have the makings of a detective. Or, at the very least, you may be a walking savant-style vessel of intriguing trivia. Acquired in 2009 by the Walt Disney Company, Wideload is indeed the developer of Disney Interactive's forthcoming Guilty Party, an original I.P. title for Nintendo Wii. Rest assured, no human brains will be eaten in the playing of this game (well... at least as far as we know; might have to get back to you on a point or two later in the year, as the final build tightens up).
[image1]As Guilty Party's title makes plain, it's a party-style game, suitable for the whole mystery-solving family. The objective of the game is to identify the perpetrator(s) of various relatively-innocuous-but-mystifying capers (“who ate my pudding?” is, in fact, the focus of the game's tutorial) in a variety of dramatic whodunit-worthy locations: an Orient Express-style train, a grand aquarium, a cruise liner, and of course, a sprawling family Mansion (not a Haunted one, however—that Disney game's already been made, and in fact came out rather well) as well as some other settings suitable as backdrops for amateur sleuthing.
Whichever the chosen setting, the game treats the environs in the manner of a board game—most obviously Clue—divided into a series of rooms to be moved through (and searched for clues) by up to four players. Each assuming the role of a member of the Dickens family, the players take turns checking out different locations, like the mansion's various parlors, bedrooms, and even bathrooms, checking them for clues and eventually questioning witnesses and likely suspects.
Each player's turn—moving to a new location, say, or closely examining a fresh piece of evidence by 'spending' in-game tokens—is a chance to get closer to the truth, usually via some Wiimote-intensive mini-game or other. Perhaps you're waggling the Wiimote to wipe away some clue-obfuscating onscreen crud or to virtually dust the scene for fingerprints. In my hands-on demo at the recent Game Developers Conference, one such mini-game obliged me to use the pointer to 'lock eyes' with reluctant witnesses (in an attempt to 'stare them down'). When that doesn't work, you can even bribe potentially-helpful witnesses—or if you really have to start playing hardball, tickle them silly until they crack.
[image2]Beat a mini-game, and you'll earn another clue. As the evidence you earn accumulates, automatically in your investigator's notebook, you'll start to form a picture of the perp—his/her build, gender, hair color and length, etc. Once you're confident in the profile you've built up, you can make an accusation—but you'll need sufficient evidence to support it. In other words, a district attorney-style 'throw a lot of poo at everybody and see what sticks' approach won't help you win the game.
Once the tutorial is out of the way, the game's proper story mode finds the Dickens family trying to get at the truth of a series of capers engineered by the cartoon-villainous Mr. Valentine. The players are in competition to solve the various mysteries first, but there will be occasional cooperative mini-games to thwart him. Valentine is also wont to meddle in your investigations personally by locking off rooms, blowing out household fuses, and the like. Each player can possess a hand of special cards that can be played to counter Valentine's own counter-measures—or, of course, to throw some virtual salt in another player's game, should he/she appear to be zeroing in on the Truth ahead of your own investigations.
Since it's a Disney game, the whole production will have full story-driving cutscenes and an overall appealing, cartoonish look. The Dickens family is literally an animated catalog of old-standby, whodunnit archetypes—the Sherlock Holmesian gentleman, the mystery-solving grandma, the plucky Nancy Drew-ette, the little boy who fancies himself a costumed hero. Further, the various witnesses and potential suspects are all fleshed-out characters in their own right, thorough voice-work and all.
[image3]In addition to the story mode, there is a whole other party mode, which randomizes the various clues, locations, and guilty suspects each time, in the most logical name of some much-extended replay value. In this mode, the mysteries will be completely customizable, from the mini-game difficulty to the chosen locale/setting and the overall length of the game as a whole.
Guilty Party is playable solo or with up to three co-investigators, and promises the sort of character-based charm one might expect from a Disney venture. The game is slated to ship this summer; to get a Clue as to how the final game turns out, be sure to peruse our full review for all the damning—pardon me, darning—evidence.